"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
We’ve heard a lot of guys say you tell them to stamp their personality on the defense. When did you start using that?
“I don’t know for sure when. Some time ago. I think it’s just a way for me to describe to those guys that-I mean, I think it’s important to play with a personality. You were recruited here for reasons that are good. Don’t change that. We don’t want robots. Keep playing the way you play, obviously within the scheme and what we do, but play the way you play the game. I think that’s important.”
They also say they believe in what they’re being given now, and that gives them more confidence. Can you talk about, as a coach, watching that process take place?
“Yeah. I just- I’m really proud of our guys of how hard they’ve been playing. That’s the biggest thing to me is playing with effort and playing with the technique we’re talking about, and so any time you get a group of guys that are believing in one another and playing for one another then I think you have a chance to have something special, and I think they’re starting to understand what that means.”
Any similarities between Oregon State’s offense and Northwestern’s
“Yeah, I think too often spread teams are all clumped together like, ‘Oh, they’re a spread team or a one-back team.’ I think there’s always a lot more differences that apply within those offenses than what some might say. Northwestern’s definitely unique in what they do and they’re really good at what they do. I mean, they’ve had that system there for a while and they do a great job. You can tell their players know what’s going on and know where they want to go.”
What are some of those unique things?
“Just…they’re committed to the run game. They’re a physical group. They’re committed to the run game, and they do a great job of changing up formations and personnel and all that but at the end of the day they want to run that ball, and they do a great job of it.”
You do some hands-on teaching. They said you get in the drills sometimes and show them stuff. Is that something that you’ve always kind of felt people learn better that way or it keeps you engaged or why do you do that?
“I don’t know. I’ve probably never but that much thought into it other than I think just what we said about stamp your personality as a player. I think you do the same thing as a coach, you know, and that’s…I don’t know. That’s just me. I like being hands-on and being involved in it. I like being high energy. Whatever your personality is, if you’re true to it I think that usually gets a response.”
[After THE JUMP: Nothing else about robots. Cyborgs maybe, but not robots. Fine, no cyborgs either. But defense, yes. Definitely some talk about the defense.]
9/19/2015 – Michigan 28, UNLV 7 – 2-1
This is our concern, Dude [Patrick Barron]
It didn't take long for Jim Harbaugh to shift from cheerfully and convincingly explaining why Jake Rudock's play was better than it looked against Utah to… not doing that. After UNLV, a couple of post-game questions clearly designed to fill already-written stories about Rudock's grim day with quotes raised Harbaugh's ire. He deflected a couple with boilerplate ("his job is to win football games") and assertions about a swirling wind, but when a third came:
Um, I guess I’m not as concerned with statistics as you two seem to be.
I hesitate to side with the Talk About types, but I'm concerned. I'm concerned with both the statistics (123 yards against UNLV, probably half of which came on "smoke" screens) and the overall level of play the statistics crystallize.
We're working with small sample sizes, of course, but that's all we've got to project with. The projections are not ideal.
I am not buying the wind conditions being a problem. I was in that stadium. I have been in it for many games. I once had a life and death fight with a poorly designed poncho. I have seen and endured all kinds of weather, and at no point on Saturday did the wind rise to a level where it felt like a serious factor. It blew a bit; I have seen many quarterbacks deal with that and much worse.
Those quarterbacks include one Jake Rudock. Kinnick Stadium juts out of a vast unbroken expanse of plains extending to the Rocky Mountains. In February I had occasion to drive through virtually the entire state of Iowa during a blizzard; I went at highway speeds because the snow was blown over the roads in an ever-streaming mass, never settling. Only the odd copse of trees huddled around a farmhouse provided enough of a windbreak to allow snow a temporary home, and even that was more refugee shelter than citizenship.
That drive reminded me of a David Foster Wallace essay about his youth tennis career that necessarily focused on one of the overriding concerns outdoor sportsmen have when the nearest bump in the terrain is thousands of miles to the west:
The biggest single factor in Central Illinois' quality of outdoor life is wind. There are more local jokes than I can summon about bent weather vanes and leaning barns, more downstate sobriquets for kinds of wind than there are in Malamut for snow. The wind had a personality, a (poor) temper, and, apparently, agendas. The wind blew autumn leaves into intercalated lines and arcs of force so regular you could photograph them for a textbook on Cramer's Rule and the cross-products of curves in 3-space. It molded winter snow into blinding truncheons that buried stalled cars and required citizens to shovel out not only driveways but the sides of homes; a Central Illinois "blizzard" starts only when the snowfall stops and the wind begins. Most people in Philo didn't comb their hair because why bother.
Of all the things that might explain why Jake Rudock could not hit Drake Johnson on a five-yard swing pass, wind is the least believable.
So. Let us calibrate our panic. It is the first year of a new head coach handed a terrible QB situation making do; that head coach has been massively successful anywhere he's laid his head. Macro panic: nil.
Micro panic: measurable. The Big Ten looks like a bunch of goobers plus MSU and OSU and I guess maybe Northwestern is good. A team that has Michigan's salty defense and a steady, boring offense is going to win a healthy number of games. Michigan's offense has been boring; it has only managed to be steady against Oregon State.
The offense Michigan fielded on Saturday loses games Michigan fans are currently filing in the win column. While that's cause for a shrug long term thanks to the state of the QB roster, it does dent Harbaugh's early momentum. Does that matter much? The recent trajectories of high-level coaches and… well… Brady Hoke say not particularly.
But it is nice to win things. I'm busy downgrading my expectations about as fast as I'm downgrading my expectations for the rest of Michigan's schedule, which is fine, I guess. I expect a bumpy ride and then as soon as anything goes smoothly I exclaim THIS IS IT FOREVER, because I am irrational.
We've gone from hoping that we should dump Rudock's career at Iowa from our expectations to hoping it's still valid to add those games in; it probably is. The upside of escaping Greg Davis, where Iowa fans are going nuts about a guy whose completions are five yards downfield or shorter 80% of the time feels gone. We would like to lock in the low-turnover game manager if that is still available.
wear Jourdan Lewis #brand jackets [Patrick Barron]
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jourdan Lewis had 4(!) PBUs on the day, and those were mostly as he covered the very legit Devonte Boyd. Playing as well as any Michigan DB since… Leon Hall?
#2 Ty Isaac ripped off the 76-yard touchdown that made things comfortable at halftime. On that play he made a swift cut upfield, broke a tackle, and put on the jets. He looked solid on his other seven runs as well.
#3 Channing Stribling picked off a pass, defended another, and was able to stick to the receiver any time he was tested.
Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill probably would have snagged the first-ever punter mention in this section if he hadn't shanked that one. Any member of the front seven—Michigan spread 8 TFLs among 9 players. Jehu Chesson did go grab a rushing touchdown.
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV)
2: De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State), Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV)
1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
Honorable mention: Picks from Clark and Stribling. Glasgow's thunderous TFL. Blake O'Neill essentially passing the ball down to the 3, and hitting a 59-yarder without a return.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
The general sentiment was to keep double bird. That was my inclination as well.
This week's worst thing ever.
Jake Rudock matches his 2014 interception total in game three by throwing one that hits a linebacker in both hands. The linebacker deflected it to a defensive back, but that was not bad luck.
Honorable mention: Rudock misses a flare route by yards. Any number of interior rushes that didn't get much. Those two Decker passes towards the end that seriously compromised Michigan's quest to keep UNLV under 200 yards.
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
I am sensing an unfortunate theme.
[After THE JUMP: corners making plays, DL emerging, run game woes explained, YIP YIP YIP YIP]
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Chris Wormley||Jr.*||Ryan Glasgow||Jr.*||Willie Henry||Jr.*||Mario Ojemudia||Sr.|
|Taco Charlton||Jr.||Maurice Hurst||So.*||Matt Godin||Jr.*||Lawrence Marshall||Fr.*|
|Tom Strobel||Jr.*||Brady Pallante||Fr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Royce Jenkins-Stone||Sr.|
Whether Michigan's DJ Durkin defense is a 3-4 or a 4-3 is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder says it's a 4-3 under again with a weakside end who is a bit more likely to line up in a two point stance or drop into coverage than before. But he's still Dante Fowler, who's a dang end.
Adam did yeoman work with Royce Jenkins-Stone to get some kind of confirmation of this. First:
In your words, describe the Buck position in coach Durkin’s defense.
Hmm. Not quite specific enough.
Is it fair to say that it’s essentially a stand-up defensive end who can also do the things a linebacker might do?
Okay. Maybe we can get him to say more than one word at a time.
So you’re going to rush the passer and drop into coverage too?
“Yes, and I’m going to put my hand in the dirt, too. Just depends on the type of formation.”
/confetti drops from sky
So we'll leave these previews as they are. Michigan's running Mattison's defense from the first three years. It's not like any of the DTs are liable to be unmovable two-gap mountains anyway.
By the way, this is the most alarming bit of the defense, and it's not all that alarming.
WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END/"BUCK" LINEBACKER
Ojemudia is still learning how to smile [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan has no proven options and only one guy who's got much touted-recruit upside left, but they should have someone who's at least solid. Prepare thyself for the last Ojemudia Death Stare Compilation.
OJEMUDIA DEATH STARE 2015
MARIO OJEMUDIA is now a senior and is nominally ahead of the pack at WDE. This is going to be a platoon unless someone emerges; the bet here is that Ojemudia drives his coaches less crazy, especially early, and gets the most at-bats. He's seen the field on the regular for three straight years now, ascending to a starting spot once Frank Clark got booted. In that time he established that he's not the kind of tailback-leaping, OL-discarding athlete Clark was, but he's got his share of assets.
Ojemudia's a smart, disciplined player. He's excellent at splitting the difference on zone reads; by doing that he prevents them from escaping outside and remains relevant.
Multiple times last year he was the guy the zone is supposed to read and he made the tackle. That's good eats. Against Maryland he was heady enough to make a critical fourth and short stop when the Terrapins rushed to the line for one of those catch-you-off-guard QB sneaks. In general, whenever Clark would do something that caused his coaches to pull their hair out they'd throw Ojemudia out there for a bit and he would get that particular assignment correct.
Pass rush is the thing everyone is worried about. I neither can or want to dispel that entirely. Ojemudia did not have the same kind of impact Frank Clark did. (As the NFL reaction to Clark indicates, his stats badly underrated his play. Clark was robbed of a ton of sacks by poor lanes from the DTs and bad coverage by Blake Countess.) On occasion last year his lack of size and strength saw him blown down the line or pancaked in a way that Clark never suffered, because Clark was 280.
But he's not a total non-entity. He had 3.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs; not a bad total for a guy who spent much of the season locked behind a really good player. When he did emerge into a starter he made a reasonable impact:
On Michigan's defensive linemen: "The best kid they had was the kid that took over for Frank Clark [Mario Ojemudia]. We knew next to nothing about him because he was only getting 10-15 snaps per game and wasn't doing much but he was really hard to block and was in our backfield a lot. …
"I don't know what the plan is for him this year but [Ojemudia] is the guy that I think can be really good."
Chatter has actually focused on the two other guys competing for this spot, and both of them will play. The most likely outcome here is a platoon featuring Exciting Guy and Boring Guy; I don't know who Exciting Guy is. I do know who Boring Guy is.
And that's fine. Ojemudia's kind of like a defensive end version of Jake Rudock. That's a worse deal at DE, were a "game manager" is just a guy who doesn't pressure the QB much. But it's not the worst thing.
[After THE JUMP: Ghostly promise and a large man]
Greg Mattison returns in 2015, and though he’ll be working in a different capacity he inherits a line of which he was one of the chief architects. He talked about the functional differences (and similarities) between the 4-3 and 3-4 and the progress his linemen have made over the summer at last week’s Media Day.
[I jumped into the scrum mid-response]
“You know, one thing [is] you don’t get around the kids much in the summer. I saw him [Lawrence Marshall] today [and] I said, ‘What do you weigh?’ He looks great. All our kids- Kevin [Tolbert] did a tremendous job in the weight program and all our kids worked extremely hard whenever I had a chance to pop my head in and take a look.”
DJ said you guys are going to be multiple. How much of a challenge is that for your defensive linemen?
“It’s not. It’s not. You know, when people talk about different schemes it really comes down to techniques. You can call it anything you want; one time you play a five-technique, one time you play a four, one time you play a three. You’ve got to learn them all.”
Do you like the depth and talent that you have up front?
“Yeah, I definitely do. These kids, we’ve been together for a long time. These guys have played a lot of football and maybe before they should’ve, but now they’re bigger, stronger, and older. Now it’s our job to get them to be as good as they can be.”
You guys have used Taco [Charlton] at a couple different spots his first couple years. He’s played some here and there. He’s a junior now. What does he have to do to really [inaudible]?
“I think he’s got to keep working on his technique. He’s a guy coming out of high school that really wasn’t a defensive lineman, so I think you’ve got to continue to take the technique with the strength. Add both of those together. And he makes flashy plays, [he] makes good plays. Now he’s got to do that consistently.”
[After THE JUMP: ways the 4-3 and 3-4 are the same]
DJ Durkin inherits a Michigan defense that’s both experienced and talented, with good depth in most position groups. Durkin has promised to mix up the fronts we’ll see this season, and he expanded on that while also talking about his pass rushers, linebackers, and more at Media Day.
[I jumped in while Durkin was in the middle of an answer]
“The thought is now we get into camp [and] a lot of it is now they’re hearing it for the second, the third, the fourth time of what we’re installing so you can master it and play fast.”
You talked at the beginning of spring about how you didn’t really know your team. What do you know about your personnel now?
“Yeah, I feel we know them much better. We had four-hour practices in the spring [so] we got a lot of reps with those guys. We saw them do a lot, so that’s a good thing. There’s not a lot of angst from me or our staff of ‘What’s this guy going to do in a game?’ or ‘[How will he] respond?’ We have, number one, experienced guys on defense for the most part. And then, like I said, we had really competitive practices in the spring where we put those guys in a lot of situations that they had to show what they could do so I feel like we have a good evaluation and awareness of where they’re at.
“And now it becomes let’s go into fall camp and see what guys come in with that right mindset and what they did over the summer, see how they prepared and go through it all over again and re-evaluate everyone and get ready for the first game.”
What are you most excited about for tomorrow and then fast-forwarding to September 3rd?
“Tomorrow, just getting out there. I mean, it’s one of those things that there’s a build up of it and when you finally get out there and hit that first period and start moving, it’s always…I don’t know. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. You just get that feeling like ‘Alright, we’re back out on the field.’ All this stuff is fun and everything but talking about it is not the same as going and doing it, so that’s what I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”
And then the opener?
“Yeah, the opener. I mean, wow, what a great test as an opener on the road in an environment that’s really loud. They’re into it; they’ve had great success there, especially recently, with their football program. So we’ll be tested right there, week one. Our guys know that, they understand that and we’re going to keep working towards that as we get through camp.”
[The rest after THE JUMP]
Previously: the offense.
hello [Patrick Barron]
This is the good part. There were a few folks trying to find the nearest available ledge after yesterday's post. I'm not sure if they're wildly optimistic about HARBAUGH and expect next year's team to be year four Stanford or if I came off too brutally negative. Either way, this post will be a lot sunnier.
It's not a 3-4. Unless Michigan was sandbagging in their spring game they are running a defense quite similar to last year's—at least as far as the front seven goes. We have great experience with paranoid coaches as Michigan fans and not once has a major structural shift in the defense been concealed in spring. Even last year under Sir Puntsalot Michigan went full man press and that was their defense until circumstances dictated otherwise.
So we'll run with the assumption that what Michigan put out there was about what they'll run. This game saw Michigan run a 4-3—actually more of a 4-4, but more about that later—almost all the time. They went so far as to deploy Royce Jenkins-Stone as a weakside end because they were all out of weakside ends outside of Lawrence Marshall.
They will mix fronts, as all teams do. It is not a radical departure from last year's approach. And that's a good thing.
There is a departure. That is…
A hybrid space player is here. The biggest difference between Mattison's defense and Durkin's is at safety. Under Hoke it was difficult to tell who was the strong safety and who was the free safety. That will not be the case this year, as Jabrill Peppers was operating as a lightning fast outside linebacker for big chunks of the game. He tattooed running backs in the backfield more than once.
Peppers barely left that location. When Michigan went to a nickel package they did so by bringing in an extra safety and leaving Peppers over the slot, where he nearly caused an interception by breaking on a quick slant to Bo Dever.
[@ right: Upchurch]
If you were worried that moving Peppers to safety would make him a peripheral player who mostly shows up when making a tackle ten yards downfield, don't be. The vision of Peppers provided on Saturday was one of Tennessee-era Eric Berry or Packers-era Charles Woodson: an all-purpose sower of havoc. Berry had 16 TFLs his final two years at Tennessee. Woodson evolved into an NFL Defensive Player Of The Year as something beyond traditional positional definitions:
“They’re playing a lot of nickel, you know the old split six, so an eight man front,” said Mornhinweg. “They’ve got a good cover man with [Charles Woodson] down there who’s a very, very good tackler, so they sort of invite you to run the football into that base type personnel group however they’re very good.”
While that would normally be a successful strategy, Woodson’s ability to defend the run as a slot cornerback gives the defense some teeth.
“They feel very comfortable with him playing in that, which really is like a WILL linebacker position, he’s a physical guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid. “He has great speed. He’s a great blitzer, great blitzer. So that’s how they use him.”
Woodson acted as that triple threat:
Woodson is fast enough to get to the quarterback in a hurry, but still strong enough to defend the run. Most of all, he’s a highly talented cover cornerback.
That is Peppers's role. Michigan's "nickel" is a base package with a hyper-athletic WLB; its base set looks like an eight-man front with a guy in that front who can cover anyone on the field. The defense is designed around his uncommon abilities.
Hurst was a regular annoyance to Morris [Bryan Fuller]
Activate DT depth. One of the striking things about the roster is that I had no idea who got struck first when drafting the defensive tackles. Glasgow and Henry were starters last year but both Mone and Hurst flashed ability as backups; a year later everyone's back and Maurice Hurst is in your base every play.
As a recruit Hurst was regarded as a lightning quick first step above all, with questions about whether he could hold up. That makes him an ideal three-technique. Three-techs get more one on one matchups if the nose tackle absorbs doubles, and Hurst is a good bet to shoot into the backfield. That was the case on Saturday. Hurst was a regular entrant into the land where TFLs are made.
He was going up against Ben Braden and David Dawson at guard, neither of whom is established as a starter-level player on the inside. But Braden did start all of last year and Dawson was a well-regarded recruit; neither is a walkon; both have been around a couple years. He was slicing through those guys with regularity.
Henry did well for himself after the first snap and should maintain the starting job. That two-deep looks set to be a high quality platoon.
I am ready to respect your authoritah [Eric Upchurch]
Inside backers are ready to rip. With James Ross out and Royce Jenkins-Stone drafted at WDE, the third linebacker in most sets was an odd duck. It did not seem to matter much, because the ILBs were filling with abandon. I have long been a skeptic about Joe Bolden's ability to hit people hard, but I thought he looked great.
There has always been a hesitancy about his play that has caused things like third and two conversions when Bolden goes entirely unblocked; that feels like it's finally out the door. Bolden showed up in the backfield a ton and hit guys hard when he showed. If that is not a spring mirage that sets Michigan up excellently for fall. Desmond Morgan's return gives Michigan another hard-hitting, dead-stop-tackler with a ton of experience, and Ben "Inexplicably Not Redshirted" Gedeon is ready to be the guy who spots both starters so regularly that he is a virtual starter as well.
The third linebacker should be Ross if healthy. In this defense I wonder how much run he'll get. Michigan has gone from a team that resigns itself to a ton of 4-3 sets against spread personnel (remember Jake Ryan walking out over three WR sets?) to one downright eager to play nickel.
In any case, two senior linebackers is a luxury.
Questions. The pieces are there for an outstanding defense. In my mind there are four main questions:
- Can anyone rush the quarterback?
- Can they find a second man press cornerback?
- Are the safeties reliable enough?
- Will the offense sell them out too much?
The last question is beyond the scope of this post. Suffice it to say that the last two years the defense had a tendency to collapse late after the offense's millionth three-and-out of the game.
Let's try to address the others.
Marshall is a breakout candidate and a 2015 key [Fuller]
Can anyone rush the quarterback? Michigan has not had a standout pass rusher since… Brandon Graham? Jake Ryan had a year in there but then he blew out his knee and wasn't an impact player as a junior; as a senior he had a distinctly muted impact (2 sacks) as a middle linebacker*. Brennen Beyer led last year's team with 5.5; Frank Clark had 4.5; neither was the kind of edge terror that needs to be accounted for every play.
Prospects are dim for that guy to emerge this year. Lawrence Marshall, a highly-regarded in-state recruit coming off a redshirt, has gotten a lot of hype. It would be a meteoric rise to go from not playing to being a terror. Mario Ojemudia is what he is at this point.
Michigan's best hope might be Taco Charlton, who seems set to move back to the weakside end after a season spent on the strongside in a 4-3 over. Charlton has a package of athleticism that is unmatched; this is a point where the proverbial light might come on. A spring injury prevented a hype train from building up steam; he'll be a guy you hope starts opening eyes in fall.
The defensive tackles also offer some promise here. Glasgow offered little pass rush a year ago, but Hurst, Mone, and Henry could be plus gentlemen, especially if they're all fresh because they can rotate freely without much drop in production. And the havoc Peppers causes might open up opportunities for other guys.
Even so this seems like the biggest gotcha in Michigan's quest for an elite defense.
Can they find a second man press cornerback? Michigan wanted to run an in-your-face aggressive defense last year and did so until it became clear that this was exposing Blake Countess to Spock levels of toxic radiation. Jourdan Lewis thrived, though, and returns as Michigan's #1 corner. Is there someone around who can let Michigan go Teddy KGB on opponents?
The two main contenders here are Countess, a year wiser and receiving cornerback coaching from a couple gentlemen with a slightly better pedigree in that department than the departed Roy Manning, and Stanford transfer Wayne Lyons. Lyons started for large chunks of the year for a lights-out Stanford secondary; he was regarded as something of a weak link. He can be the weak link in the #2 defense in the country and I will find that acceptable.
I give the slight edge to Lyons here, as he is bigger and faster than Countess. The boundary corner slot beckons.
A darkhorse: Brandon Watson. The redshirt freshman spent some time at safety last year, which made no sense since literally the only thing he did in high school is line up with his facemask molecules away from the opposition and jam the hell out of them. He looked pretty good on Saturday.
Are the safeties reliable enough? Jarrod Wilson is probably fine. I thought Michigan's tendency to jerk him around because he gave a team a small window to hit a pass in was one of their worst qualities under Hoke. They played nonsense guys over him from time to time, seemingly out of pique, and the defense got worse. Anyway, he's back and he should be reliable to good.
The second safety is not really Peppers since Peppers is a destroyer-of-all-trades in or near the box. The second safety is the guy who comes in when Michigan goes to the nickel that we are all going to interpret as Michigan's base defense by midyear. That is some combination of Delano Hill, Dymonte Thomas, Jeremy Clark, and Tyree Kinnel. Clark and Hill are the favorites. The numbers there are reasonable; can they find a player?
*[A move that was way more bonkers than it seems in retrospect because of Morgan's injury. Michigan opted to move their only impact rusher to MLB when they had Bolden and Morgan at ILB.]