9/24/2016 – Michigan 49, Penn State 10 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Two years ago this game featured Dennis Norfleet dancing, a lot of bad football, and a series of increasingly boggling in-game decisions. Brady Hoke and James Franklin engaged in bad decision tennis, lobbing ever more ludicrous balls over the net and daring the opposition to top it. There was no winner—there is never a winner in bad decision tennis—but Michigan did not lose. They won the game, and the tennis match was called on account of forgetting to breathe sometimes.
Fast forward two years and things are a little different for one of these teams. Jim Harbaugh's taking timeout in case Jabrill Peppers can get a punt return in and asking to review a legitimately dodgy fourth-down spot despite being up a gorillion; James Franklin sees a fourth and goal from the two down 28-0 and decides on a field goal... wait, no, he's taking a timeout because he realizes that is a terrible decision. And now he's sending out...
Still the field goal team.
So this is a dumb fake—nope they kicked it.
Now they are down four scores, which is a notable improvement from being down four scores. James Franklin has lobbed this one good and high. This is an Eschaton-worthy parabola.
After they kicked it the camera cut to Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines, looking equal parts perplexed and offended on behalf of the game of football:
I had a similar look on my face. This is not good hard friendly competition. This was turtling. Signaled by their coach, Penn State promptly laid down. According to Wilton Speight, Michigan ran the same play eight consecutive times at one point Saturday. While that doesn't seem 100% accurate—there was a sweep in there—the bit in the box score where Penn State lays itself on the altar and hands the squiggly knife to Harbaugh is obvious:
Franklin told them to quit and they quit. I'm not surprised. One year ago this column was all about how pleasant it was to watch a Penn State game and not be stupefied by the things occurring in front of my face, and Penn State's held up its end of the bargain in that department over the last few years.
But I am also kind of surprised that James Franklin, who made Vanderbilt decent, would just roll over and die. You'd think that the kind of person who could stare the history of Vandy football in the face and make the Commodores one of the feistiest teams in the country would at least spit in his executioner's eye, for what little that would help him. Not today, and thus Michigan entered to the "win with cruelty" portion of the proceedings.
And, lo, it was cruel. Michigan acquired 13 tackles for loss and six sacks; they ran for over 300 yards with a carousel of running backs. Michigan threw to Eddie McDoom with less than half the fourth quarter to go, because a rep is a rep is a rep. It's not that Michigan was trying to embarrass or humiliate Penn State; it's just that they didn't care if that happened. Lo, it did. Meanwhile across the country in Autzen Stadium, a Colorado quarterback who was 0/7 with –4 rushing yards last week was spearheading a stunning upset by accounting for 500 yards of offense by himself.
Remember spinning around in circles about this defense last week? You should continue doing that, but for the opposite reason. Lost in the piles of viscera that are all that remain of the Penn State offense: PSU was an efficient, prolific offensive team headed into this game, with 39 and 34 points the last two weeks. It was even one seemingly well-suited to mitigate Michigan's advantages, with Trace McSorley throwing a ton of passes close to the line of scrimmage and completing 80% of them.
It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. James Franklin woke up this morning in a Cure shirt and eyeliner, because halfway through a game against Michigan he decided life wasn't worth living anymore. Just, like, whatever, man. Three points, seven points. It all leads to one place: the grave. First, Arby's. Then the grave.
MGoVideo has some other highlight reels if you don't have time for the above.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
It was this kind of game:
#1 (tie) Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst, and Taco Charlton nose ahead of everyone else on a defensive line that set the tone early and never let up, racking up six sacks and a trajillion TFLs. Hurst turned in the most impressive individual play of the day when he came from a nose tackle spot all the way around a guard and got in McSorley's business for a sack; Wormley was the most consistent entrant into the backfield, and Charlton's return helped seal the rush lanes that UCF exploited shut. Also he got a sack and a half. Welcome back.
#2 (tie) De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon and Chris Evans were all between good an excellent as they combined for 40 carries for 318 yards, with seemingly nobody getting consecutive carries. Each guy ripped off a 20+ yard run; each guy made big chunks of yards for himself with good vision or broken tackles. Easy sledding but Michigan maximized their opportunities in ways that had not always been the case early this year.
#3 Ben Gedeon was the closest thing to a one on one matchup Michigan had with Saquon Barkley and that went all right. Gedeon tracked PSU RBs in space repeatedly, had a couple of impressive sideline-to-sideline tackles, and got in the backfield for 1.5 TFLs amongst his 11 total tackles. Barkley got his yards mostly on screens and shovels and the like, a couple of them on Gedeon. This was still a win against one of the top backs in the country.
Honorable mention: The right side of the offensive line was the main area Michigan attacked on the ground. Khalid Hill had another solid all-round FB performance. Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis helped shut down the PSU receivers on the rare occasions PSU managed to target them.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Taco Charlton and Chris Worley combine to sack Trace McSorley on the third play from scrimmage:
That set up the ensuing Peppers punt return and was an emphatic declaration of the way the game was going to go.
Honorable mention: Karan Higdon rips off an offset draw touchdown; Peppers decoy sends Smith into the secondary, where he goes stomp. Any one of Michigan's 12(!!!) other TFLs. Peppers returns a punt and windmills down to the nine.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Jeremy Clark ends a kickoff return on the ground, writhing, and is almost certainly lost for the year.
Honorable mention: Michigan fails to gain every yard available to them when Jehu Chesson drops a ball on fourth and two.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
[After THE JUMP: Speight is still on his fourth-down scramble.]
News bullets and other items:
There’s a chance Jourdan Lewis, Taco Charlton, and Bryan Mone play this week. As Harbaugh said, they might “graduate from the training room back onto the field.”
Peppers is unlike anyone Harbaugh’s ever coached. He’s played 11 positions at Michigan, and Harbaugh said there are more that he could play well.
Speight’s elbow was injured on the strip-sack early in the game, which was a result of a missed assignment. This raised Speight a rung in the team’s esteem because he walked it off and, as Harbaugh put it, “…this isn’t track, this is football and playing that quarterback position, that’s part of the game.”
Harbaugh’s wife’s doctor described the punt block that was returned for a TD as a slippery watermelon. The ultrasound went well, by the way.
Harbaugh loves his defense so much that sometimes he watches them play even when he feels like he should be preparing for the next drive
I wanted to talk to you first about Michael Jocz and what he’s bringing to special teams—I know he had a block in the last game—and also what he does in the classroom.
“He had his first catch last week. It was great to see. And he had a blocked punt this week that resulted in a touchdown—great to see. He’s consistently been our, second year in a row, smartest player on the team in terms of grade point average. He’s already graduated in mechanical engineering and he’s on track to do his master’s in one year instead of the normal two, so he’s cutting that in half. He’s really been figuring things out, as you’d expect from a mechanical engineer. Great teammate. Really happy for his on-field success now, as well.”
And then also Erik Magnuson, if you could assess his play through three games and also the spirit he brings to you team.
“Yeah, Mags is good in both of those regards. Has long brought a lot to our team. He’s probably been our most consistent, best pass protector so far. Likeable guy. Everybody likes Mags. He’s a good leader and a good guy. A genuine, down to earth, good person.”
Two turnovers through the nonconference, only 10 penalties—can you assess the job you feel like your team has done in those areas?
“Those two areas have been good. We’re getting…turnover margin has got to be on the plus side. Don’t know exactly what it is, but we’re on the plus there. I feel like we’re playing—we had a few penalties. More this past week than we have had, so I think we’re playing good, legit penalty-free for the most part football.
[Next person with the microphone thinks it’s their turn to ask, but alas, there’s more. Harbaugh’s taken this pause to reflect and wants to share his thoughts.]
“See, I don’t just give one word answers. That would have been a perfect time to just say, ‘We’ve been good in those two areas.’ I tried to elaborate. I hope to get some credit for that.”
[After THE JUMP: many multi-word answers]
How’s your group doing through two games?
“Not bad. They’re doing okay. I thought the first two games we were challenged a little bit and I thought they handled it pretty well.”
Colorado’s got some receivers that are a little bit more of challenge…?
“Yeah, this’ll definitely be more of a challenge than the first two games. No disrespect, but it is what it is. They’re better receivers and the quarterback is a much better quarterback. He’s a guy that actually has time to throw, and he’s got three or four good guys to throw to.”
Clark’s had to step up. Talk about what your evaluation of him is.
“Yeah, Jeremy’s done a great job. And since spring. He’s been very steady and he’s improved. He had a couple glitches last year we’ve been working to get out and he’s trying to get ‘em out. He’s doing well.”
Is Jeremy a natural corner? He’s only played it for a year.
“He’s definitely the safety body, for sure. I think a lot of teams would love to have a corner with that length, and certainly his size and strength. Like I said, from moving from safety he did have a couple little glitches that he had in his game with his feet at corner. It’s a totally different deal, especially with all the pressing we do when you’re up in people’s faces. He’s starting to get it down. He’s working hard at it for sure.”
When you moved him in the first place, why did you do it?
“I think just because of the lack of depth at corner, and, you know, we had some guys at the safety position. I’d just say the lack of depth more than anything.”
[After THE JUMP: Jourdan Lewis’ health, eye discipline, and where Stribling’s improved]
Can you talk about the kind of depth you were building on Saturday with all the guys that got in the game?
“Well, first, to start with, many players played and played well. Tremendous for morale. Guys that worked extremely hard all along just got to contribute, so it was good for our team.”
Along those same lines, in the past few years before you arrived the ‘wait until they get experience’ thing was kind of a common theme. Seventeen guys play Saturday. What has been the difference when you look at the ability to play young guys when you look at a few years ago and those young guys weren’t really getting a lot of reps?
“I can’t comment specifically about a couple years ago. Probably as you know, we talked about it. It’s a meritocracy in who plays. By your effort, by your talent you will be known. Positions on the depth chart when you go in the game, what the roles are, are based on that.”
The team struggled a little bit, maybe the first series and half, to run the football. What changed for you guys? It just seemed like all of sudden once Wilton completed that one third-down pass things just started clicking for the offensive line and clicking for the blockers on the outside. What was the difference?
“Uh…the third down, the fourth play of the game?”
Yeah, he connected on the pass but it seemed like as soon as that happened everything started working for the running game, too.
“Yeah, that was the fourth play of the game.”
Do you have any updates on Bryan Mone and Taco Charlton and if they’re going to be available this week?
“I don’t think either one will be available this week.”
If they’re not available, how does the defensive line need to regroup depth-wise and get ready for this game?
“I think Mo Hurst will return to action. Ryan Glasgow played very well in the football game. So did Chris Wormley. There’s talented players at that position. I don’t think that Bryan Mone and Taco will be out…it’s hard to say at this point. I don’t have an update on how long they’ll be out, but I don’t anticipate them playing this weekend.”
With that, you guys had Onwenu play a little bit of offense and a little bit of defense. With a couple guys out, do you think he’ll get more on defense at this point?
[After THE JUMP: even more injury updates, and Jim Harbaugh verbally assassinates a character assassin]
Are you not entertained by PBUs? [Bryan Fuller]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Channing Stribling||Sr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.||Jabrill Peppers||So.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Sr.*||David Long||Fr.||Jourdan Lewis||Sr.|
|Keith Washington||Fr.*||LaVert Hill||Fr.||Brandon Watson||So.*|
Last year's secondary was sort of good. Michigan led the nation in yards per attempt allowed at 5.4 and opposition passer rating. S&P+ had them 11th nationally because Big Ten quarterbacks were double plus ungood a year ago, but that's still near-elite.
There's about to be some hedging about non-Jourdan Lewis corners because they weren't straight-up killers when they showed up on your television, but keep those numbers in mind when expectations are (slightly) tamped. Michigan gets back five of the six guys who spearheaded those stats. If you consider Jabrill Peppers a member of this unit, which you should, you have to back to 1997 for a comparable.
NOPE [Patrick Barron]
I'm about to write a lot about JOURDAN LEWIS, but you can skip it. The tl;dr version is "is Jourdan Lewis." He's an All-American. He's a perfect cover corner minus a few inches. He was all but impossible to escape a year ago:
He will be this again in 2016. The end.
Our probably unnecessary epilogue kicks off with an assertion from Don Brown that is both unexpected and extremely important:
Don Brown says of Jourdan Lewis on @SiriusXMCollege "may be one of the best run defenders at corner I've been around. Flat out"
— angelique (@chengelis) August 24, 2016
This is a weird thing for Jourdan Lewis to be since his run responsibilities a year ago were 404 file not found. Lewis was constantly locked in man coverage and almost never involved in the opposition's run game, which turned out to be much to Michigan's detriment against good spread offenses like Indiana and Ohio State.
As a result I don't have much of anything in which Lewis is active as run defender. He had a decent play against Florida when he was forced into the Peppers role:
And he ended up mirroring a WR in space effectively on a screen in the Maryland game. That's it. If that seems like an incredibly small sample size, it is. Lewis had probably under 20 tackles that weren't a direct result of a guy managing to catch the ball on him. We simply don't know how he's going to do when activated against the run.
Everything else is established. If you complete a pass on Lewis 90% of the time it's going to be like this:
Good luck creating an offense around that. For some reason, opponents kept testing Lewis despite this invariably being the result. PFF:
The top-graded cornerback in the nation last year at +22.3, Lewis broke out by leading the FBS with 15 passes defensed while surrendering only 36.7 percent of his targets to be completed, good for fifth-best. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to maintain his strong play from start to finish in 2015, despite facing 90 targets, 10th-most in the nation.
Lewis grades out like this because he is super quick and always in the pocket of whoever he's matched up against. By midseason I was clipping literally any completion on him that wasn't heavily contested for the sheer novelty. In addition to being impossible to shake, Lewis has mastered the craft of not quite interfering. One of his best traits is an sense of when to grab the receiver's hand such that his only option is to go up for a circus catch:
And that cat-quickness allows him to recover on routes that should be RPS minuses:
That should work. Lewis should not even be in position to get a little bit of hand on the waist and then extend through for a PBU. He is set up outside and has to make up a ton of ground in not much time. He does.
Lewis's main—only?—flaw is not being 6'1". A 6'1" version of Jourdan Lewis is a 15-year NFL All Pro. The 5'11" or 5'10" version is a good longterm starter. This didn't come up much last year. When Lewis was challenged by 6'5" quasi-TEs he won.
If it was a factor it was probably in Lewis's epic battle against Aaron Burbridge and Connor Cook. Lewis narrowly won that battle despite Burbridge going over 100 yards because it took almost 20 attempts to get there, but a hypothetical version of Lewis that is just as mobile and has another few inches of reach turns difficult completions into international-sign-of-no waving and punts.
Lewis's lack of size also occasionally figured in as opponents muscled through him, like on this completion in the bowl game:
Lewis has done an A+ job against lumbering 6'5" guys over the past two years but occasionally he will get ripped off balance by larger guys. That will continue.
Also in the tiny pile of areas for improvement is off coverage. Lewis wasn't bad at it, per se, but when opponents wriggled free it was often because they'd been issued breathing room.
Interceptions are not an issue. Some folks have asserted that Lewis got thrown at a bunch because he's not a threat to intercept the ball. He had just two a year ago, and one was against Maryland so that barely counts. I don't buy it; that feels like an answer to an unanswerable question. Q: Why do you do something that doesn't make sense? A: Well, here's something else that doesn't make sense.
Michigan's approach had a lot to do with the minimal INTs. Michigan rarely switched up their coverages and didn't run much zone, so opportunities to bait a quarterback a la Blake Countess were few and far between. Lewis ended up in a ton of trail coverage on which he could either secure a PBU or "get his head around" and potentially lose the plot.
It'll be fascinating to see how Don Brown changes this dynamic. Either way, Lewis is an All-American ticketed for the late first round of the NFL draft.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! Seriously this time!]
Last week when we talked to you, you said one of the things you were working on was getting your head around at the right time. From a technique perspective, when is the right time to get your head around?
“When you’ve got a receiver under control. When you understand that he’s not doing any other route except for a fade, and that’s just going off your instincts, too. Just knowing that, okay, I feel like it’s time to turn my head around. Just being in phase, being in the hip, and going up and being a playmaker.”
So part of that is just experience?
“Yeah, and watching film. Honestly, that helps a lot, just seeing if they like back-shoulders or if they just like the normal fade, stuff like that. So just going up there and understanding what formations those guys like to do that and when they like to do it.”
One question I have is about off coverage. I know you play press man most of the time, but from a fundamental perspective, in off coverage what’s the most important thing? When I was talking to Coach Zordich earlier in the year he said in press you look at the belt buckle, then--
“It’s still the eyes. Your eyes are the most important thing in football, and just to watch the waist because the waist doesn’t really move. It’s understanding where your end points are and your keys and stuff like that and just knowing what to do. Just watching him and then using your tools to succeed.”
Is the corner’s first step more important in press or in off?
“The first step? In press, honestly. When you talk about the first step, if you misplace your steps in press that’s the difference between a breakup and a catch. In off coverage, I believe that it can be the same thing, honestly, but it’s more critical in press.”
Hawaii has one receiver who’s 6’5 and some receivers who are 5’10. I know you can’t say who you’re going to be matched up on, but in general when you have some guys who are really tall and some who are shorter, does your technique change at all?
“It could. You could be a little bit overaggressive with the bigger guys because they have a lot more surface to put your hands on and then a lot of times they’ll be a little bit slower than the little guys. A smaller guy, you’ve just got to be patient and move your feet and stuff like that. Yeah, you have to gameplan and understand who you’re checking.”
With some of the younger guys on the roster, guys like David Long and Lavert Hill, what’s impressed you most about where they’ve come from the beginning of camp until now?
“The way they learn, honestly, and just how fast they learn and have picked up the playbook, and that’s really what it is. I think that’s helped both of them.”
What about other guys in the corner group like Stribling and Jeremy Clark?
“Just experience, honestly. Having those guys play last year a whole bunch of snaps that really helps them, and just getting a feel going out there and playing.”