well that's just, like, your opinion, man
9/13/2015 – Michigan 35, Oregon State 7 – 1-1
AND YOU WILL KNOW HIM BY THE TRAIL OF DEAD [Eric Upchurch]
When Michigan got the ball back up 28-7 in the fourth quarter, the game was already over. Oregon State hadn't budged on offense since their first drive. If they were going to push towards making it a game it would have come after they intercepted Jake Rudock; instead they went nowhere and punted. That punt was waving the white flag, something Michigan fans have gotten used to over the last couple years.
Michigan took that flag and rammed it down Oregon State's throat. At one juncture they hit a bit of a snag and had to employ Ol' Skillet Hands Ian Bunting to get past the obstruction; afterwards it was smooth sailing. The end result was a 14-play touchdown drive featuring 13 runs and no trace of the Beavers' flag of surrender unless you want to count a palpably uncomfortable crimp in the Beavers' gait.
I used to think that was boring.
Back in the long long ago when "This Is Michigan" meant "this is an unstoppable factory of offensive linemen and tailbacks who will go too high in the NFL draft," they'd get the ball back from a reasonable team and proceed to do to the fourth quarter what time-lapse photography does to glaciers. It was a pleasant sort of boring, to be sure, but it was also a signal that the football had concluded. All that was left was to hear the muffled squeaks.
Part of the reason it was boring was that it was unsatisfying. I came of age during the Moeller era, when Michigan dropped four games a year, and except for the occasional deviation when Michigan had a killer defense(1997, 2006) games that featured boa constrictor drives like Saturday's were false positives. The most bonkers stat about the Lloyd Carr era is the one where the team was more likely to win if it entered the fourth quarter with a small deficit than a small lead, but #2 is that during Lloyd Carr's tenure Michigan finished in the top 30 in yards per carry once. You'd think a run game featuring Mo Williams, Steve Hutchinson, Jeff Backus, and Anthony Thomas would be able to crack the top 30 by accident. Not so much.
Carr's teams were consistently good and had an amazing knack for getting off the mat, but there was a persistent frustration in the fanbase. It felt like Michigan was not getting the most out of its talent. When Rich Rodriguez came in, he had three functioning offensive linemen, a freshman and a walk-on at quarterback, and freshmen everywhere else. That his 2008 team's ground game would have been one of Carr's better ones was evidence enough that the frustration was warranted.
So I was encouraged by the general splattening of a bad team; I was more encouraged by the fullback traps that saw Sione Houma thunder through the line trailing a wildfire of hair. Harbaugh's run game is diverse and weird. By the end of that game Oregon State didn't just feel physically beaten but also confused as hell.
You can't just line up and do the one thing you're good at a lot and expect to succeed anymore. Harbaugh doesn't do that. It can look like he's doing that, but his run game is closer to Paul Johnson's than Lloyd Carr's. Johnson is constantly tweaking his blocking schemes. If you stick to one pattern to defuse his flexbone option he will eventually send one of his guys in a different direction and all of a sudden there's a dude ripping down the sideline. Harbaugh uses all those tight ends because they give him the ability to add gaps where defenses don't expect them—and this goes double in an era when teams are increasingly reducing their options on the interior.
Michigan is on a long path to being both good and confusing. If the coach has a nuclear meltdown on the sidelines—because he's right about something—as an amuse bouche, all the better. Of course, it does not do to get ahead of ourselves. They're not going to be able to do this against top-end defenses right away. We saw that against Utah.
Saturday wasn't the opening credits to this year's movie. But as a preview of coming attractions it felt pretty pretty good.
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Chris Wormley deployed beast mode on a sack that was a yard or two away from a safety, had two or three other TFLs depending on what mood you catch the official scorer in, and generally nosed in front of an otherwise killer defensive line.
#2 De'Veon Smith spent most of the game picking members of the Oregon State back seven out of his teeth.
#3 AJ Williams had a 20-yard catch and, more important, was one of the key guys blowing the perimeter of the Oregon State defense off the ball. Really. I am all about how AJ Williams played in this game, pending UFR review.
Honorable mention: Pick just about any defender. The offensive line in general.
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1, Utah)
2: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State)
1: Willie Henry (#3, Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
For the single individual best moment.
Oregon State offers Michigan a free touchdown by sailing a punt snap yards over the punter's head just before halftime. That this was the culmination of a series of mishaps directed by the angry gods of probability only adds to the mirth.
Honorable mention: Michigan's 13-run, 1-pass game-sealing drive. Ol' Skillet Hands trucks a defensive back for an important first down. Rudock finds Smith for a fourth and five conversion. Any of a half-dozen runs on which you will know De'Veon Smith by the trail of dead.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Wait: let's talk about this. Epic Double Bird is pretty epic. But is Harbaugh Meltdown epic? Should we change this? Let me know. Anyway:
This week's worst thing ever.
Michigan, already down 7-0 early, busts a blitz pickup. Jake Rudock has nowhere to go with the ball and gets blown up on the sack. He fumbles, Oregon State recovers, and a certain Brady Hoke feeling descends on events.
Honorable mention: Ridiculous missed Darboh endzone PI, the roughing the punter penalty that caused Harbaugh to go nuclear, most of Oregon State's opening drive.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
[After THE JUMP: TOOT TOOT]
What did you think of the secondary against Utah?
“We expected more higher energy out of our players and more competitive spirit. I don’t think- I think they went into the game playing more cautiously than just relying on what they learned in camp. And I know with our older guys, you know, Jarrod Wilson and Jourdan Lewis, they’re going to make a difference for this week. I know they’re going to make sure that we up the tempo this week in playing the defense in the secondary.”
Were you pleased with your corners in coverage?
“I was. I mean, I was. Can it be better? Yes, it can be much better. Same with the safeties. One thing, I don’t try to divide it. I think corners and safeties should all be together, so if the corners look good the safeties look good, if the safeties looks good the corners look good. The coverage overall, I thought it was fair. It could have been much better than what it was. The one thing we strive on is not letting up a big play and we pretty much gave up one big play in the game. Sometimes you can’t give up those plays, so I think we have to be a more aggressive defense in the secondary, which our defense allows us to do that. We just have to get it done.”
Did you feel like Jabrill kind of trusted his instincts a little more in the second half?
“I did. I did. Jabrill came out [and] I think it was more nerves rather than just playing, because this was actually his third game. You know, so he’s still really a true freshman. One of the things Jabrill I think has to do is just trust his instincts, because he’s really very instinctive. One of the things I think he has to do a lot more is just play within himself. He’s trying to get out there and use his speed rather than thinking about the game, and I think that’s what got him in trouble early in the first half. I think he’ll bounce back, just like all our guys will.”
At the start of fall camp Jeremy Clark was a safety and Wayne Lyons was at corner. What’s the reason for that swap?
“Well, we just felt that Jeremy Clark could bring a lot more to the table at corner because he’s long, he’s tall, he’s quick. You know, he could use his hands a lot more and he can run with the big guys, the big receivers in the Big Ten and we felt Wayne was more instinctive as a safety, and he plays in space a lot better back there in the middle of the field so that was one of the reasons we made that change.”
[After THE JUMP: Aggressively pursuing aggressiveness and Freddy Canteen the WR?]
Jake Butt and Amara Darboh
When did you know going into the game that you were going to have an opportunity to really have a big production day?
JB: “I mean, I think with the way our offense is set up it’s not just going to- each play isn’t just designed to just get one guy the ball. Really, anyone can get the ball on any given play. I knew there’d be opportunities and plays called where I’d have a chance to get open so I was just trying to catch the balls that were thrown my way.”
Talk a little bit about the process of a new quarterback and receivers getting to know each other and the little things that make the difference in a pass route or a football game.
JB: “The process started really the day Jake [Rudock] got here. His locker’s next to mine in the players’ locker room and we started just playing catch, and all summer we’d do our player-led practices, 7-on-7 and 1-on-1s and just running routes and we started to build the chemistry there. Jake’s had some success at other schools and stuff, so he knows how to get it done.”
AD: “Yeah, true. We were just trying to get the timing down throughout camp and summer, like Jake said. Just tying to get a feel and he tries to get a feel for where we’re going to be at and put the ball in the right spot.”
What did you see out of Grant Perry in preseason camp to know that he was going to be able to help you, and after the game- Coach Harbaugh just said there were a couple routes he didn’t run very precisely that led to interceptions- what do you say to him to make sure he doesn’t get down on himself?
AD: “With the first question, he was a guy who was very focused. He would always ask questions and took good notes and he was a guy that you could tell he understood football even though he was a freshman. And then with the mistakes and stuff, I told him after the game just go out there and pay attention to details and try to do the routes that you did in practice and don’t let the crowd or the atmosphere change the way you play.”
[After THE JUMP: Jourdan Lewis and Willie Henry]
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Channing Stribling||Jr.||Jourdan Lewis||Jr.||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*|
|Jeremy Clark||Jr.*||Brandon Watson||Fr.*||Wayne Lyons||Sr.*|
|Wayne Lyons||Sr.*||Terry Richardson||Jr.*||Dymonte Thomas||Jr.|
Peppers, and the nickelback spot in general, are addressed in the safeties section.
This is a spot of unexpected alarm. Michigan gets Jourdan Lewis back off an outstanding sophomore year and expected to pair him with either Blake Countess or Wayne Lyons. The winner of that battle was going to be a fifth year senior with a ton of experience and probably all right. Michigan was confident enough in the outcome of that battle to stick Jabrill Peppers at nickelback and never look back.
Fast forward to now and Countess is at Auburn, Lyons at safety, and the corner opposite Lewis is very much in flux.
But have I told you about Jourdan Lewis? And that the worst case here is probably just throwing Peppers out on the other side?
JOURDAN LEWIS spent a year watching balls scrape over his outstretched fingers.
The long outside completions were also a problem. Not the first one, as Lewis gave Akron's QB about a six-inch window, which he hit:
It's not perfect coverage—ideally Lewis forces the fade route closer to the sideline—but that's a one in a hundred throw from the QB.
He didn't like it much, so he went to the darkest parts of the swamp, seeking out the forbidden knowledge. He had heard Michigan State cornerbacks passed this way. The weird bronze scat they deposited in obscene patterns confirmed it. The hut loomed ahead.
In it, Lewis learned terrible and wonderful things.
When Raymon Taylor got hurt in the Notre Dame game, Lewis moved into the starting lineup. Lewis took a couple of quick pass interference calls—probably due to nerves more than anything else—and then locked down his spot. After ND I said he was "the best CB by some distance" despite the PI calls, and soon after that was not a remotely controversial opinion. Hell, after Lewis picked up a nice PBU in zone coverage Notre Dame decided they were done testing him:
…that was the end of targeting Jourdan Lewis. Literally. The only other UFR mention of him comes when he gets too deep on a zone and Golson dumps it off to a running back for profit. … Lewis committed two silly pass interference penalties on his first two tests and Notre Dame stopped targeting him three minutes into the second quarter.
With Will Fuller showing Blake Countess his own intestines the whole game that could have been interpreted as faint praise. Even if it was intended as such, by the end of the year it was clearly not.
That is Lewis against Michael Thomas, who Todd McShay has as the top available receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. That is probably ridiculous, but Thomas is a very large and leapy man who succumbed to swamp knowledge.
Here's Lewis against Leonte Caroo, the other popular pick for best wide receiver in the Big Ten:
Here's 6'5" Kyle Prater running a fade:
I've got more of these. Lots of them. Against Dres Anderson. Against anybody. Lewis would get beat from time to time because that happens to cornerbacks, but almost never deep and when opponents went at him he was alarming enough that even completions on him sent signals that maybe you should try the other guy.
By Big Ten Media Days, Lewis was on the receiving end of the best compliment a corner can receive…
On cornerback Jourdan Lewis: "Our receivers really thought he was pretty good. They said he got his hands on your really early in the route, but they were complaining to the officials all the time too because he never let go. He was messing with them the whole time. That's good if you can get away with it, but it'll probably cost you a couple flags every game also."
…bitching about interference. As a person who has done his fair share of bitching about interference, I can testify that means you have arrived as a cornerback.
This is the bit where I come up with problems, so: Lewis isn't the biggest guy. He could end up with his fair share of flags by the end of the year. There's not much else.
Are you worried that we might see a devolution similar to that of Countess? Doubtful. Countess went from a good, crafty zone corner to a guy exposed by man press coverage. Lewis excelled in that same scheme a year ago. As a bonus, the cornerbacks coach is not a former linebacker who'd never coached the position before.
Lewis just about maxed out expectations for him a year ago and doesn't have that much farther he can go without suddenly becoming Patrick Peterson. He should have another year like 2014, except now everybody knows about him and will avoid him more. Maybe he can aim for more interceptions—to go from a guy who is dangerous because he'll get a PBU to a guy who's dangerous because he will turn you over.
Either way, Lewis will be one of the best corners in the league.
[After THE JUMP: And now for something completely different.]
How do you feel about your unit here going into the first game?
“You know, the thing that’s unique about the kicking game is the first time you really test it is the game, and we don’t have preseason games in college. So, I feel great about the practices we’ve had so far. We get 29 of them. We’ve had whatever, however many we’ve been allotted. The head coach has given us incredible meeting time, practice time, and availability and so to this point I like the focus of our players and what we’ve done and look forward to the contest, but you get to see what you’ve got when you play. It’s very hard to simulate a kickoff or a punt in practice and the intensity of the game.”
Who’s leading at the kicker spot?
“Well, you know, we’ve got three. This competition is going to go all the way up until pregame. And there’s really no need to pick one at this point because there’s none of them that have been in a game. Coach Harbaugh really believes in competitive excellence at every position, and those guys are duking it out. They’ve been taking- they took equal turns today in team. Each of them got four kicks. They’ve taken equal turns pretty much through camp.”
Who are the guys working there?
“Kyle Seychel and Kenny Allen and Andrew David- you know, the new guy, the freshman. They’ve done a nice job. Once again, we get the opportunity to practice 29 times so we’re going to take that opportunity. There’s not an established starter or whatever there, so…”
What about at punter?
“Well, at punter, Kenny Allen and Blake O’Neill are both punting. They will both punt, okay? They will both punt for Michigan this year. Blake has some skills Kenny doesn’t have, [and] Kenny has some skills Blake doesn’t have. And we’re a pro-style team on offense, defense, and kicking game, and Blake came here to want to be a pro in one year, and Kenny has really embraced being accurate. So here’s the thing: they’re both good. Kenny’s improved a lot. Blake adds some nice depth there, and they’ll both play. Don’t know how often you see a two-punter system, but we got one.”
[After THE JUMP: Kick and punt returners, and a personal connection]
Jourdan Lewis emerged as Michigan’s best corner in 2014, demonstrating that he was well-suited to the man press style they wanted to play. That same style is back in 2015, and Lewis talked about that as well as the difference in the defense’s mindset, Wayne Lyons joining the secondary, and Jabrill. This was part of a scrum; my questions are marked.
Most of you guys grew up together and kind of emerged together, then Wayne [Lyons] just sort of gets dropped in your lap. What’s it like when someone has experience but at the same time is trying to compete with you?
“You’ve got to bring him in. You’ve got to bring him in just like one of our brothers. He is one of our brothers now and we’ve just got to bring him in and come together and compete. That’s what’s going to make a great defense.”
When someone comes from a different program they have done things before. Did he have anything or did you say, ‘This is the way we did it here’?
“No, he came in and he wanted to listen. He wanted to learn. That was great. He wanted to learn from us and we wanted to learn from what he had. We learned some things from him and he learned some things from us.”
“Yeah. It was just a collaboration between both of us. It wasn’t ever ‘This is how we do things.’ It wasn’t ever- it was all love as soon as he got here.”
There’s a lot of attention on Jabrill, as there always is. Do you see strides in him even though he’s at a different position than last year? Have you seen him make a lot of progress this summer?
“He’s going to compete and he’s going to be aggressive and he’s going to make plays, always. That’s always Jabrill’s mindset and I love it. That’s what’s going to make us a great defense is just his mindset and his enthusiasm and him flying around, so he’s just always the same Jabrill.”
[More after THE JUMP]