SPONSOR NOTES: I was struck when we were hanging out at the Bo Store that it was very cool that some of our main sponsors were very much like us: small businesses in the Michigan community run by guys who are just dudes, you know? I like to think that UGP and Homesure are the MGoBlogs of their respective fields: small, detailed, involved, pantsless.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Illinois loaded the box the entire game, usually in an over front
They played with one safety exclusively and had 8 or 9 in the box depending on whether M was in a big formation or not.
Michigan didn't have anything too weird except a slightly modified T:
This was one play only. Oh, right, and TRAIN.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Starting line of Braden-Bredeson-Cole-Kalis-Magnuson went most of the way, getting 66 snaps each. The backup line now reads JBB-Runyan-Kugler-Onwenu-Dawson, FWIW. Ulizio got bumped by JBB, must be primarily a tackle.
Butt got the most snaps of any skill player with 56, and Asiasi wasn't far behind with 41. Wheatley had his most extended playing time in a while with 31 snaps; Bunting returned on a single snap. With Perry out the main beneficiary was Kekoa Crawford, who had 35 snaps; Chesson had 33 and Darboh 44. McDoom had his usual deployment.
Poggi and Hill again split snaps about down the middle.
[After THE JUMP: a diversity of items.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Oh man if I keep talking about this trailer thing it'll be a thing and then I can see some dang games at tailgates. This has always been a downfall of tailgating: not seeing things. By repeatedly bringing it up here I may force Matt to do this thing. Yes. Yes. I have the power!
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets and possibly a trailer, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Pepcat!
This concludes your formation notes.
PERSONNEL NOTES: A ton of rotation in the second half. Speight got the first half and then Morris and O'Korn alternated the rest of the way. Bushell-Beatty started at LT and was briefly knocked out; Michigan moved Cole to LT and inserted Kugler at C in response. The second string line was Ulizio-Bredeson-Kugler-Ownenu-Dawson, FWIW.
RB snaps split just about equally; ditto FB with Henderson getting a third of the snaps behind Poggi and Hill. Probably the most interesting depth chart item was snaps past the starters at WR. Those went Ways 19, Crawford 14, Harris 12, McDoom 7, Gentry 6.
[After THE JUMP: trinitite.]
Previously: Offense Part I.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jehu Chesson was given top billing as the preview went with on-field production and Chesson's trajectory over Amara Darboh's offseason hype, but both guys were declared real real good. Chesson was expected to be a complete WR and off the board in the first couple of rounds of the draft; I was skeptical about Darboh's ability to get deep on folks.
Grant Perry was projected to be a solid third option, and nobody knew anything about who would emerge from the backups. Eddie McDoom was given a shout.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: A pile of blowouts and profusion of tight ends has made for uninspiring numbers. Seventeen different Wolverines have caught passes, including three different fullbacks and five different TEs. Meanwhile the starters have been on the bench for most of the second half in each outing.
Darboh has indeed emerged as the top wideout with 25 catches for 400 yards; his 9.5 yards per target is an impressive number, and he's on the end of a quarter of Speight's passes. Chesson has 15 catches for 231 yards and has had some iffy plays on balls downfield, though he's been hurt by bad throws. Chesson's also got seven carries for 44 yards.
Here ends significant WR contributions. Perry has six catches, McDoom three, and Kekoa Crawford one. McDoom's been a frequent jet sweep runner.
FEELINGSBALL: This is what happens when you're hammering almost all your opposition and your quarterback is struggling mightily in the two games (Colorado and Wisconsin) in which second-half passing won't be interpreted as a slap in the face. The wide receivers have been hamstrung by the situation.
It has been a mild disappointment that both starters have failed to high-point a number of passes that weren't perfect but were good enough to force a PI or result in a spectacular catch. On the other hand, WR blocking has been excellent on Michigan's many crack sweeps.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: This unit gets an incomplete.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jake Butt is the best receiving tight end in the country, Ian Bunting is set for a breakout, and look out for the Kaiju brothers, Ty Wheatley Jr and Devin Asiasi... but probably next year. Since we also cover all blocky/catchy types in that post, fullbacks Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill were both mentioned as potential X factors since they obviously had a lot of potential as blockers but had targeting or technique issues.
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Butt had two inexplicable drops early and has since been Jake Butt. He's since recovered to post a 71% catch rate per S&P+, which is excellent, and 8.3 yards per target, also excellent for a tight end. His blocking was alarming to start but has settled in at "decent," which is a minor upgrade on last year. Bunting was playing a bunch but had not been featured; he's missed the last couple games with an undisclosed injury.
Meanwhile Hill and Poggi have grabbed the rest of the targets here. Hill's caught all eight balls thrown his way and is averaging the same 8.3 yards per target that Butt is. While some of that is scheme, Hill has made a couple of difficult catches.
FEELINGSBALL: Meanwhile in things that don't pick up numbers: blocking. Butt is a bit better than last year, and the fullbacks have improved a great deal. Hill has had a few spectacular blocks where he blows through a linebacker without slowing and then gets to a third level player; these don't show up except in UFR and PFF, where Hill is clearly preferred by both metrics. I've been more enthused about Poggi than PFF; he's cut out most of the targeting issues that plagued him last year.
Meanwhile, Asiasi has emerged over the last few games. Against Rutgers most big runs featured Asiasi moving a DL and then popping out to blast a LB or DB. He's got a combination of power and agility that make him effective against just about anyone a defense fields, and at nearly 290 pounds his upside in this department is considerable.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: Asiasi's emergence over the last few games as a plus blocker—as a blocker who could be a difference-maker—is the main reason this spot feels like an upgrade over expectations. Khalid Hill whacking guys has also been an unexpected positive. Butt's been about what you expect.
SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Meh. Mason Cole was projected to be a very good player. Grant Newsome was fretted over, largely because Ben Bredeson was pushing him for the job. Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson were declared acceptable offensive linemen with little upside. Kyle Kalis was an infinitely frustrating mauler who blew assignments all the time, but was declared an X factor because if he could just figure things out...
NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: OL don't have numbers.
FEELINGSBALL: The line has been acceptable. Newsome, the projected weak link, was exactly that before the knee injury that ended his season. He had some pass protection issues but was not a revolving door; on the ground he was an able puller and decent enough at the point of attack. Magnuson has somewhat exceeded expectations as he's combined with Kalis to be a powerful right side of the line. Pass protection issues have lingered for him, though. He's somewhere between some preseason NFL scouting, which saw him as a potential high pick, and my "eh, undrafted FA" take from the preview.
The interior has been about as good as expected but the star has been Kalis, not Cole. Kalis did indeed cut out the vast majority of the mental errors and round into the mauling five-star guard everyone wanted him to be immediately out of high school. Cole, however, has struggled against zero-tech nose tackles. (Michigan has played an inordinate number of 3-4s early in the year.) While I think Colorado's Josh Tupou is just that good, Cole's impact has been muted at C.
Braden has clearly and vastly outperformed Bredeson at LG to the point where the only explanation for Bredeson's playing time is injury.
UP OR DOWN OR EH: The guys who started the season were actually a slight upgrade on expectations because Newsome was not a problem. However, Juwann Bushell-Beatty has been shaky in relief. He's been beat on edge rushes a ton; he's taken holding calls; he's been iffy on the ground. He looms as a potential issue down the road, so this is a sad injury downgrade.
So far the train’s on time. [Bryan Fuller]
As is tradition, we go long for the midpoint.
1. Most pleasant surprise?
2. Biggest downer?
3. Most improved player?
4. Guy who will emerge in the second half of the season?
5. Expectations relative to preseason outlook?
6. Biggest surprise in the conference?
7. Ditto, except national?
8. Predict three stats, individual or team, that will be by year's end.
1. Most pleasant surprise?
Linebackers have not been a problem [Bryan Fuller]
Adam: The linebackers. What seemed like a weak point heading into the season has been anything but a liability. Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray have been great in the run game and good in coverage, and their athleticism has not gone unnoticed by us or by the stat sheet; Gedeon's second on the team with 7.5 TFLs and has 3.0 sacks, while McCray has 4.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, and 3 PBUs. Peppers has been generating earnest Heisman hype this week in part because of his 32 tackles, 10 TFLs, and 2.5 sacks (and also because he's so good that his head coach has to go back to the early 20th century to find a comparable athlete), and including him with the linebackers leaves a position group sans concerns.
Seth: Agree on Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray. Also it's fun to have blitzing from that position again: Adam mentioned that Gedeon already has 7.5 TFLs—that means he’s on pace to beat the 14 that Bolden (6.5), Morgan (2), and Ross (5.5) had combined in 2015.
David: Karan Higdon. He got like 5-10 snaps last year, looked ok-ish, then disappeared. With Walker and Evans coming in (and potentially other big names in 2017), I was wondering if he would get passed by. NOPE!
Brian: Matt Godin. He got lucky with some injury issues for Hurst and Mone but both guys are back now and Godin's playing time isn't budging. He's been productive beyond expectations, and here I should remind you that I was advocating for a role for him in the season preview since he's always been a solid... SDE.
That he's playing DT and mostly holding up to double teams is a leap in performance I could not project. Hurst has been the more dynamic player and I do expect him to suck up more snaps as the season goes on, but Godin may have even played himself into late-round NFL drat chatter.
Ace: I’ll go with the most Harbaugh answer here and say Khalid Hill. Some of what he’s done has been expected; we knew coming out of high school that he was a skilled receiver, and that’s translated over to fullback, where he’s made a habit of picking throws off his shoestrings in the flat and still turning upfield for extra yardage. The surprising parts have been his blocking, which has been solid between the tackles and often spectacular in the open field, and his knack for converting goal-to-go situations. I mean, he dubbed himself the Hammering Panda, and we’re going to not only let the self-nicknaming slide—we’re running with it ourselves.
[Hit THE JUMP for the other seven]
So this happened. This is going to get out of control.
@Thatboylid80 lol don't start with this hammer shit
— David Dawson (@DamanteDawson) October 9, 2016
I'm warning you to brace yourselves for how out of hand this is going to get.
Y'all give bro @Thatboylid80 a name he gone run with it lmao he just yelled downstairs that he's the hammering panda
— David Dawson (@DamanteDawson) October 9, 2016
This is where we got involved.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) October 9, 2016
And then Smoothitron from the top rope:
— Abraham May (@Smoothitron) October 9, 2016
I hope you lashed yourself to the deck before reading this collection of tweets.
A coaching carousel on deck. At the midway point of the season it's looking like this could be an interesting December:
- Les Miles is already gone from LSU.
- Brian Kelly is 2-4 at Notre Dame, is definitely losing to a service academy, and is unlikely to make a bowl.
- Charlie Strong is running out of rope at Texas, now 2-3 and 0-2 in the Big Twelve while playing horrendous defense.
- Baylor still needs a long-term coach.
- Oregon is 0-3 in the Pac 12 and may be thinking about pulling the trigger on Mark Helfrich.
- Both LA schools have two conference losses already and sit at 3-3; wholesale collapse from one or the other isn't out of the question.
All of these schools will be pitching Tom Herman, and either all but one or all of them will end up disappointed. Once you get past Herman, up and coming candidates include... uh. Harbaugh acolyte Willie Taggart's turned USF around, PJ Fleck's itching to move up for anyone who's a boat enthusiast, and that's about it. Gonna be some weird guys getting head coaching jobs at major schools this offseason.
The situation in East Lansing. It's not good if you're a Spartan fan, but you're not no matter how much you're scouring the RCMB for hilarity and then emailing me when Google naturally responds by popping up MSU ads on this here site. (You know who you are. You are legion.) So it is good.
Bill Connelly had a deep dive into the decline from a team that was technically invited to the playoff to one that S&P+ currently has at 20% to make a bowl game. I jokingly referenced it in the game column but it deserves some actually attention. The problems in approximate order of severity:
- The OL is a "sieve." This has led to some ugly rushing stats ("85th in Rushing S&P+, 101st in rushing success rate, only 18 rushes of 10-plus yards (119th)") despite having LJ Scott, who I continue to believe is the truth. It is also getting Tyler O'Connor sacked a ton.
- The DL is a nonentity, deep into the triple digits in sack rate and largely responsible for a rushing S&P+ that is just as bad as their offenses's. This was predictable to some extent since MSU took not one but two grad transfers on the DL in an effort to shore up their line after Craig Evans and Montez Sweat got booted.
- It's an old team not likely to have a midseason turnaround as the youth gets their heads on straight.
The numbers figure to get a bunch worse next week, when S&P+ finishes whittling away the preseason projections that still make up a portion of their rankings. Without those projections MSU, currently 60th, would be 84th. Even now S&P+ has Michigan a 25-point favorite(!!!) on the road in East Lansing.
Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the season?
A couple more things about MSU. Their depth chart this week features an OR between their top three QBs. Also, instagram sleuthing by iSportsDave seems to indicate that Riley Bullough is out for the season. Or possibly another one of their linebackers.
Weekly fancystats love us update. Michigan is now 85%+ to win each game before OSU and an 18-point favorite against Iowa, the toughest remaining game before Football Armageddon II. S&P+ sees that as a dead heat, with OSU getting a slight edge because the Game is in Columbus.
In other S&P superlatives, Michigan is #1 nationally in:
- field position
- opponent success rate (at 19% Michigan is giving up less than half the number of successful plays than an average D-I D)
- points per trip allowed once the opposition gets inside the 40
- rushing defense, rushing success rate, and adjusted line yards
- passing defense, passing success rate, and adjusted sack rate
- standard down D, success rate, and line yards per carry
- passing down D (they're top five in every other passing down category but not #1, shame)
- third down D
- havoc rate
The D is on pace to be historically good.
Ross Fulton on OSU's (relative) struggles against Indiana. OSU still won comfortably, but under 400 yards against a hurry-up team like IU is a sign that the Buckeyes are indeed mortal. Ross Fulton examines why that was so:
The simplest explanation for Ohio State’s passing problems was that J.T. Barrett was off. ... As he admitted after the game, he again refused to take the open underneath routes. For instance, below he does not get the ball to Curtis Samuel out of his break.
He instead tried to force mid-range passes. But such throws were often late and with too much velocity, leading to inaccuracy high and outside. ... The game became reminiscent of other contests where Barrett was off, such as Penn State in 2014 or Michigan State last year, when Barrett missed open deep throws. As Meyer reiterated in his Monday press conference, Ohio State’s offense is based upon running the football and hitting vertical shots off play-action. Without such completions, opponent safeties can play aggressively downhill, resulting in a lower rushing success rate and a less efficient offense.
Things went from bad to worse last year because Barrett was decidedly not off, hitting two heavily contested bombs. Even so, if Michigan can put the game on his passing chops their chance to win goes up a great deal.
Perspective. The Rutgers game continues to generate thinkpieces, like this one from Inside NU:
The Romans at the Battle of Cannae, for example, were outsmarted and then completely destroyed by Hannibal’s Carthaginians. Rome’s armies took a full decade to recover. At the English victory over the French in the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, the entire French army fell apart and the French king was captured. Significant parts of France would remain under English rule for nearly a century.
Michigan 78, Rutgers 0 is worse than any of that. At least the French could claim that they brought an army to Poitiers. At least the Romans can take pride in the fact they had a plan whatsoever, even if it was incredibly dumb. Rutgers could not do anything. It was immobilized through lack of competence. The closest historical comparison is the Battle of Ulm, in which Napoleon was able to capture a huge Austrian army simply through highly skilled movement over the course of three days. And even then, it’s hard to compare. It took Michigan three hours.
Yes, it's a very Northwestern piece. I can't wait for The Only Colors to write one through the lens of the greatest Jerry Springer episodes they've seen or participated in.
NLRB is coming at the NCAA again. With the O'Bannon case now finished with no clear victory either way, but the NCAA did take hit as an antitrust violator. The National Labor Relations Board has now handed down a ruling that refers to football players as employees and bans certain practices:
In an unprecedented foray into college sports, the National Labor Relations Board has declared that Northwestern University must eliminate "unlawful" rules governing football players and allow them greater freedom to express themselves. The ruling, which referred to players as employees, found that they must be freely allowed to post on social media, discuss issues of their health and safety, and speak with the media.
The new rules apply to the football programs at the 17 private universities that play in the FBS, including schools such as Notre Dame, Stanford and Baylor -- but not public universities.
This is not a big thing right now but might open the door to more seismic items.
(HT: Get The Picture.)
As with yesterday’s Harbaugh presser, the lovely people in Rutgers’ Athletic Communications department provided us with transcribed highlights of the players’ press conference for your perusal.
Michigan linebacker/defensive back Jabrill Peppers
On his performance: “Whenever you get the balls in your hands you just wanted to make something positive happen. Today God had his hand on me today on some of those plays. I just have to give it up to the blocking and the coaching scheme. They set the guys up in positions to excel so we just went out there and handled business today.
On his reaction of the score at the end of the game: “Just wow. I’ve never been part of a victory this massive. But you still have to handle it with class and just keep improving for the next week. You can’t stay on your high horse. Our game against Rutgers is over so we just have to prepare during our bye week for the game after that.”
On Juwann Bushell-Beatty and his performance: “I was really happy for him. I know that he’s battle a lot of injuries and some weight problems. I’ve been playing with him since high school so I’ve seen him grow into who he is today. For him to start in front of the home crowd; I know he went down early but he got back up and was able to finish out the game. I was really excited for him.”
On what keep them going even after going up big: “You know, there are no backups. Every time you’re out there you’re expected to play like you’re a starter. We don’t look at the scoreboard. We just want to impose our will as fast and long as we can. I think the younger guys are starting to adapt to that. It’s up to us the veterans to set up that foundation. I think they’re starting to buy in and trust the coaches. We tell them that you have to play like you want to win the game until you win the game. This is college football and crazy things happen. It’s just our mindset.”
[After THE JUMP: Gedeon, Evans, Magnuson, Hill]