"He's a hard worker, and he watched me and Tim (Hardaway Jr.) and Nik (Stauksas) put work in to become (first-round picks), and I'm just happy he's getting better," Burke said. "It's great for the program, too. It shows what type of program the University of Michigan is and the direction it continues to go in."
David Guralnick/The Detroit News
Continuing my theme of getting super-meta this offseason, I decided to take a look back at the MGoBlog recruiting recaps from the class of 2008—hello, blogspot!—and see how they stand up now that those players have either moved on from the program or are fifth-year seniors. 2008, of course, was the franken-class of Lloyd Carr and Rich Rodriguez recruits, a bizarre blend of pro-style plodders and size-challenged spread speedsters. While it boasted 17 four-stars among 24 commits, finishing a very respectable tenth in the Rivals team rankings, the class would prove to be an unmitigated disaster, ravaged by attrition and marked with disappointment.
So, let's go back to a time when Michigan fans still held out hope for landing Terrelle Pryor—when these were written, still
holding out for a better contract mulling his decision a month after signing day—to spearhead this newfangled spread offense. Today, I'll take a look at Brian's offensive evaluations, and the defense will be covered next week. For reference, links to the original posts: Quarterback and Running Back, Receivers, Tight Ends, Offensive Line. If you're anything like me, perusing those is a remarkably fun way to waste time.
Easy Joke Is Easy
With a major change in offensive scheme, Michigan was in desperate need of a dual-threat quarterback. Pryor was the ultimate prize, and Rodriguez was forced to hedge his bets with Justin Feagin, an under-the-radar athlete from Florida whose best offers were to play wide receiver at LSU or defensive back at Miami (YTM).
Projection: Someone's going to play Tebow to Threet's Chris Leak this fall; unless Carlos Brown locks that down, it'll be Feagin. I have no idea what to expect, but think his future is probably somewhere other than quarterback.
Namely, the inside of a courtroom. ZING! (Really, when it comes to the 2008 quarterback situation, dark humor is the only option lest you want to break down in tears.)
Ironically, it was his off-field actions that made Feagin one of the recruits Brian was "baselessly excited about in defiance of recruiting rankings and reason," due to late-night workouts and multiple quotes expressing no concern about potentially having to compete with Pryor for the starting job. It was noted that Feagin required "a ton of developing to be a legitimate quarterback," which was readily apparent during his brief appearances as a freshman. Then came the cocaine stuff and subsequent boot, so we'll never know whether Feagin could've turned into a passable receiver.
I started following recruiting seriously when a friend showed me Noel Devine's highlight tape during my senior year of high school. Since I had little understanding at the time about how recruiting actually worked, I was bitterly disappointed when Devine seemingly had zero interest in Michigan (and vice versa), eventually ending up at West Virginia. I swore never to get my hopes up about highlight tape heroes again.
So the next year, when another atom-sized running back took the YouTubes by storm, I had little hope that this Texan doing heel-clicks on the backs of linebackers would even consider donning the Maize and Blue. Even so, I'd watch his tape on repeat, sharing it with friends whenever the opportunity arose; seeing their eyes bug while asking what in the hell they just watched never got old. This is what they saw [NSFW audio warning]:
Then, of course, the impossible occurred: Sam McGuffie signed with Michigan, though not before nearly shattering our dreams during a signing day flirtation with Cal. Brian, however, was nonplussed, proferring this muted reaction to McGuffie's inclusion in the class:
General Excitement Level: AAAAIIEEEE! Man... this offense is McGuffie's jam, man, and the Church Of Barwis will excommunicate anyone who doubts his his's ability to get up to 200-some pounds without compromising his lightning quicks. Steve Slaton says what.
Projection: He's the man, man. Will battle Brown and Grady for carries at first; probably a Noel Devine role his first year.
Oh. Unfortunately, you all know how this one went. McGuffie showed flashes of brilliance as a freshman in 2008, but also the durability of a paper bag. After finishing the season as the team's second-leading rusher, he decided to transfer closer to home, ending up at Rice, where he'll be a redshirt senior in 2012. Not exactly what we'd all envisioned when the guy who frontflipped over J.B. Shugarts at the Army Game hit campus.
McGuffie wasn't the only back in the class, however, as he was joined by two other intriguing prospects. Rich Rodriguez earned the "snake-oil salesman" moniker for snatching Roy Roundtree from Purdue (more on him later), but his other signing day surprise was pulling Trotwood-Madison RB Michael Shaw away from Penn State. You'll never guess what Brian noticed on his film [emphasis mine]:
I am not a scout, but in the Shaw video at Scouting Ohio I saw a guy with a knack for catching the flare, good speed, and exactly one move: an upfield cut followed by a bounce-out that got him outside high school defenders with regularity.
And thus we find the origins of bouncebouncebouncebounce.
The final back in the class was a relative unknown from the football hotbed of Avon, Connecticut. Mike Cox's name required a disclaimer in the notes section of his profile—"Degree of difficulty applies on all jokes about his name. (IE: please no "Mike Cox is huge" jokes.)"—while his school's sporting pedigree invited a healthy dose of skepticism:
There's almost zero reliable data on Cox. His high school conference is well known for hockey -- read full of rich white guys named "Higginbotham" (no, literally) -- and is awful at football.
Until reading the profile, I had completely forgotten that Michigan took Cox over four-star Detroit Country Day product and eventual Notre Dame commit Jonas Gray. In retrospect, I think it's safe to say that was a mistake, even though Gray wasn't a major contributor until his senior season. At least we got four years of stale dick jokes, though.
NEVER FORGET, Part Deux
Rodriguez's hire brought to Michigan the era of the waterbug slot guy, which promised to be great fun for a fanbase used to watching tiny track-star guys tear it up only for opponents. The recruit expected to come in and make a big splash early was four-star Terrence Robinson out of Klein, Texas, and all it took was one physics-defying play to see why:
Commits pulling Hakeem Olajuwon post moves at warp speed during a football game understandably cause a fair amount of excitement. Brian busted out the obligatory Breaston comparison and projected him to be in the mix at both returner and slot receiver. Robinson finished his Michigan career with one catch, two kickoff returns, and one punt return for a grand total of 94 all-purpose yards.
Michigan's other slot ninja was Pahokee's Martavious Odoms, whose profile contains endless testimonials about his rabbit-chasing speed. Brian's comparison is Devin Hester and also a version of Steve Breaston that actually catches the bombs:
General Excitement Level: Moderate++. He's never going to be Braylon Edwards but if he's as fast as his reputation he could be a dynamite returner and even a deep threat: remember Steve Breaston's ill-fated career as the target of bombs? Well, he was open by yards time and again because opposing players got smoked by his moves and always dropped the ball. Odoms looks like he's pretty good at hauling in deep balls.
Projection: Will press for time as a returner immediately and is 50-50 to be the designated bubble screen guy, with Terrance Robinson the other option. Starts off with an advantage on Robinson because he's spent the last four years as a receiver.
Evaluation severely lacking in mountain goat blocking praise.
Despite the excitement over the tiny slot guys, the biggest expectations were reserved for consensus top-100 receiver Darryl Stonum, who chose Michigan over Florida, Alabama, USC, and Florida State. Breathless hype part one:
Natural change of direction? Fluid hips? Comes down with jump balls? A mix of Braylon Edwards and Mario Manningham... which, like, dude.
And part two:
General Excitement Level: Maximal. The second most likely kid in the class to have a long, productive career at Michigan, IMO, behind Dann O'Neill.
Stonum's production disappointed, even after it was discovered that he'd been playing half-blind and needed contacts, and his career came to an untimely end after a string of alcohol- and driving-related arrests.
The last of the four receiver recruits was Roy Roundtree, another Trotwood-Madison star whose projection was the closest to the eventual reality:
General Excitement Level: Moderate. Never going to be a gamebreaker, but a likely contributor. Has to add a lot of weight to be an effective player.
Projection: Redshirts, plays sparingly his second year, and is 50-50 to emerge into Michigan's #2 WR.
Roundtree redshirted, then led the team in catches in each of the next two seasons, though this was more the product of the offense—Roundtree was the main beneficiary of QB Oh Noes—than him being a true #1 receiver, though he may be forced into that role this season.
The 2008 class also featured two four-star tight end recruits, though both came with significant question marks. For Brandon Moore, the third of the Trotwood trio, the question was whether he was the future star who earned top-100 rankings and big-time offers after a standout junior season or the potential bust whose stock slipped significantly during a disappointing senior year. Scout actually started out with Moore as their #98 overall prospect before dropping him all the way to three stars and the #43(!) tight end. The verdict:
General Excitement Level: High, with caveats. Moore is a boom-or-bust guy with much potential but a long way to go.
Projection: Great success, great failure, or somewhere in between. Specific cat is specific.
Barring an out-of-nowhere breakout season in 2012, bust it is.
Meanwhile, Michigan took a head-to-head battle with Ohio State for Toledo Whitmer's Kevin Koger, but it was unclear whether he'd stick at tight end or eventually make a move to defensive end:
It must be said: Koger is widely regarded a prospect of equal or greater merit at defensive end, and with Nick Perry's escape to Southern Cal Michigan finds themselves with one defensive end recruit across two classes. Though it's possible one of the linebackers -- most likely Marcus Witherspoon -- could end up with his hand down, Michigan is critically short there.
A down-the-line move was projected, but that was largely based on the assumption that Moore would pan out. Instead, it was Koger who'd get the lion's share of the snaps at tight end for the next four years.
Brian's O-line Knowledge Has Come A Long Way
One of the staples of the recruiting recaps is the "YMRMFSPA" section, in which Brian compares the recruit's style of play to a notable former player (usually a Wolverine, but not always, as evidenced by the Hester comparison for Odoms). With Michigan pulling in six offensive linemen in 2008, coming up with the proper approximation got a little difficult:
Dann O'Neill: YMRMFSPA Jake Long. No pressure.
Kurt Wermers: YMRMFSPA Matt Lentz?
Elliott Mealer: YMRMFSPA Matt Stenavich(?)
Rocko Khoury: YMRMFSPA Uh, that other un-touted guard person.
Ricky Barnum: YMRMFSPA Rod Payne?
Patrick Omameh: YMRMFSPA ????
Dave Petruziello and Leo Henige feel very neglected, man.
As you can see above, before Taylor Lewan was the Next Jake Long, that distinction went to Dann O'Neill, a top 100 recruit from Grand Haven. Not only was O'Neill quite a talent, his services were desperately needed along a thin offensive line:
Dann O'Neill might be Michigan's most critical recruit. The only tackles in the last two recruiting classes are incumbent RT Steve Schilling, three-star Perry Dorrestein, and two-star sleeper (as in "only had offers from MAC schools" sleeper) Mark Huyge. Finding two starting tackles from that group once the Zirbel-Ortmann class graduates in two years was looking very risky.
Brian projected O'Neill to start "at some point, hopefully later (say, as a redshirt sophomore) rather than sooner (say, this fall)." Instead, he never played a down as a Wolverine, transferring to Western Michigan after his freshman year. He would eventually earn a start at Michigan Stadium in 2011, but as a member of the Broncos.
The other future washout on the line was Indiana guard Kurt Wermers, whose off-field hobbies were not exactly typical of a football player [emphasis Brian's]:
Wermers was also named to the stupidly named "Offense-Defense Bowl" in Miami. The OD bowl appears to be a sort of second-tier all star game. Big whoop, except for the press release announcing the selection:
"Wermers, a veritable renaissance man whose hobbies include weightlifting, playing guitar, singing, and reading, also enjoys spending time on the virtual field of battle in the wildly popular massively multiplayer role-playing game World of Warcraft when not battling in the trenches on the football field."
This dovetails with information from May about Wermer's participation in... an a capella group:
"I love it," Wermers said of singing. "It gives me a chance to get away from big jocky athletic guys and hang out with a different group of people."
I don't think we'll be having any discipline issues with young Mr. Wermers. It's just a feeling.
Wermers left the team before the 2009 season, saying he decided to transfer because Rodriguez was "bringing in a lot of different kids that were not my kind of crowd," and running the team like a business (Wermers signed when Carr was the coach, but obviously never played under him). It was later revealed that Wermers was academically ineligible when he announced his transfer, probably because he was playing WoW instead of going to class. Discipline issues: check.
The player who's actually panned out was the lowest-ranked among the six, Patrick Omameh, a two-star DE to Rivals and the #87 OT to Scout. There wasn't much comment on Omameh beyond addressing his sleeper status; speculation about his future position turned out to go 0-for-2:
There are conflicting reports as to whether Omameh was recruited as a center (where his intelligence would help with the line calls) or tackle; that will get sorted out somewhere down the line.
As you know, Omameh is entering his third year as the full-time starter at... right guard.
Finally, Ricky Barnum peered into the future and got a serious head start on his future team's biggest rivalry:
Various people are probably irritated with Ricky Barnum: Urban Meyer, for one. Also OH OL Zebrie Sanders, who tried to commit to Florida but was told to talk to the hand because Barnum and another player had filled Florida's OL quotient for the year. Sanders, also rejected by Georgia for the same reason, ended up at Florida State and Urban ended up short one highly recruited interior lineman. Not that anyone will ever shed a tear for Urban Meyer.
Well done, Ricky.
EDIT: Moved Grady to this group
I've written plenty about the guys from the classes of '07 and '08 who didn't make it to this week. This one's for the guys who did.
Many had to overcome hideous, season-ending injuries to get here. They also stuck around through two paradigm-shifting coaching changes, or watched the guy and the system they committed to run out of town.What they signed up for was multiple Big Ten championships and Rose Bowls, but what they got was the most tumultuous years at Stadium and Main since Yost dug a hole in the ground.
What they leave is a program on the verge of a BCS bowl, on the verge of another reshaping, on the verge of one final chance to beat Ohio State. The leadership they provided helped Michigan avoid another painful transition, and set the tone for more success to come. There have been many great seniors to graduate from Michigan, but it is no derogation of them to say that this class is a bit special. Here are their stories (in reverse order of commitment):
EARLY RICH-RODIGAN JET-SMURFS:
Michael Shaw was the wizard hat to Trotwood teammate Roundtree's snake oil, a Penn State commit (Carr had wanted him as a CB) who switched to Michigan at the last minute. Unlike fellow '08 RB recruits he had neither captured the imagination of the Internet by hurdling fools, nor did he have a name that 13-year-olds use on prank calls. What Shaw had was speed, hands, and a cut-and-bounce move. People thought he might be a slot receiver. The era Shaw played in was replete with RBs of various skillsets, and proximity to Carlos Brown made for exaggerated comparisons. Various injuries made for sporadic appearances. He started the '09 Ohio State game and was nominally the starter at the beginning of this year. Everyone will have to pick their endearing memory of bouncy Shaw; mine will be the block on McNaul against NU (the purple one) and Batman.
"Normally they're keying in on me. I don't know why, but they're keying in on me, so that's where [Denard] gets his yards from … We had an idea they were going to try to contain Denard, but we also thought Notre Dame was going to try to contain him."
Martavious Odoms was billed as the perfect slot bug, the prototypical Rich Rodriguez Pahokee speedster with skillz who's completely overlooked because he's tiny. He was brought in to return kicks and punts, block like a mountain goat, and catch bubble screens. Whenever someone of the old guard complained about "little Florida guys" who "won't make it in the Big Ten," they were talking about Odoms.
Tay almost immediately grabbed that slot position and led the team in receptions as a somewhat fumbly true freshman. His sophomore season it was his mountain goat blocking and magnificent TD against Indiana that prevented a Hoosier loss from ever being added to the pile of Rodriguezian indignities. But he sprained a knee against Penn State and missed the rest of the season while redshirted classmate Roy Roundtree exploded. Odoms returned as the world's smallest outside WR in 2010 until a broken foot knocked him out for the second half of the year. This year several broken bits kept Odoms on the sideline as Gallon emerged, until Odoms reprised the Indy TD (@8:51) against Nebraska.
Denard, can you talk about what you saw on the Odoms TD?
Denard: “Me and Martavious had a race, what, two years ago? So I saw that he can run, and he went right past the defenders and I put it in the air.”
What happened in that race?
Odoms, to Denard: “… What happened?”
Denard: “You have to tell them. You have to tell them.”
Odoms: “No, you should tell them.”
Denard: “Ah … he beat me. He got a win there. He got a win.”
Kelvin Grady committed to Michigan before any of these guys, but for basketball. After his sophomore ('08-'09) season Grady left the backcourt to join his brother in Rich Rod's basketball on grass. Grady also left his sure scholarship, and had to compete with the rest of the walk-ons to earn a football one (he did). Grady19 immediately pushed for playing time in the now crowded slot rotation, showing great route running but not so great hands. Then last year the hands improved—as in he caught almost everything thrown his way—and also became the designated reverse guy.
This year he's rotated in every game, despite there being another guy who's "emerged" at his position every year he's been here (Odoms, Roundtree, Gallon). His eligibility will run out after this season, but Kelvin has already received his Bachelor's degree, and is a year into his Master's in Social Work.
"It crossed my mind that I wouldn't have anything," said Grady, who started 25 basketball games as a freshman before seeing his time reduced last year. "I'd be out. I'd be just like the rest of the guys back home who dropped out of college and didn't have anywhere else to go. But I'm too strong. I've got too much will. I've got a family that supports me. I've got a brother [Kevin, a senior running back for Michigan] that's working hard.
"I just want to say to you Florida boys it's not so bad in Michigan."
Terrence Robinson may not get a 5th year; the Texas 4-star was another slot bug who actually won the job in '08 before Odoms. He caused a Nebraska fumble on special teams this year—I don't know what his plans are if there's a scholarship available.
J.B. Fitzgerald got the Victor Hobson designation in the four-man YMRMFSPA haul of Foote-Hobson-Crable-C.Graham. This was thanks to um, large hands? Fitz also was considered quite raw, needing considerable coaching on his read and reaction skills. In this, it's hard to argue that Michigan didn't fail him, provided Jay Hopson then GERG as his position coaches. Fitzgerald was never a threat to displace Obi Ezeh or Jonas Mouton, except when the coaches got so fed up with those guys they put Fitz in (after they tried Kevin Leach). He did see some starting time at OLB late last year due to injuries, but has since been passed by the likes of Ryan and the freshmen. An academic All-American, Fitz will graduate with a degree in sport management.
"Physical's how we like it." (half of this guy's quotes can be taken out of context, the other half are about his family).
Until 2011, Kevin Koger (not Kroger) was the last head-to-head recruiting battle with [glances around, whispers] you know who in Ohio that Michigan actually won. Brian said he was Carson Butler minus the attitude and projected a future move to defensive end. Damn right about the attitude – Koger is a 2011 team captain and the Ryan Van Bergen of the offense.
Koger raised the hype meter a bit by scoring that TD versus Wisconsin in his first career catch, and then hauling in a one-handed flying stab in garbage time versus WMU in '09 that was more entertaining than Coner throwing D.O.'s to walk-on receivers with Mets' last names. This year he made another ridiculous catch over the middle versus Western. Koger's production on the field hasn't changed much from sharing time with Webb in 2010 (14 catches for 199 yards and 2 TDs) to being the guy in Borges's offense (17 catches for 195 yards and 3 TDs). Blocking Purdue's DEs (at top of screen, blocking 49) was a lot of fun.
In parts of the internet where trite metaphors are allowed, the phrase "Mike Martin is a beast!!!" is stated repeatedly, the number of exclamation marks varying from one to however many it takes to break a keyboard depending on how many yards backwards the poor sap charged with blocking him traveled before reestablishing radio contact. In less savage parts of the internet, people made things like this:
all the time. You can even put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him (below) and he still looks like he's about to kill a quarterback any second. So of course Michigan put him in a micro fleece Balaclava and put Greg Robinson behind him. He was still the best player on the defense once Brandon Graham left; actually he beat out Graham for Michigan's '09 DL award.
A late-blooming prospect, Martin got his offer in June after Georgia DT Omar Hunter turned Michigan down. He committed immediately, and remained committed when a flood of others, including ND, came in after the coaching change. Martin arrived able to bench press like NFL first rounders, and ESPN said he looks like a crab.*
He immediately entered the DT rotation with Taylor and Johnson, and then spent the rest of his career here as a nose tackle because Michigan didn't have any other guys on the interior who could demand double teams. GERG's great idea to utilize Martin was to make him the centerpiece of 3-man rushes. After his junior year, Martin's personal accomplishments matched those of Alan Branch, with a far worse supporting cast.
*I think when people say "crab" what they mean is pad level. From now on when I hear "crab" I will declare that prospect someone Michigan must get. I want an entire DL that consists of nothing but crab people who squat 520 and chase QBs like they're Shawn Crable.
Despite having NFL prospects, despite a new coach and staff again again, he stayed. He said:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Tomorrow: Those Who Stayed (the Class of '07):
Thing of the week. Introducing Vampire Denard, as MVictors dubbed him.
Formation notes: Michigan went heavy shotgun in this game. I've only got nine I-form snaps, two of which came in garbage time. As for how those snaps worked out… more on that later.
Michigan operated with a lot of 2-back sets in this game, from which they deployed a variety of zone runs; when they went three-wide with a TE he was usually aligned as an H-back a la Rodriguez.
Substitution notes: Nothing you don't already know. Line was Lewan/Schofield/Molk/Omameh/Huyge, WR rotation was the same as usual, Denard was knocked out when he hit his hand on a pass-rusher's helmet midway through the third, Toussaint got the bulk of the carries.
|M20||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||1||0||4||4-3 under||Run||Triple option dive||Toussaint||0|
|Wow, good thing I didn't see this live: the NT times the first snap of the game. Anyway: Odoms is in the slot to the short side and comes in motion at the snap; he then appears to get in a pitch relationship with Robinson. Denard hands off on a dive to Toussaint; this is a mistake with the MLB headed to the dive. NT shoots past Omameh thanks to the snap timing and has time to come all the way around to tackle at the LOS. Toussaint had no other options because of the LB, who prevents a yard or two of YAC. RPS -1 for snap jump. RUN-: Robinson(2)|
|M20||2||10||Shotgun twin TE twins||1||2||2||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||65|
|The big run opened by the safety overplaying Robinson. M uses Koger and an H back and shoots him to the backside of the play to get a linebacker crashing down. Denard reads the exchange and hands. There are three second level defenders left with the scrape. One drops into coverage on the snap since the slot blitz left Hemingway open and Michigan threatens passes in these situations. A second tries to blitz the backside belly gap between Omameh and Huyge; Huyge(+1) just manages to get over to slow him down. LB is coming through because he's gotten in too fast but a significant slowdown is enough. The last guy is the free safety, who is still checking Denard by the time Toussaint bursts past the LOS. With Watson(+1) releasing downfield and sealing the cornerback there is nothing but grass in front of Fitz; the other S manages to grab his shirt because all long Toussaint runs this year end with someone grabbing his shirt. Molk(+1) and Schofield(+1) provided the frontside crease; Toussaint(+2) saw it and hit it immediately. RPS +1. I would normally give this more since there are three guys checking Denard but this is a basic spread play Illinois should not get clunked on like this. Picture paged.|
|RUN+: Molk, Huyge, Toussaint(2), Schofield, Robinson(0.5), Watson||RUN-:|
|O15||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Triple option dive||Toussaint||6|
|Denard slightly in front of the TBs, implying inside zone. Hopkins motions into a pitch relationship with Denard on the snap. This pulls both linebackers to the wide side of the field; slot guy comes in to contain and Robinson hands off. Hopkins never even looks at Denard so I don't think this is a read. Schofield(+1) kicks one DT; Molk(+1) another. Omameh(+1) comes off a momentary double to seal the SLB after he stepped the wrong way on the option fake. Lewan(+2) rides a DE five yards downfield. Toussaint hits the crease provided and hops outside... I think he gives up some yards by cutting back behind Lewan instead of just running right for the corner. RPS +1.|
|RUN+: Lewan(2), Schofield, Molk, Omameh||RUN-:|
|O9||2||4||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||QB draw||Robinson||9|
|Slot LB stays with the slot this time; Illinois makes it up with a safety. They blitz a LB right into the intended hole; Smith(+2) hacks him to the ground as Robinson(+1) darts around him. Molk(+1) seals the playside DT; Schofield(+1) and Koger(+1) get downfield to wall off the last two guys. Lewan(-1) almost gets it all blown up by losing his guy; Robinson(+1) glides past that guy and into the endzone.|
|RUN+: Robinson(2), Smith(2), Molk, Koger, Schofield||RUN-: Lewan|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-0, 13 min 1st Q. Craig James says the last play is 'almost like a designed quarterback run'. O RLY?|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M47||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||7|
|Illinois keeps the LB over the slot and sends the guy on the short side; M runs another inside zone. The linebackers slide a little to the backside since Hopkins shooting into that end threatens both a Denard keeper and a Toussaint cutback; the corner has the frontside gap. Or at least he would if Gallon(+1) didn't read his blitz and crack down on him, shoving him past the hole and helping Omameh(+0.5) out on his WLB block. With Molk(+1) and Huyge(+0.5) not doing anything too bad on their blocks Toussaint hits the open hole for a good gain.|
|RUN+: Gallon, Huyge(0.5), Molk(0.5), Omameh(0.5), Toussaint(0.5)||RUN-:|
|O46||2||3||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-3 even||Run||Inverted veer keeper||Robinson||1|
|Bubble complaint lodged. Anyway, Illinois has a corner on one side of the line with no one in his zone since the TE is offset to the WR side. He can run at this as soon as he sees the RB move away from him. He does. On the playside the optioned DE heads upfield so Robinson keeps. Omameh(+1) kicks the playside LB effectively. Cutback means the corner tackles Robinson from behind; even without that Lewan(-1) lost a downblock and Schofield(-1) couldn't get out on a linebacker. RPS -1. Picture paged.|
|O45||3||2||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||QB draw||Robinson||1|
|Twinned WRs stacked over each other; Toussaint motions outside of them. No one really goes with him; Illinois is still playing a full two deep so it's six on six in the box. Illinois charges upfield, opening up a draw; a blitzing LB seems like he's supposed to deal with that possibility. Molk(+1) shoves him past the play. Mercilus beats Huyge(-1) upfield in a flash, which wouldn't normally be a problem but the guy actually catches Robinson from behind just as it looks like he's going to burst into the secondary. He can't tackle; he does redirect Denard into the DT peeling back. Omameh(-0.5) could have done a little better here and still made this a big play. Hopkins(+1) got a good block on the last LB. RPS +1; Michigan had this for big yardage but for Mercilus being great.|
|RUN+: Molk, Hopkins||RUN-: Huyge, Omameh(0.5)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 10 min 1st Q. Boo punt.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M17||1||10||Ace twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 even||Pass||Throwback screen||Gallon||8|
|It's back. This one works because there isn't even a corner anywhere near the WR on the catch since Illinois bit hard on the play action and played soft behind it. Koger(-1) whiffs his block, unfortunately, and Lewan(-1) did not adjust to that reality; meanwhile Schofield(-1) also whiffs. Hard on these guys in space but man, I think one block here is a big, big gainer. RPS +2. (CA, 3, screen)|
|RUN+: Gallon||RUN-: Koger, Schofield, Lewan|
|M25||2||2||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||QB draw||Robinson||-2|
I think this doesn't go anywhere like where it's supposed to go because Molk(-1) cannot react quickly enough to a blitz to prevent a linebacker from getting in past him. Both RBs are headed to the left side of the line but that's no longer an option. Instead of redirecting Toussaint bangs the blitzing LB. Robinson is now alone in some space with two Illinois players. He hesitates(-2) and tries to go back to the play he had already abandoned. If he hits it up directly he may get a yard or two. Instead he loses four; the refs inexplicably say he lost only two. Refs +1, RPS –1.
RUN-: Molk, Robinson(2)
|M23||3||4||Shotgun trips bunch||1||1||3||4-3 under||Pass||Delayed slant||Hemingway||8|
|Lovely little route combo here as Odoms runs a drag across the field and Koger releases deep as Hemingway just kind of hangs out at the line waiting for everyone to GTFO. Denard stares down the drag, drawing a zoning DE, and then comes off on a wide open slant for the first. (CA, 3, protection 2/2, RPS +1) This was explained in the Football Fundamentals diary.|
|M31||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 under||Run||Zone stretch||Toussaint||9|
|Old friend. Illinois is way undershifted on the line and Molk can release immediately; Omameh(+1) cuts the NT to the ground. Molk ends up missing the MLB but only because he's charging straight upfield; he runs right by the play. Schofield(+1) adjusts to chuck the other blitzing LB to the ground; Lewan(+1) kicks the playside DE and Toussaint(+1) zips into a gaping hole. Illini have two safeties back so they combo to hold this down. RPS +1; Illinois reacted poorly to this.|
|M40||2||1||I-Form||2||1||2||4-3 even||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||3|
|Illinois slants to this play, which makes life difficult. Koger gets good push on a downblock; McColgan(+1) blows up the EMLOS; the two good blocks on this play give Toussaint enough of a lane to slam it up for a first down.|
|RUN+: McColgan, Koger||RUN-:|
|M43||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone stretch||Toussaint||0|
|Classic Molk reach(+2) sees the NT buried in the middle of the field. With the slot LB sticking to the WR and a backside blitz from the other corner plus two deep safeties there is now one player with any hope of preventing this from breaking big. Omameh(-2) runs by the guy and he makes the tackle. RPS +1.|
|M43||2||10||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||Dime even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||25|
|The WTF Zook play. Illinois wants to defend this by slanting to the right and shooting a linebacker underneath into the belly gap to tackle for loss; Molk(+2) starts releasing left, reads this play that I don't know if he's ever seen before, and rudely ejects the LB from the box. Lewan(+1) and Schofield(+1) crease the backside DT and DE and Toussaint runs fast into a gaping cavern. RPS+2, but sort of a play where I'd like to RPS-2 Zook without giving a plus to anyone else.|
|RUN+: Molk(3), Schofield, Lewan, Toussaint.||RUN-:|
|O32||1||10||Shotgun 2back TE||2||1||2||4-4 even||Run||Power off tackle||Shaw||5|
|I think Michigan tips this by lining McColgan to the weak side, but whateva. Illinois blitzes the MLB to no effect. Think that's a Denard blitz. Huyge(+1) does a good job on the playside DT. There's now two Illinois players to the outside and one scraping from the inside. McColgan gets an iffy bump on the outside guys; Schofield(-1) realizes he needs to turn inside to get a scraping LB too late and lets him by. Shaw(+1) makes one hard cut upfield and runs into three arm tackles. He goes down. Did well to get yardage there and if he had a little more room could have creased this for a big gain.|
|RUN+: Huyge, Shaw||RUN-: Schofield|
|O27||2||5||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read keeper||Robinson||4|
|The backside DE starts shuffling down the line to defend the belly and Robinson(+1) pulls. This is the right read and it takes a series of unfortunate events to hold this down. Event one: shuffling DE reads the pull and manages to bang Koger upfield. Event two: NT decides before the mesh point is complete that Denard is pulling and chucks his blocker to head backside. (This is why the handoff looked so open.) Event three: Hemingway's block on the slot guy is crappy. He gets upfield and takes Koger's block; Denard has to cut behind all this. Thanks to Lewan(+1) pushing that shuffling DE past the play he does have a cutback lane that he takes to the sticks. Unfortunately he puts the ball on the turf(-3). Addressed in a picture pages.|
|RUN+: Lewan||RUN-: Robinson(2), Hemingway|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 7-0, 3 min 1st Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O41||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Triple option dive||Toussaint||6|
|WLB blitzes right at Molk(+1); Molk picks him up and walls him off. Triple option makes the MLB run upfield. Illinois is filling hard with a safety; Roundtree(+1) cracks down on him. Michigan has adapted to this Illinois strategy well; their WRs are picking up the right guys in the secondary. Change from last week. Anyway, Toussaint is now breaking free. Roundtree's block is tough and his man gets an arm tackle attempt that slows Toussaint; Huyge's man comes off to tackle with the corner. Omameh did a good job on the DT.|
|RUN+: Molk, Roundtree, Omameh||RUN-:|
|O35||2||4||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||QB iso||Robinson||10|
|Schofield(+2) gets playside of a guy who is playside of him on the snap and buries him. Toussaint(+1) reads the block of Omameh and cuts inside; Robinson follows. Omameh's block is kind of crappy but as the DT is coming off he eats Toussaint. Robinson darts by. Molk(+1) takes out the MLB. Hemingway(-1) basically whiffs his block; Denard(+1) runs through that arm tackle attempt and gets a chunk more than the first.|
|RUN+: Toussaint, Schofield(2), Robinson, Molk||RUN-: Omameh(0.5), Hemingway|
|O25||1||10||Shotgun twin TE twins||1||2||2||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||7|
|Illinois now scraping down the line with that DE; I think this is actually a bad read by Denard(-1). With Odoms in the slot the corner opens up; Koger is running by the DE's block and should have any scraper DOA. (Hemingway's blocking is really an issue in this game.) Anyway, the DE should snuff this out at the LOS but inexplicably derps just as the guy with the ball runs by him. Toussaint(+1) runs through an arm tackle from that guy. That done he rides behind a great diving block from Schofield(+2) that sees the playside DT deposited five yards downfield. Half of Toussaint's plus is using this block to its fullest. Molk(+0.5) helped with a momentary double and then walled off a linebacker.|
|RUN+: Toussaint, Schofield(2), Molk(0.5)||RUN-: Robinson|
|O18||2||3||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||8|
|MLB blitz; Lewan(+1) shoots him down the LOS and eliminates him. Playside DT is already slanting away; Molk and Schofield help him but not plus. Hopkins(+1) walls off the DE containing Robinson. Slot LB is in no-man's land; Toussaint(+0.5) hits it up for a quality gain. RPS +1.|
|RUN+: Toussaint(0.5), Hopkins, Lewan||RUN-:|
|O10||1||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||2|
|With Koger pulling around it seems like Denard has a blocker for the scrape LB and is one on one with a safety. Anyway. Handoff is made. Molk(-2) is chucked to the ground by the NT; seems like it should be defensive holding but results based charting. Omameh(+1) is still blocking this guy but he's got a two for one. Schofield(-1) falls down and allows the backside DT to flow behind this business. Toussaint(-1) still has a lane thanks to a good Huyge(+1) kick but hesitates. For what reason I don't know. Angling outside and just slamming for whatever you can get seems like 4; he gets two.|
|RUN+: Huyge, Omameh||RUN-: Molk(2), Schofield, Toussaint|
|O8||2||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||6|
|Michigan's blocking changes, possibly based on opponent alignment. Lewan(+1) kicks the DE; Koger(+1) dives inside that block and picks off an aggressive LB. Schofield(+1) comes off a double to get another LB and Toussaint dances through the blocks to get down to the four. From there it's push the pile.|
|RUN+: Lewan, Koger, Toussaint, Schofield||RUN-:|
|O2||3||G||Shotgun 2TE||1||2||2||4-3 under||Run||Speed option||Robinson||2|
|Omameh(+2) slashes the backside DT to the ground and that is all she wrote. Molk(+1) gets the last linebacker with a chance and Robinson(+1) reads the situation for an easy six.|
|RUN+: Omameh(2), Molk, Robinson||RUN-:|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 14-0, 12 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M41||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||0|
Okay, now Illinois has this down. Shuffling DE comes down the line and tackles Toussaint as he cuts behind Omameh. M is running the Odoms end-around fake; without that—with a bubble—it seems like the keeper is open. As it is I don't even know if this is an option. RPS -1.
|M41||2||10||Shotgun twin TE twins||1||2||2||4-3 even||Pass||PA TE Flat||Koger||2|
|Robinson has to dump it immediately and can only be sure Koger is safe; he hits him; a cover two corner comes up to tackle on the catch. Koger fell down anyway. (CA, 3, protection N/A, RPS -1)|
|M43||3||8||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||4-3 even||Pass||Rollout out||Hemingway||15|
|Man, this rollout gets three Illini defenders running at Robinson unfettered but he does have enough time to zing a great pass into a well-covered Hemingway for the first down. Hemingway has to leap for it but it's not particularly tough catch and putting it at the height Robinson does is a good way to keep it from prying hands. (DO, 2, protection 0/2, Toussaint -1, team -1)|
|O42||1||10||Ace twin TE||1||2||2||4-3 even||Pass||TE wheel||Koger||40|
|Finally we get a derp easy play based on a team overreacting to something. M runs PA and then fakes the throwback screen. When the corner comes up hard on Gallon, Koger releases downfield and gets crazy wide open a la 2010. Denard has a touchdown... and leaves it short. To be fair, an Illinois blitz did get a guy in on Robinson, forcing him to throw off the back foot. Still... lay it a little further out here, man. (MA, 3, protection ½, team -1, RPS +3)|
|O2||1||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||3-3-5 stack||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||-3|
|Bandit type player actually looks like a DL; he charges hard at the LOS when Molk pops that head up. Another LB blitzes behind this. Both these guys get in free. Toussaint has no chance. RPS -2; Michigan dead on snap.|
Guh, man. Michigan runs a delay on the five after passing like five times in this game. I'd rather just throw here. Illinois blitzes right into it and again gets an unlbocked LB into the backfield. Molk(-2) doubled a DT and was the primary culprit. Still not a fan of the call. RPS -1.
|O8||3||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Pass||Scramble||Robinson||7|
|No one open, Robinson finally just runs and almost gets a huge reward for it; unfortunately he does step OOB early. Review picks up the ref error. (SCR, N/A, protection 2/2)|
|O1||4||G||Shotgun trips||2||3||0||Goal line||Run||Speed option||Robinson||-4|
I do think the snap takes this from a low chance to zero chance but man... they didn't try to manball once on this series. If this is a good snap Robinson might pitch and then Toussaint either gets crushed by the guy flaring out or dives inside of him and drives the unblocked LB into the endzone. Still... when RR did this he threw two TEs on the line to give his runners more gaps to probe. RPS –1.
|Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 5 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M13||1||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||QB iso||Robinson||0|
Illinois shifts as Molk puts his head down, sliding one LB to the line and putting another guy right over the NT. Robinson has few good options once Molk(-1) gets beaten playside. He can wait and get tackled from behind by the shifted LB or not wait and get tackled by the NT. He chooses door #2. RPS -1.
|M13||2||10||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone stretch||Shaw||-8|
W/ Illlinois in a true even set Molk cannot reach anyone. Omameh(-3) is then tossed to the ground by the playside DT, which blows up the play. Normally you can cut to one side or the other other of that guy; here Omameh fails to exist and Shaw is doomed either way. Shaw(-3) compounds matters by not cutting straight upfield and accepting his loss of a couple. Instead he bounces outside and loses eight.
RUN-: Omameh(3), Shaw(3)
|M21||3||18||Shotgun 4-wide||1||0||4||4-3 even||Pass||Sack||--||-6|
|Zone blitz confuses the M D line; live this looked like Huyge got destroyed but really this was just a complicated protection executed poorly. Huyge sets up to maybe block an OLB who drops off; Omameh eventually peels off Mercilus because a blitzer is coming unblocked up the middle and he does not have faith—or does not know—that Smith is about to slice the guy down. Mercilus annihilates Robinson as he delays because he isn't actually looking at the dude; ball pops up and is either recovered or intercepted. (PR, N/A, protection 0/3, Omameh -1, Huyge -1, Team -1) No replays show the routes, but M got killed on a zone blitz and had no obvious short options. RPS -1.|
|Drive Notes: Fumble, 14-0, 3 min 2nd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O43||1||10||Shotgun 4-wide||1||0||4||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||7|
|Starts out with the triple stack; Odoms motions to the other side of the field. Illinois ends up with just six in the box; M runs at it. DE contains; handoff. Huyge(+1) picks up the WLB's blitz and kicks him out. Omameh(+2) gets an excellent driving block on the playside DT and a sizeable hole forms. Molk(-0.5) reads another LB blitz late and can't cut his guy off; he does impede him enough that Toussaint can run through an arm tackle. He cuts past a safety that Odoms isn't blocking in the back but is walling off; the delay allows the guy containing Robinson to come back and tackle from behind.|
|RUN+: Omameh(2), Huyge, Toussaint||RUN-: Molk(0.5)|
|O36||2||3||I-Form twins||2||1||2||4-3 even||Run||Iso||Toussaint||-2|
Schofield(-0.5) gives too much ground here, making the angle of attack awkward. Lewan(-1) whiffs on a linebacker as he releases downfield, which spooks Toussaint into bouncing outside despite the fact that he's still got Hopkins and will probably get something by just slamming it up. As it is his bounce is a bad idea since it's into a guy with excellent position.
RUN-: Lewan, Toussaint, Schofield(0.5), Hopkins(0.5)
|O38||3||5||Shotgun trips bunch tight||1||1||3||4-3 even||Pass||Drag||Odoms||19|
|Part II of drag-follow, this time with the drag opening up. Illinois corner starts pointing at the Odoms motion and gets no response; he ends up having to make a hopeless march through traffic and has no shot of catching Odoms as he makes the turn upfield. Pattern got M an easy first down on a dead simple catch. (CA, 3, protection 2/2, RPS+1)|
|O19||1||10||I-Form twins||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||-2|
Playside end dives under Koger(-1) and gets upfield into Schofield, picking off that puller. Aggressive MLB now shoots into the gap unmolested and Toussaint has nowhere to go. Hopkins had to flare out to block the blitzing slot guy, bubble complaint etc. RPS -1.
|O21||2||12||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||Dime even||Pass||Screen||Smith||Inc|
|Smith gets bashed as he tries to get into the pattern and Mercilus gets a free run as Lewan(-1) is suckered by a zone blitz, so Robinson doesn't have time to let this set up or find a receiver. He throws it away. (TA, 0, protection ½, Lewan -1, RPS -1)|
|O21||3||12||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Pass||Rollout fly||Odoms||Inc|
|Guhhhhhh. Odoms runs right by a zoning corner and is wide open for a touchdown. Denard throws it on a line and zips it just past the outstretched hands of Odoms. He deflects it but no way. If Odoms isn't 5'8” it's a TD easy. Still, Robinson had this and if he puts a little more arc on it this is an easy six. (IN, 0, protection 1/1, RPS +1)|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG(39), 14-0, 1 min 2nd Q. Michigan gets the ball back for a final play; Hail Mary not charted.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M42||1||10||Shotgun 2TE twins||1||2||2||4-3 even||Run||Yakety snap||--||-9|
|On Robinson; snap is perfect.|
|M33||2||19||Shotgun 2TE twins||1||2||2||4-3 even||Run||QB power||Robinson||11|
|Koger(+1) drives the playside end inside. The WLB is gone upfield to the other side of the line. Toussaint(+2) gets a crushing block on the MLB that blows him downfield; Hemingway(-2) does nothing with the slot LB. Robinson feints inside as that guy threatens to do bad things upfield; Omameh(+1) pulls into him, at which point Robinson bounces back outside and jets for the corner, stiffarming a safety.|
|RUN+: Robinson(2), Toussaint(2), Omameh, Koger||RUN-: Hemingway(2)|
|M44||3||8||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Pass||Rollout what||--||Inc|
|Rollout just gets Robinson killed when he has to pull up since the edge is not clean, which exposes him to a free run from the backside end. Robinson pulls up and ends up chucking a ball directly at an Illinois DB, which is dropped. I have no idea what he saw; should have thrown it away. Possible this was deflected? These rollouts are more trouble than they're worth. (INX, N/A, protection 0/2, team, RPS -1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 14-0, 10 min 3rd Q. Robinson is done for the day.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M29||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Pass||Zone read dive||Toussaint||9|
|Hopkins comes around for the speed option; DE forms up so Gardner hands off. Toussaint(+1) squeezes through the backside hole between the OL and that DE. That's thanks to Schofield(+1) giving him some extra room. Schofield's guy eventually spins off to get an arm tackle attempt in; that slows Toussaint and allows a LB to come from behind. Lewan(+1) did a good job to erase the MLB on the play. RPS +1. Play design gets the gain here by optioning off the DE.|
|RUN+: Toussaint, Schofield, Lewan||RUN-:|
|M38||2||1||I-Form||2||1||2||4-3 over||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||0|
Playside DT slants away from the play into Huyge, who is essentially blocked and cannot get out on the MLB. The rest of the play goes as intended but unblocked LB in the hole means a cutback into a mess for no gain because Omameh(-2) got shoved to the ground and a DT is sitting there unblocked. RPS -1.
|M38||3||1||I-Form Big||2||1||2||4-3 under||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||0|
|Eight guys in the box and a safety coming down. M doubles the playside DT; Koger(+1) pops off and gets a driving block on the MLB. Playside DE slides down; Hopkins does kick him but Schofield has to slow up significantly to get through the hole. He ends up blocking the overhang corner as Toussaint(-2) runs into two unblocked players; had to follow Schofield and Koger for the first.|
|RUN+: Koger||RUN-: Toussaint(2)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 14-0, 7 min 3rd Q. Runs from the I so far: 6 for -4 yards. Illinois muffs subsquent punt.|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|Corner blitz overruns the play but the guy recovers well. Toussaint finds considerable running room at first until the DE on the edge gives it up to fill the hole; Toussaint bounces out smartly only for that blitzing corner to tackle from behind. Molk(+0.5) and Schofield(+0.5) got good looking blocks that weren't tested; Lewan couldn't really be blamed since the DE released in a way he had no ability to combat. The corner blitz gets the play. RPS -1.|
|RUN+: Toussaint, Molk(0.5), Schofield(0.5)||RUN-:|
|M29||2||7||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Pass||Rollout hitch||Odoms||Inc|
|Edge acquired this time but this is going to be a five yards and immediate tackle sort of pass despite the roll. Ball winged to Tacopants. (IN, 0, protection 2/2)|
|M29||3||7||Shotgun trips||1||0||4||4-3 even||Pass||Rollout cross||Hemingway||20|
|I think the snap is too early here; a guy is coming across the formation but ends up not even getting to the center by the snap. He ends up useless when he's supposed to be a drag route underneath, I bet. Gardner gets pressure thanks to a Smith(-1) whiff on the cut but at least he whiffs to the outside and sends Mercilus inside; Gardner manages to run through the tackle attempt. Once he does that he lobs a wobbler to Hemingway that's brought in for a good gain. (CA+, 3, protection ½, Smith -1)|
|M9||1||G||Ace 2TE tight||1||2||2||4-3 even||Run||Pitch sweep||Smith||0|
Pitch formation and pitch play picture paged last week, except Hemingway(-2) runs by the playside LB, leaving him to a pulling Molk, who has no chance to get this guy shooting upfield for leverage. Hemingway then whiffs on the safety. So he blocked the wrong guy and didn't even block the guy he was trying to. Smith has to cut back behind Molk because the LB has shot out to the corner; heavily flowing MLB Molk should be blocking and safety Hemingway whiffed on combine to tackle.
|M9||2||G||Shotgun trips||1||1||3||3-3-5 stack||Pass||Rollout drag||Hemingway||Inc|
|Blitz w/ DE flying upfield and LB coming behind it cuts off the roll and forces a quick, bad throw from Gardner. Hemingway can't haul it in; it's three yards if he does. (IN, 1, protection ½, team -1, RPS -1)|
|M9||3||G||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||4-3 even||Run||QB draw||Gardner||5|
|Give up and kick.|
|Drive Notes: FG(27), 17-0, 4 min 3rd Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|M20||1||10||Shotgun 2TE twins||1||2||2||4-3 even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||2|
|Playside DE contains; Koger(+1) moves out on the slot LB, who is coming down. That erases him way outside. Omameh does an okay job on the backside DT; Huyge(+1) gets a good block on the MLB, and Toussaint has a huge cutback lane... that he totally misses. Instead he runs to the wrong side of Omameh's block and turns a good gain into a crappy one.|
|RUN+: Omameh, Koger, Huyge||RUN-: Toussaint(2)|
|M22||2||8||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone read keeper||Gardner||2 (Pen -11)|
Backside DE shuffles down and Gardner pulls. Depending on Hopkins's assignment his either fine or insane, because Hopkins slams that DE. Gardner now dealing with a scraping LB and a safety shooting down and has to bounce all the way outside, where he gets a couple yards. Hopkins gets a chop block PF for his block of a technically engaged DE, but I don't really blame him since the whole point of this offense is that guy is not actually blocked. So... someone's wrong. Hopkins or Gardner? I'm guessing Gardner.
|M11||2||19||Shotgun 3-wide||1||1||3||Nickel even||Run||Zone read dive||Toussaint||9|
|Illinois clearly backing out into safe coverage so M runs at a six man box. Molk(+1) and Omameh(+1) blow out the playside DT; Schofield(-1) has a tough time with his guy and he almost blows up the play but the great work on the frontside gives him a crease; Molk pops off on a LB. Toussaint does good work to make one dash cut right upfield after clearing the arm tackle attempt from the backside DE. He's into the secondary, where everybody is. Everybody tackles him.|
|RUN+: Toussaint, Molk, Omameh||RUN-: Schofield|
|M20||3||10||Shotgun trips TE||1||1||3||Okie||Run||PA Scramble||Gardner||4|
|A blitz off the edge gets two guys in on Gardner almost before the fake mesh point and erase any thought of a throw. Gardner manages to scramble for decent yardage. PA on which you are not blocking a guy on third and ten? Come on. (PR, N/A, protection N/A, RPS -1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 17-7, 13 min 4th Q|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O22||1||10||Shotgun 2-back||2||0||3||4-3 even||Run||Zone stretch||Toussaint||-5|
|Yeesh: not only does the slot LB blitz but so does the corner. Both of these guys are on the playside. Slot LB charges upfield; Hopkins(+1) manages to shove him past the play and Toussaint hops past him. With the playside DE sealed and Huyge(+1) out on the playside LB this is opening up but for that blitz; Hemingway(-1) again is watching his guy make a tackle after barely or not touching him; quicker reaction here maybe gets Toussaint a bounce. As it is he almost does before getting chopped down by an ankle tackle. RPS -2.|
|RUN+: Hopkins, Huyge, Omameh||RUN-: Hemingway|
|O27||2||15||Ace 4-wide tight||1||2||2||4-3 even||Pass||PA Whatever||???||Inc|
|Fake toss; WLB is blitzing upfield and is instantly in on Gardner. He chucks an ugly dangerous duck off his back foot that lands yards in front of Hemingway. He might have been open. (IN, 0, protection 0/2, team, RPS -1)|
|O27||3||15||Shotgun trips||1||1||3||Dime even||Pass||Dig||Odoms||27|
|Three man rush gives Gardner all day. He gets a crease and steps up into the forever pocket, then hits a wide open Odoms breaking into the endzone. Yeesh, Zook. (CA+, 3, protection 2/2, RPS +2, though again this is more of an RPS -2 for Illinois than anything else.)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 24-7, 10 min 4th Q. Game is over when M gets the ball back but for posterity...|
|Ln||Dn||Ds||O Form||RB||TE||WR||D Form||Type||Play||Player||Yards|
|O40||1||10||I-Form twins||2||1||2||4-3 even||Run||Power off tackle||Toussaint||13|
|This is all RB. Lewan(-1) downblock is beaten by a slant; that guy cuts off the pulling Omameh. Toussaint has no crease and if he's going anywhere it's into the arms of an unblocked LB. Backside blitz should have this dead on the cutback but Illinois has two guys go after Gardner's waggle, allowing Toussaint(+2) to cut back hard and fast into the secondary. No RPSes now but this is not something that should have worked.|
|RUN+: Toussaint(2)||RUN-: Lewan|
|O27||1||10||I-Form big||2||2||1||4-3 under||Run||Iso||Toussaint||27|
|Everyone runs right at this and misses; Molk being a culprit. This is just here because Toussaint(+3) did silly things.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 31-14, 2 min 4th Q. M gets the ball back and kneels. EOG.|
I AM SO CONFLICTED
Illinois gives up 280 yards a game and hasn't had anyone score more than 21 against them save Northwestern; Michigan had more yards in the first half than OSU and PSU did in their entire games against the Illini; they spent most of the second half trying to strangle the game with their backup quarterback; one extra yard and one field goal pushed a little further inside and they put up 41.
BUT THE NO POINTS
Bothersome. Less bothersome than not moving the ball at all, like Iowa and MSU.
I THOUGHT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO HATE BORGES
I hate the pro-style-with-Denard-and-Zoney-McOffensiveline, not the man. Are you Joe Paterno again?
IT'S NOT LIKE I HAVE ANYTHING BETTER TO DO NOW
Would you like to scream—
[Hover over column headers for explanation of abbreviation. Screens are in parens.]
|2009, All Of It||1||7||6(2)||3(1)||4||4||-||-||?||44%|
|Notre Dame '11||6||7(1)||1||6(1)||5||1||1||1||-||50%|
Gardner had two CAs, three INs, and a PR.
Denard's DSR is an incredibly small sample size—4/6—so read as little into that as possible. His two bad throws were the "argh, why aren't you six feet tall, Odoms" overthrow and his last insane pass that was so off and wobbly it seems like it must have slipped or been deflected. He did have an impressive throw to Hemingway:
He gets an INC for his passing in this game, but if you look at his season trend he does seem to be getting better. The last three games he's been hovering in the md-60s, which is acceptable. The MSU debacle is a heavily mitigated outlier in a decent Big Ten season.
My problem with Denard's game was not in the air, but on the ground:
|Lewan||8||5||3||Had some mistakes in space.|
|Molk||14||7.5||6.5||Off to roaring start and then hit a wall on the goal line stand.|
|Omameh||14||7.5||6.5||Had a really good day except when getting tossed to the ground on two plays that lost a ton of yards.|
|Huyge||7||1||6||Very solid day against Mercilus.|
|Schofield||11.5||5.5||6||Doing well, solid starter.|
|Koger||6||2||4||Back to the usual after fun with Purdue DEs.|
|TOTAL||61.5||28.5||68%||A solid B day from the line against a good D.|
|Robinson||6.5||8||-1.5||Fumble, bad reads, hesitancy.|
|Gardner||-||2||-2||Blew one read.|
|Toussaint||18.5||6.5||12||+5 on the meaningless last drive but still a quality day both running and blocking.|
|Shaw||1||3||-2||Turned in the ultimate Shaw run, at least.|
|Smith||2||-||2||Supplanted. M may have tipped screen by throwing it to him.|
|Hopkins||2||0.5||1.5||Marginalized in spread.|
|TOTAL||30||20||10||Good day from Toussaint; everyone else bler.|
|Hemingway||-||7||-7||Huge, huge problem. I hate having him in the slot.|
|TOTAL||3||7||-4||Paging Floridian mountain goats to slot STAT|
|Protection||14||13||52%||Team 8, Omameh 1, Toussaint 1, Huyge 1, Lewan 1, Smith 1. NO MORE ROLLOUTS|
|RPS||18||20||-2||+8 before goal line stand; that was big chunk and then Borges was just bleeding the game out w/ Gardner mostly. That'll happen.|
So… yeah. Denard being negative on the ground is a recipe for bad things happening. A chunk of that is the fumble, but even if you take that out he barely edges above even. He danced too much and gave up yardage, he missed reads on the zone, and he didn't have any runs on which he could truly deploy his speed. That is part of Toussaint's day, obviously, but Denard's trend on the ground is now in the land of cocked eyebrow.
When the playside LB is doing this…
…and you're handing off you have messed up. That kind of thing is getting distressingly common.
Good god, I've never even seen a relevant wide receiver. What happened?
I don't know, man, but the difference between Hemingway and the little headbutting goats from Florida is stark. Having Hemingway in the slot against an opponent that loves to bring a linebacker off the corner is asking for trouble, and then there were plays that were just bad. Michigan ran that same pitch sweep I picture paged from the Iowa game to Hemingway's side; instead of blocking the playside LB Hemingway ran right to the safety. And then he whiffed. Molk had no shot at cutting off that LB when he ran free and Smith had to cut back into bodies. And then there was this:
I get that you might not be able to seal the guy to the outside but at least shove the dude somewhere. Like… touching him would be a start.
Meanwhile, Michigan's throwing go routes into the endzone at Odoms. I get moving Hemingway around a little bit but let Odoms headbutt people and catch touchdowns from the slot. Needs moar tiny bastards.
Barely relevant WR chart?
And here's the barely relevant WR chart.
[Passes are rated like so: 0 = uncatchable, 1 = very difficult, 2 = moderately difficult, 3 = routine.]
The only thing to say to this is "whatever."
I thought running Denard on the goal line was instant touchdown, smart guy?
It's a good idea when you're in a power set… maybe not so much when you've only got five blockers against seven guys. When RR wanted to power it into the endzone he would put two TEs on the line without fail, which spread the defense further out—harder to get around the edge—and gave Denard more gaps in which to cut. Heck, Borges did it:
That is tough to stop with everyone spread out and one guy going down enough to give Denard a crease. Going four wide is asking for trouble. Think of it like a power play for the defense, which always has one extra guy to tackle: would you rather be killing a 5 on 4 or 4 on 3? (Note that this equation is reversed when there's a lot of field left and two deep safeties are back: then you've got the power play.)
The snap didn't help either, obviously.
Is it just me or do you also want to cry into the pillow when they come out under center?
It is not just you. We've been tracking the efficacy of Michigan's running game from the shotgun versus under center all year. It's been a blowout in favor of shotgun most weeks, but never so much as it was on Saturday. Michigan ran ten times from under center and collected 39 yards.
It's even worse than that sounds. 40 of those yards—ie, more than all of them—came on the two Toussaint runs after the Illinois onside kick that I only charted to demonstrate how good of a back the kid is. On the first he cut to the backside of the play on a power, which rarely goes well; on the second he had to dodge three tacklers on the backfield on an iso and bounce all the way to the sideline before finding open grass. At no point did Michigan open up the hole it wanted to from the I.
Shotgun runs averaged 5.8 yards a pop. If you take out the 65-yarder they get hacked down to 3.9… so… yeah. Take out the best run of the day and Shotgun Michigan had an average outing against the Illinois defense. Leave it in and it's the best performance of the year by over a half-yard. Under Center Michigan was two garbage time carries away for being negative on the day.
Those are the numbers.
AAARGH TEN MAN FOOTBALL
Anecdotally, it felt like all of Michigan's under-center runs were doomed from the start and a lot of Michigan's unsuccessful shotgun runs were close to breaking long. This Toussaint zero-yarder is one easy Omameh block from being a big gain:
Guhhhhhhhhh. Omameh gets even a weak shove on the linebacker he's way playside of and Toussaint is shooting at the safeties with a lead blocker. That's thanks to the Classic Molk Reach Block, something that just about kills any attempt to defend a stretch play and a thing I hope we see more of as the season concludes.
On another Michigan caught a double A gap blitz and ran right by it.
That's playing with fire, though given the different alignments of the QB in stretch versus inside zone alert opponents might pick up on it.
To be fair, it didn't work consistently in this game. There was a nine-yarder, the missed opportunity above, the WTF Shaw play, and a late stretch that lost a chunk of yards because M was in murder-the-clock mode and Illinois blitzed not just the slot but the corner from the playside. The numbers don't suggest using it more. But I'm telling you: with its sparse use so far this season there is a big stretch play in the near future if Michigan just runs it 6-8 more times.
So they ran the stretch. Did that feel like an RR-esque gameplan?
Moreso than any we've seen so far. The TE-as-H-back was straight out of the RR playbook and allowed Koger to attack both the frontside and backside of the line depending on what was called for. The stretch came back, and Michigan used the belly to good effect. They attacked various places along the line and didn't expose themselves to the monotonous repetition of the blitz.
Will we see something similar this weekend? Who knows. Borges changes like the wind.
Is the offensive line actually any good?
Molk is very good, Schofield has been consistently above average, Lewan is solid in the run game and people don't even bother testing him on passes. Huyge… variable. Not good in pass protection. And Omameh clearly has size and strength issues even if he had a good game this time out. Watch Akeem Spence toss him to the ground on the Shaw BOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCEDERP play:
That is a big no-no and it happened twice. He also biffed that block on the coulda-been stretch.
Despite all that I had him +7.5 on the day, so he's not just a liability. It's just that when he does something wrong it's very wrong.
Toussaint and the interior offensive line.
Hemingway's blocking was terrible. Michigan needs more from Denard on the ground if they're going to win the next couple weeks.
What does it mean for Nebraska and beyond?
Do you think this will be the final straw for playing from under center? I don't, either, but there's no way either of the last two games sees play distributions like the Iowa game. Probably. We'll get the usual dosage of POWER that has no POWER and is actually kind of like A GAP ADULT CONTEMPORARY. Hopefully it will be on second and third and one and actually pick up yards, unlike this game.
But anyway: this is a shotgun running team still, and seems to be doing some more shotgun running things. The triple option stuff was clearly a decoy in this game, which is why they dumped it after it worked a couple times. If I know Borges that means an actual triple option is coming. That plus a little more stretch and maybe a return to that sprint counter once the stretch is established could break some stuff open. Look for misdirection against Nebraska—Lavonte David is fast but if you get fast running the wrong way you are in business.
We didn't learn anything about the passing game on Saturday; you might be able to put a grain or two in the "Denard isn't as bad as as it seemed early in the season" pile, but that's it.
10/8/2011 – Michigan 42, Northwestern 24 – 6-0, 2-0 Big Ten
Last week's picture pages focused on a two-play sequence in which Stephen Hopkins bulldozed a Minnesota linebacker on an iso, then pretended he was going to do the same on the next drive before running right past him for a long completion up the seam. If Michigan wasn't playing Minnesota the iso would have gone for a few yards and that sequence would have been the Northwestern game exactly: two halves, pretty much the same same thing, radically different results.
Half the first: this old bad thing again
It is not fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when your team is going up against the spread offense. Three hundred yards and twenty-four points in the first half? I have seen this before. It ends with me in the fetal position muttering something about Armanti Edwards or Donovan McNabb or this exact Northwestern team blowing up the recordbook in 2000 in this exact stadium at this exact time. The only intelligible things in the moaning will be a bleated "Herrrrrrmaannnn" or strangled "Englissssssh."
I uncurled long enough at halftime to get a tweet out about how we were essentially getting Rich-Rodded to death. We'd heard about but rarely seen this kind of thing the last three years: Northwestern killed Michigan with bubbles they weren't aligned to defend and expertly used varying tempos to catch Michigan off guard much of the first half. This was the spread 'n' shred at full absorption, the kind of thing you can do when you are totally committed to one style of offense you know well.
That was influenced by these super-interesting Calvin Magee videos* in which he's describing the philosophy of the offense that just led a redshirt freshman everyone recruited as a receiver and his sidekicks to a BCS win over Georgia. I'm an hour and a half in and and it's mostly been Magee describing the various tempos WVU uses and breaking down various bubble screens.
This fresh in my mind, my experience of the first half was thus accompanied by a strong sense of déjà vu as the Wildcats bubbled and tempo-ed and aargh-safetied their way down the field. It was simultaneously the thing we'd always seen and the thing we never got to see. It was yet another reason to shake your fist at the Great Rodriguez Defensive Coaching Malpractice. It was unpleasant.
I envisioned Rodriguez sitting in the same room with Ralph Friedgen. Rodriguez watches the Michigan game; Friedgen watches Maryland. Mike Leach pops his head in from time to time. They are sipping cognac, smoking cigars, and laughing maniacally.
Half the second: this old bad thing again, happening to them
It is more fun to be a Michigan fan seeing your past flash before your eyes when the Rodriguez spread is the other team's and they are suddenly incapable of moving the ball while their defense is incapable of anything at all. Insert any of a dozen games over the last three years for comparisons. 2008 Penn State may be the canonical example.
The collapse of the Northwestern offense shouldn't be overstated. They only had four second-half drives that meant anything thanks to the offense executing this second half:
- 8 play, 80 yard TD
- 12 play, 80 yard TD
- 6 play, 47 yard TD
- 7 play, 28 yard FGA
- 9 play, 53 yard TD
This was a masterpiece for the time of possession fetishists. Northwestern opportunities were limited. (As an incidental bonus, Michigan also got 28 points while "keeping the Wildcats off the field." Funny how that works.)
In the aftermath you can't poke a newspaper-type person (and even the occasional blogger) not talking up adjustments. I'm not so sure the adjustment were brilliant. They consisted of telling Denard to stop throwing terrible interceptions and throwing Jake Ryan into the slot—hello heebie jeebies—so the Wildcats couldn't bubble Michigan to death. That accomplished, they waited for the turnover flood.
One sack, two of those turnovers, and a quarter-and-a-half later Michigan was already in rush-the-passer, kill-the-clock mode up 11 with nine minutes left. The first turnover should have been a first down conversion that pushed the Wildcats into Michigan territory; the second was an excellent strip by Thomas Gordon on a drive that had moved from around the Northwestern 20 to midfield.
The adjustment was not giving up the thing they shouldn't have been giving up in the first place and not arm punting directly at opponent safeties. Michigan was just better, no brilliance required. The second half bore that out.
The end result: 42 points despite three turnovers, 541 yards, 360 ceded, and a margin of victory over the Wildcats larger than any since 2004. The 2004 team was the last one Michigan team to smoke-and-mirror its way to a Rose Bowl—if that's really what a team one inch away from beating Vince Young really did.
As the weeks pass the questions fade. Michigan seems flatly better than everyone they play, no qualifiers necessary. This week the Spartans will test that theory. They are the mirror; this weekend blows away the smoke.
*[It's mostly football stuff but a couple of personality items:
1. Magee's showing a clip of a bubble they ran against Cincinnati and apropos of nothing says "the coach, I can't remember his name, is a really nice guy." Someone in the room says "Dantonio?" and he replies "Yeah, Dantonio. Nice guy." Wonder how Magee feels about him now—easy to think someone's a nice guy when you beat him 38-0.
2. Magee's describing a bubble against Georgia in their Sugar Bowl win as a pre-snap read he let White have because he "wants to let the kid grow." WVU ran two different bubbles, a pre-snap read based on alignment and a post-snap read with a full mesh point and an option afterwards if the QB keeps. By allowing White to make the read before the snap he's giving him more flexibility in the offense.
Rodriguez, in contrast, "isn't going to put his fate in the hands of a 19-year-old kid" and wants his QBs to "read it out" post snap all the time.
This particular bubble looked there pre-snap but wasn't actually because a desperate Georgia defense was plunging the safety down at it; WVU didn't have any PA off the bubble—hard to believe—at the time, something Magee said he regrets and they obviously fixed.]
Non-Bullets Of Inverseness
Yes we have no photos. Road game means we don't have a gallery, at least not yet. Mike DeSimone collects everyone's pictures weekly at his page.
Game theory bits. You will not be surprised that I was very much in favor of the fourth and one in the first half, especially given the state of Michigan's defense at that point and what we'd seen Northwestern do on D in their first few games. The result of that play and their ability to convert on the ensuing drive was the difference between going in down 24-14 and 24-7.
While the dominant second half made that touchdown irrelevant in the long run, the people who doubt the wisdom of that call are the same who ascribe a mystical power to momentum. If you're worried about giving momentum up by not converting you have consider the possibility of acquiring it by getting a touchdown, which in addition to being momentum-tastic is also worth seven points. For me, simple calculation: fourth and one near midfield against a team with an iffy defense and in possession of Denard Robinson. Go.
Also not a surprise: thumbs down to the field-goal attempt. I'd actually started arguing with my friend about it on second down. I was in favor of going on fourth and reasonable; he and others around me were in favor of kicking. My main rationale was that there's a huge difference between 18 and 11 (game over, especially with more time off the clock) and only a meh difference between 11 and 14.
We were having this as a hypothetically kicker-independent argument, but there seemed to be agreement that with Michigan's situation at that spot you go. If you had Nate Kaeding I could see kicking, but Gibbons has never made a field goal of 40 yards, let alone 48, and 4th and 5 is very makeable.
Even with the FG attempt I disagreed with, my "Brady Hoke is awesome on gameday" meter incremented a notch. On twitter someone said he tried to sneak Denard and a WR out with the punt team before the timeout, which if true is awesome. It means the TO was not hesitation but rather a trick being snuffed out and that even when the trick was foiled Hoke still went for it.
EPIC DOUBLE POINT STANDINGS, RETROACTIVELY APPLIED:
2: Denard Robinson (Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan), Brady Hoke (San Diego State, Northwestern)
1: Jordan Kovacs (Western Michigan), David Molk (Minnesota)
Almost went with Hemingway for the ND game since Hemingway didn't throw a bunch of interceptions but "WHAT?!" and "the game is ova" were tiebreakers.
Something I've never screamed before. "NICE BLOCK," I yelped a moment after Michael Shaw blew up Bryce McNaul with a cut block:
Thanks to terrible play by the NW MLB and what looks like a slant by the playside DT all Shaw had to do was meekly shove McNaul for Denard to burst into the secondary, but yelp == shoutout.
Hello Mr. Gardner. Gardner had another package in this game. I didn't like this one as much. It seemed too on-the-nose to run that jet sweep to Denard, then come back with a naked boot off it the next time you ran it. Michigan just executed a similar pattern against Minnesota, so NW was prepared. Above is the linebacker Gardner dodged en route to three yards.
And then there was that bit late in the game where Gardner came in. At first he was just handing off/getting the corner from the one, which is not that thrilling, but before that they brought him in to hit Jeremy Jackson on second and ten.
If Gardner can handle it future plays with both guys on the field should be less focused on Denard—maybe make that jet sweep fake and then drop back as per normal. Robinson is an option but not the only one.
Obvious waggle is inverted. On the Watson touchdown, the universe thought "waggle" when Michigan brought in an I-form big on second and goal from the nine. Michigan ran it to the short side of the field, breaking a tendency, and got rewarded for it with an wide open Steve Watson (who Denard nearly missed).
Bipolar OL. Maybe. Michigan couldn't run the ball but it occurred to me there was a strong possibility they got RPSed trying to run the spread against a team that knows it backwards and forwards. There seemed to be a lot of blitzing into places Michigan was trying to run.
So run problems exist. On the other hand, Denard had eons to find people to throw the ball to. Vincent Smith epic blitz pickups had something to do with that, as did Wildcat-fan-infuriating three-man-rushes, but so did the offensive line. So much so that this was a Freudian slip in a thread about the refereeing:
There was .. (Score:1)
also a rushing the passer on Drob that was never called. He was takled for a loss, in the third I believe, and while on the ground was hit by a second defender and then a third. That third defender had enough time to pull up but didn't. No call.
Borges seemed to agree with this blog's petulant complaining about rollouts, which were reduced. Northwestern got negative pressure on pocket passes and the rollouts that were called saw better protection as those edge blockers went hell-bent for the outside instead of hesitating. Michigan's currently first in sacks allowed [tiresome avalanche of caveats]; so it seems that Michigan's best option when it's going to pass is letting Denard sit back and survey. No one is getting near him.
The arm punting bit. Denard did throw three interceptions. This is less than ideal. One of those was a badly inaccurate deep ball into single-ish coverage; the others were WTFs. But the opponent line that Denard is basically a tailback at quarterback…
The long passes were underthrown jump balls that NU didn’t win. I am disappointed (but not surprised) that the secondary was not told to look for the ball once the receiver was 25 yards down the field. Throughout the year, most of Denard Robinson’s long passes have been underthrows that would be INTs if the defender looked for the ball. … At least 100 of those passing yards were 50/50 jump balls. the pass defense wasn’t great, but the defensive scheme in general limited most of Robinson’s runs and made him throw. … Denard has receivers that are willing to go up for the jump ball and bring it down (e.g., the Notre Dame win), and until teams can stop that, all Denard has to do is limit his wild throws to the opposition and get the ball into the general area of his receivers.
…has started to grate. Even with the turrible interceptions Denard still completed 65% of his passes for nearly 13 YPA. That is enough for him to far exceed Dan Persa's QB rating last game (177 to 131) when Persa completed 73% of his passes like he always does. And, like, 13 YPA. 48 and 57 yard bombs to Hemingway and Roundtree help, but Robinson being Robinson put those guys in single coverage.
And here's the thing. While the jump ball thing is a fair assessment of some of the deep stuff, remove his two longest completions and Denard still averaged 9.7 YPA. Chop out the two successful bombs—but not the INT or the Gallon overthrow—and Denard averaged almost a first down per passing attempt. Northwestern fans cannot talk crap about him in any fashion. Do terribly unfair things to his passing stats and he still pwns you. Teams with secondaries are another matter, but we are seeing Denard get back to being the fairly accurate guy he was last year.
When allowed to set and step into throws Denard can toss all kinds of stuff. As Borges gets his head around the things he can and cannot do his efficiency should improve, because he's got enough in his legs to compensate for the fact he's not Andrew Luck. Now, about those throws that make all of us want to die…
[Disclaimer: There's a difference between not thinking you can sustain an offense on downfield chucks into double coverage and back-shoulder fades to Jeremy Gallon and thinking a QB averaging 10 YPA even when you mutilate his stats unfairly is not a QB. Thank you for not needing this disclaimer.]
WTFs. I don't know, man. I think one of them was an attempted wheel route that was either badly disrupted or saw the guy fall down; in any case there was a safety right there so that was a very bad read. The other I have no idea. Hypothetically that could have been a massive WR bust, but I doubt it. I will look at these in UFR but I doubt I'll be able to tell much.
Shaw. If Tommy Rees's brain goes "FLOYDFLOYDFLOYDFLOYD" then Michael Shaw's goes "BOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCEBOUNCE." It worked against a slow-ish Northwestern team cramming the box; kudos to Borges for making that switch.
Roundtree. Welcome back to the offense, kid. Totally thought you were Junior Hemingway on the long one.
Woolfolk. Again pulled for Countess. Obviously injured.
Johnson. Hoo boy, going to come in for some finger-wagging in UFR. His whiff on the Kain Colter TD was spectacular.
The West: open. It was going to be wide open when Nebraska was losing 27-6 to Ohio State, but even with that comeback there the Michigan-Michigan State game has the shape of a division championship game, doesn't it? Whoever wins it will be two clear of their instate rival with the most threatening other teams in the division already carrying losses. The winner of that game could lose once and probably be fine since Iowa is unlikely to sweep M/MSU/Nebraska and Nebraska similarly unlikely to do so against M/MSU/Iowa/PSU/Northwestern.
Michigan State would have a smaller margin of error since their remaining games against the East include an almost certain loss versus Wisconsin; Michigan wins this weekend and they become solid favorites.
As per usual, when I attend road games I usually can't get around to VOAV. Penance:
Postgame interview with the person of particular note:
ST3 goes inside the box score:
After starting slowly in the sack department, we picked up 3 last week and 4 this week, including a decapitation by Kovacs and a Wile E. Coyote style steamrolling by Will Campbell.
After giving up 297 yards in the first half, the defense settled down (and the offense controlled the clock for major stretches) limiting NU to 438 yards total for the game. A tad higher than my goal of 400 per game, but NU does have a good offense, I think everyone would agree. And they would have been held under 400 if the refs called holding penalties. More on that in the ref section, don’t neg me yet.
That 438 includes a 79 yard drive at the end of the game when Michigan was up three scores and just bleeding clock. If anything ever convinces you that advance stats are more real than the regular ones, that should be it. On 11 real drives—about an average game's worth—the Wildcats had 359 yards, which is about average. On the meaningless last one the Wildcats piled it on. Advanced stats will dump that last drive.
6-0 starts for Michigan are rare.
Most of my life (33 years) has been spent rooting for a Michigan team that would win most Saturdays, live in the national rankings, and stub their toe early in the season. 4-0 or better starts have only occurred 11 times in those 33 seasons:
4-0: '78 '96 '09
5-0: '85 '95 '99 '10
6-0: '86 '97 '06 '11
The starts to the last three seasons have been a stretch that Michigan fans have not witnessed since the dawn of the Carr era.
Media, as in files. Melanie Maxwell's gallery for AnnArbor.com. This thing was epic:
We should get a giant inflatable Wolverine head for the players to run out from under, except it should probably be, like, the comic book version, and then to make it even more rad we could shoot off some fireworks during the national anthem and this would make things electric.
Media, as in unwashed blog masses. If you are a true schadenfreude connoisseur, there is a Sippin' on Purple game thread that descends into self-loathing misery. I didn't enjoy it much except for the one post where the person said every time Denard takes off it terrifies them.
TWB on the good and bad. The Hoover Street Rag gets a head start on the MICHIGAN STATE IS THE BEGINNING OR END OF THE WORLD hype, which is deserved. Big House Blog provides cheers and jeers. TTB has bullets. One of them:
Kenny Demens had his best game of the year. Demens hasn't been as productive this year as I expected, but he's still been a solid player. This game was his best, though. He had 10 tackles, including a sack, and did a good job of chasing down wide receivers and crossing routes in space. A lot of middle linebackers (Obi Ezeh, for example) would have been left in the dust or would have missed the tackle on those smaller players, but Demens is so strong that if he gets his hands on someone, that person is going to the ground.
In five of Michigan's nine losses during the 2008 season, the Wolverines were either ahead or tied at the half. But during the subsequent two quarters, Michigan's offense crumbled and the defense wasn't good enough to prop the team up. Throughout the Rodriguez years, exponential in-game decline became a staple of the team's performance
Don’t you feel like, for the first time in a long while, that Michigan clearly has the advantage in coordinators? While there is room for improvement, it’s a blast to see Borges tinker around with Denard and Gardner, and the defense has rattled several quarterbacks this season and has clearly improved. The team seems to get better as the game goes on.
This Week in Unexpected Sentences from Lake The Posts:
the 'Cats two second half TOs and Denard Robinson’s unstoppable passing prove too much in blowout win.
Nationally, Holly Anderson on the second-half D:
The story of Northwestern being shut out entirely in the second half is one of repeated, eerily consistent, enormous drive-ending plays by the Michigan defense. A sack and an interception killed the Wildcats’ third-quarter drives; a fumble and a sack put paid to their first two fourth-quarter efforts, and the final Northwestern drive barely reached Michigan’s red zone before the clock ran out.
Iowan Adam Jacobi has quick hits on the game at CBS.
Media, as in badge-wearers. Fox Sports's resident officiating expert on the Kovacs/Persa decapitating:
Some face mask penalties an official should never miss. This is not one of them. When I watched this play in real time and even after the first replay, I did not think the face mask was grabbed. So many helmets come off, and often it has nothing to do with the face mask being pulled. In this case, however, the last replay indicated that Kovacs did grab the mask with his left hand. The referee, who is behind the quarterback, would never see this, and he is the only official who is watching the quarterback. It was a foul, but not all fouls can be seen. Coach Fitzgerald was penalized for running out on the field to argue, which is absolutely the correct call. You cannot let a coach come as far onto the field as Fitzgerald did to scream at the officials. It makes no difference whether there is a missed call. That cannot be allowed.
That's on point. It's clear on the replay that Kovacs did grab the facemask but you can't expect the official to see that. (Side note: Adding Pereira to their coverage of NFL and college sports was a brilliant move by FOX. He's great at giving an unvarnished take from the referee's perspective. In that same article he bags on the live-ball unsportsmanlike penalty the NCAA just instituted, but he also gives it to you straight when you are being a stupid fanboy.)
Pete Thamel has yet another Denard piece, but okay:
Koger’s favorite Robinson story is from when he was a freshman, and he bounded up and down outside a team huddle.
“Put me in coach, I run fast,” Robinson said repeatedly.
When Robinson overheard Koger relaying that story Monday, he blushed with embarrassment and tried to plead down some details. But early on, Robinson’s need to slow down was obvious.
“I was just thinking about it the other day — man, it’s going by too fast for me,” he said with a smile. “I don’t want to leave.”
eeeeeee /passes out
Junior Hemingway had a lime:
"It feels real good," receiver Junior Hemingway said of the six victories.
Let's have a real wool lime.
AnnArbor.com's Kyle Meinke says Michigan answered a lot of questions. True, but I don't think "can Michigan win without Denard Robinson?" was one of them. Tim Rohan on the dichotomy of Denard. Raftery on the receivers. Chengelis on going to EL.
Is Al Borges going to play to his strengths or Denard's?
Borges has been talking about lots of wide receivers and lots of shotgun since people started him asking the obvious question of the offseason. This has not kept people from asking him "yeah, but how much?" The only thing Borges could have done to get people to cease and desist is present a signed contract guaranteeing a certain number of shotgun snaps and QB Draw Oh Noes.
He didn't quite do that in his interview with the BTN crew when they hit up Ann Arbor, but he came closer than he ever had before:
Point blank: Denard "is the priority." (Readers wishing to contrast with Rich Rodriguez are asked to focus on his obsession with a poorly-run 3-3-5, not his inability to squeeze maximum production out of the ragtag 2008 offense.)
The spring game disputes this version of reality:
They kept running the waggle and Denard could not get anything out of it. There was a guy in his face the whole time; the resulting throws were frequently incomplete due to inaccuracy. In the video above when Hoke references a couple of "drops" the best examples the BTN can dig up are Drew Dileo almost making a spectacular one-handed stab and Darryl Stonum almost making a spectacular sideline lay-out.
Maybe in a tackle football game he can escape that contain guy on the regular, but that seems like a high variance strategy with limited upside. Option 1: beats corner guy, is on corner, has shot at running some probably not immense distance or hitting a crossing route of some variety. Option 2: second and 20. There's a reason the waggle is strictly an occasional changeup—whenever you've got the ball and are spending time with your back to the defense there's a chance something awful is going to happen, like John Navarre getting blown up in that one MSU game.
But after the game Borges said Denard would run more "in the real world" and that's a long time ago now and every indication we've had since is that the offense isn't going to be a whole lot different than it was last year.
ONE: it suggests that Al Borges is awesome. His career has hinted from this as it rambled from scrambling Forcier-a-like Cade McNown to brutal play-action annihilation with Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, and Jason Campbell to a flexible multi-formation West Coast attack featuring Ryan Lindley in any formation you care to name. Now he's got the squarest peg he's ever run across and he's busily shaving his offense to match.
TWO: This is the way to go, especially now. In the NFL, shotgun formations are more efficient:
Shotgun formations are generally more efficient than formations with the quarterback under center.
Over the past three seasons, offenses have averaged 5.9 yards per play from Shotgun, but just 5.1 yards per play with the quarterback under center. This wide split exists even if you analyze the data to try to weed out biases like teams using Shotgun more often on third-and-long, or against prevent defenses in the fourth quarter. Shotgun offense is more efficient if you only look at the first half, on every down, and even if you only look at running back carries rather than passes and scrambles.
In college, running quarterbacks have a real advantage that the Mathlete stumbled across while trying to figure something else out:
In Denard's specific case the threat of a run from him is the reason he could surge to 20th in passer efficiency (Chad Henne 2006: 26th) one year after being totally incompetent.
Al Borges is going to do his damndest to keep Denard productive, upright, and beaming.
How much will Borges's lack of familiarity with cheetahs in Porsches strapped to jet engines and dropped out of an airplane hurt the offense?
It is going to hurt somewhat. Pretty much the only thing Rodriguez was consistently awesome at was introducing wrinkles in the run game that consistently produced. Remember that dreamlike first half against Penn State in 2008 when Brandon Minor emerged from nowhere and raged his way down PSU's throat? Rodriguez was fantastic at that stuff.
It petered out in his first two years because he had nothing to go to—no constraints—when the defense started cheating on him. With Robinson the wrinkles not only to the run game but to the defense-crippling QB Draw Oh Noes resulted in either points or plays where the points were there for the taking if only the players could have executed. Maybe the fundamentals were lacking. I tend to think of these things as youth and bloody fate. Either way you could see the outline of something great and tentacled in Michigan's fumbling missteps and blown opportunities. Rodriguez's offense was gorgeous in how it gave defenses awful choices.
Al Borges can do that. In his first year at Auburn, Jason Campbell averaged 10 YPA. Ten! That is a great many yards per attempt.
I'm not sure he can do that with Denard. He'll give Denard a more sophisticated offense that he won't execute as well as Borges needs him to; he'll use Denard's legs but not quite as effectively as Rodriguez would have. These guys are good because they've spent a lot of time specializing in ways that make them successful. There is a necessary lack of efficiency once they get outside their comfort zones.
Is anyone going to help Denard out?
I think so. Injuries laid up Shaw and Toussaint last year; both are apparently healthy. It's also possible that Vincent Smith will be closer to his late freshman form now that he's almost two years removed from his ACL tear. Add in a sophomore Hopkins and a couple freshmen and there are a lot more bullets in the chamber than there were last year, when Michigan was down to Smith and a fumble-prone Hopkins most of the season.
Without a similar plague of injuries, whoever emerges from those six guys is going to be better than the one who emerged from two. That's still going to hold true even when the grim reaper scythes one of Shaw or Toussaint down in the Big Ten opener. (Don't even think this isn't happening.) Getting production out of the tailback is key. If they can do that they can approximate last year's offense without putting undue pressure on Denard's bones.
In the passing game the #1 candidate to turn incompletions and short gains into longer ones is Junior Hemingway. He averaged 18.5 yards a catch last year and showed signs of being a guy you can just chuck it to because he'll come down with it. A fully healthy, senior Hemingway is a potential breakout performer.
Is the offensive line cut out for this?
Las year's offensive line was a B+. They didn't get an A because of a zillion Taylor Lewan penalties and mediocre play at right tackle. The interior line was very good. This year everyone is back save Steve Schilling and Perry Dorrestein. Dorrestein was a replacement level starter and Schilling has a touted, capable backup entering his redshirt junior year. Four starters return.
If this is not a great offensive line it will be because of a mismatch between what they were recruited to do and what they've been asked to do. Of late there has been a surge in OL skepticism from the premium practice reports on the message boards; I interpret this as a bunch of power being run not very effectively by a crew that should be running primarily zone.
If "this" is old-school MANBALL running, the answer is no. If it's a hybrid between last year and MANBALL, they'll get by. If they're making people cheat on the zone they will kill.
Michigan will backslide. But let's set the point from which they will backslide: I believe the advanced metrics. Michigan's field position was terrible, field goals were terrible, turnovers were terrible, and so forth and so on. We would have gotten a better picture of this offense if the field position they gained was honored either by the special teams or the defense. What happened last year was a lot of excellent play marred by turnovers from a true sophomore first-year starter with the weight of the world on his shoulders.
If Michigan did not have the #2 offense in the country last year, they weren't far off. What we had going last year was both explosive on the ground (5.6 YPC exceeded Carr's best effort this decade by almost a yard and a half) and in the air:
Last season, his first as a full-time starter in former coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense, Robinson had 16 runs that covered at least 20 yards and seven that exceeded 30 yards. He had at least one 20-yard gain in nine of the Wolverines' 13 games last season. He scored touchdowns on runs of 87, 72, 47, 32 and 32 yards. He also had 12 pass completions of more than 40 yards. That's more than Stanford's Andrew Luck.
Criticisms about Michigan's inability to score points against elite defenses mostly boil down to inopportune turnovers and bad defense. In games against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State, Michigan averaged nearly 440 yards. Because of the defense, special teams, and Denard's high turnover rate they didn't turn those yards into enough points—and they still scored 28 or more in three of those games. The bowl game was the only real clunker.
It was for real and it returns everyone save Steve Schilling, Martell Webb, and Darryl Stonum. Those three guys have upperclass replacements that should do just fine. The main issues with maintaining last year's level of productivity are:
- Regression to the mean.
- Keeping Denard upright.
- Not suffering more than two injuries on the OL or at TE.
- Having horrible enough field position to lead the country in long TD drives again.
- Not screwing it up.
#2 is the biggest problem. The most efficient version of the offense is also the one most likely to get Denard knocked
up out. They'll move away from that when they can, which will mean a hit. This is some version of #4: not screwing it up. I don't think they will. We will get some symbolic MANBALL—the first play against WMU is probably going to be power out of the I-form that goes for three yards—to please the Great Tradition and then Borges will get down to the business of being a coordinator instead of Mike DeBord.
Let's hit shift and comma!
- junior Denard > sophomore Denard
- Toussaint/Shaw/Smith/Hopkins > younger, more injured versions of same
- junior Patrick Omameh > sophomore Omameh
- sophomore Taylor Lewan >> Huyge/Lewan/Penaltyfest
- Huyge/Schofield > Huyge/Dorrestein
- David Molk == David Molk
- Junior Hemingway == Junior Hemingway
- Roundtree/Grady == Roundtree/Grady
- Ricky Barnum < Steve Schilling
- Kevin Koger/Brandon Moore < Koger/Webb
- Martavious Odoms < Darryl Stonum
- This is still going to be a very good offense, and this year they should have points to show for it.
Last Year's Stupid Predictions
Michigan 2010 finishes atop the rush YPC chart above without considering the UMass game and by a considerable margin.
Gardner ends up burning his redshirt in very, very frustrating fashion, because…
Check-ish. Michigan is trying to un-burn that redshirt.
Denard is pretty much your starting quarterback all year, but…
…Forcier plays in every game, bailing Michigan out in one critical fourth quarter.
Not quite every game but lots of them. Forcier did bail Michigan out against Illinois and came damn near doing so against Iowa.
Vincent Smith gets the most touches amongst the running backs. Second: Shaw. Third: Toussaint. Fourth: Hopkins.
Pretty close. Toussaint's injuries knocked him out.
Robinson is Michigan's leading rusher.
All too easy.
Darryl Stonum does not exactly go Chris Henry on the planet but does greatly increase production via a series of big plays: 30 catches, 650 yards, 6 touchdowns.
Stonum did see his production increase to 633 yards but it took him 49 catches to get there. The Chris Henry lite of the offense was Junior Hemingway, who had 593 yards on 32 catches.
Michigan breaks out the triple option with regularity, using Hopkins as the dive back and Shaw/Smith the pitch guy. They also dig out those WVU formations where the slot motions into the backfield, with Grady the man beneficiary.
This Year's Stupid Predictions
- Yards per carry drop quite a bit but nose above 5.
- Shaw claims the starting job to himself in week four, gets injured shortly after, and Toussaint takes over. Both are much better than Smith at making extra yards. At the end of the year they've all got somewhere between 400 and 800 yards.
- Denard rushes for 1200 yards. His interception rate falls significantly but is still not great.
- Michigan runs more zone blocking than gap blocking. When they do gap block they are a left-handed team thanks to Taylor Lewan.
- Koger's production is up a bit but total TE catches only go up slightly: 20 last year, 30 this year.
- Huyge gives way to Schofield mid-year.
- Michigan finishes around 15th in FEI and other advance metrics. By yardage they drop to about the same spot; scoring offense increases from 25th to match.
Rating: 3 of 5.
|Mike Shaw||Sr.||John McColgan||Sr.*|
|Fitzgerald Toussaint||So.*||Steve Watson||Sr.*|
|Vincent Smith||Jr.||Joe Kerridge||Fr.|
For some reason I feel real good about this group of guys.
The Tenuous Starter
|carlos brown fast…|
|just runs by the SLB|
|make a decisive cut|
|burst into the open field|
|cuts hard backside|
|…but doesn't fall over if you breathe on him|
|runs through three tackles|
|spins for YAC|
|keeps balance on goal line|
|always falls funny|
|just UMass but still|
|vision can be laughable|
|complete stop in hole|
After two years of injury, redshirt sophomore Fitzgerald Toussaint seemed on his way to Bolivia. Maybe that judgment was a bit hasty, but he was healthy for chunks of last year and couldn't push his way past a thoroughly mediocre group in front of him (he had eight carries), so the internet jumped to conclusions. That's what the internet does.
The internet has recently jumped to another conclusion based on rapturous scrimmage reports and Toussaint getting the Golden Carry in front of the media before they were abruptly ushered out of practice. Everyone else can go to Bolivia: we're going with Fitz.
The thing is this also happened last year. Toussaint redshirted due to a shoulder injury, then started building up the hype train. By the time last fall's preview rolled around, Fred Jackson had called him Mike Hart (except fast) and Chris Perry (except fast) and local insiders were saying he was a "clear #1" in the tailback derby.
Toussaint followed this surge in momentum up by damaging himself. An ankle injury took him down late in last year's fall camp. He was was listed as "out" on the injury report for UConn and Notre Dame and didn't play against UMass. When he got on the field against Bowling Green he ripped off a long run and a touchdown… and then immediately hurt his knee. He was then out for Iowa, MSU, Illinois, and Penn State. To date he's been china in a bull shop.
While the Jackson hype spotlight has moved on to the new freshman hotness, Hoke and Borges have focused on Toussaint. So have the papers, though when they focus on him they are lying like a boss:
"I wasn't as comfortable (last year) as I am in this offense," said Stephen Hopkins (6-0, 228).
Fitzgerald Toussaint, like Hopkins, is a bigger back — stronger and more physical, and this type of offense fits his style.
"I like this offense a little bit better," said Toussaint (5-10, 195). "It's smash-mouth football."
Guh? Toussaint is not large. He is a bigger back in the way Mike Hart is a bigger back: not at all (except fast!). All round knowledge must be reshaped to fit into the new square knowledge holes.
If Toussaint grabs the job he'll be closer to Hart than Shaw or Hopkins. I'm not sure if he is Except Fast—that long run above features BGSU players running him down from behind, but he was the 60M state champ in high school. Hopefully his injury issues were the cause.
Because of those issues, we have little more than the BGSU runs and his high school tape to go on. That tape again:
I like it. It makes me tingly. Tousssaint seems to have that jittery short-range quickness that allows little guys to survive, even thrive, as they pick their way through the chaos.
I'm hoping he emerges as the guy. If he beats out a healthy Shaw he'll be well on his way to translating that tape to college, and I could get used to a jump-cutting Houdini with sprinter's speed. Toussaint is the offense's Roh: the wildcard. Anything from Mike Hart (except crappy :( ) to Mike Hart (except fast!) is possible.
Third Down Back
|gets what you give him…|
|here's a free touchdown|
|Y U NO FAST|
|…and sometimes more|
|whiffed Purdue tackle|
|dancing past Huskies|
|slips through small holes|
|flare screen specialist|
|LB + Smith = easy slant|
|srsly about slant|
|still flare specialist|
|cuts charging slot LB|
|pops S pretty good|
When Al Borges said Michigan had settled on a third down back but he wouldn't tell the public who it was, the existence of the role was far more interesting than who it might be. It was bloody obvious who it was: Vincent Smith. He is 5'6" and the coaches have spent the fall gushing about his toughness. He played as a freshman because he was a better pass blocker than anyone else after Minor got too banged up to stay in if he wasn't running. If you need some one to leak out into the flat or annihilate a blitzer, he's your guy.
That's what they mean, right? They don't mean to run him on third and freaking one over and over again, do they? I'm not thinking about this possibility. Eat it, paranoid fears of irrational coaching decisions past.
Those taken care of, Smith has actually suffered a demotion by taking the new role. He was the only Michigan player to exceed 50% of Denard's carries last year. He didn't tear up the field with them, averaging a meh 4.5 YPC. The clips at right are not exactly "wow" moments. Smith seems to have a good sense for how his blocking will set up; he does not break many tackles or drag carriers for YAC, nor does he juke guys out of their jocks. He's just a guy.
The hope with Smith is that the ACL injury he sustained in the '09 Ohio State game was not entirely healed last year, or at least Smith had not recovered the jitterbug agility that caused me to attribute "top-end shiftiness" to him, channel my inner Fred Jackson by comparing Smith to Hart after he did this…
…and declare "I will not be dissuaded" that he would start next year (check) and be good (eh… not so much). This year will determine whether that was excessive enthusiams based on small sample size or the real, ACL-having Smith.
Smith's lack of rushing yards was one thing, but the weird thing was his lack of involvement in the passing game. After making ten catches in less than a game and a half at the end of his freshman year, he made only 15 during the entirety of 2010. That's quite a bit what less than the "30, 40, even 50" I predicted before the season. This year he'll probably get towards the 30 range; his rushing attempts will dip but not that much unless you believe the two guys in front of him are going to be super mega healthy, which would be a silly thing to believe. Like his Pahokee teammate Odoms, Smith is a useful piece opponents won't lose sleep over.
|massive short yardage overreaction|
|not Vincent Smith|
|can move laterally|
|good agility for beef machine|
|lead block for Denard|
|kicking out for Denard|
|great vision here|
|clubs PSU LB|
Now we descend into the woolly depths. Sophomore Stephen Hopkins is a surprise find down here. A big mooseback with no competition on the roster when it comes to being 230 pounds and capable of carrying a football, Hopkins was hailed as the obvious solution to the tailback issue once Hoke installed MANBALL. Hell, I was arguing that even sans manball Hopkins and his blocking heft were the best fit in a Denard-heavy running offense.
So of course Hopkins has been a virtual non-entity this fall. He did show up in a Media Day interview seeming chipper and vowing he hadn't played a snap at fullback; other than that he's been invisible save a couple of "oh and that guy" references from the coaches.
The insider chatter keeps mentioning the doghouse, and eagle-eyed observers of the season preview of Inside Michigan Football caught him doing something called "log rolling," which I thought was when you tried not to fall off a log into a lake. It turns out to also refer to a punitive activity people inflict on football players. Hopkins is doing it. So… yeah, he's in the doghouse. Since that doesn't seem to be a weight problem it's an off-field issue.
Whatever it is it will have to be serious if it's going to knock Hopkins off the field long term. He's the only guy on the roster with a plausible claim to being a short-yardage mauler, and we're all sick of watching Vincent Smith on third and one. He fills a role and fills it well; unless the Rawls hype is something other than the usual Fred Jackson stuff Hopkins will be the guy they call on when they want to MAN some BALLS in a VAN down by the FIRST DOWN MARKER.
I think he'll have a role elsewhere as well. That thump-thump section at right makes a good case that if you're trying to maximize Denard's effectiveness Hopkins is your guy. While Smith is the best pass blocker available, when he impacts a linebacker he's just trying to stall him. He does not do this:
Hopkins creates windows other backs don't. When three yards and a cloud of dust is a win, he'll be in there.
After Hopkins it's freshmen and obscurity. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Jackson family the least obscure kid down here is Thomas Rawls. He's Mark Ingram except faster… or Kevin Grady not asked to run stretch plays. Even before he was laid up with a shoulder issue in fall camp he'd fallen behind the veterans. Catching up now is going to be difficult. If he's as difficult to tackle as the Jacksons say he could wrest the short yardage job from Hopkins while he's in the doghouse; more realistically he'll get a few carries here and there in preparation for more serious efforts in 2012 and beyond. Fellow freshman Justice Hayes [recruiting profile] looks like he'll redshirt. A move to receiver is a possibility.
Finally, redshirt junior Mike Cox finds himself buried on the depth chart even after the coaching change he celebrated with some unwise tweets. He can be the most physically talented running back on the roster all he wants. He's just about out of chances, and he's nowhere near the field. We'll always have long runs in garbage time, Mike.
We've seen very little from Michigan fullbacks since the advent of the Rodriguez era. When it came time to bulk up Rodriguez would just run Robinson at the line, bring in Webb and Koger at the same time, or use one of the tailbacks as a lead blocker.
Appearances by John McColgan were infrequent, too infrequent to draw conclusions. He did catch one of those two-yard touchdown passes fullbacks are always reeling in and whack Clayborn with help from Huyge on a third and short against Iowa.
He's a senior and should be all right. Moving Steve Watson to an H-back type spot suggests he won't be anything more than a specialist. I'm betting fullbacks are only more prevalent when Michigan is "imposing its will" on an opponent, and by "imposing its will" I mean "boring the hell out of everyone in the third quarter against a MAC opponent." Here is the mandatory fluff article about his increased role in MANBALL anyway.