"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
So it's been seven games and it's a bye week so TACO PARTY—
this is a thing you can purchase at "Fine Art America"
or steal from your crazy Aunt Betty in Pensacola
—also generic bullety midseason-type post.
BEST DEVELOPMENT. Confirmation of the offseason's Greg >>> GERG theory.
he's like defensive coordinator Zooey Deschanel.
There are still obvious weaknesses and no obvious stars past a slightly disappointing Mike Martin, but it turns out having a coherent defensive philosophy is a lot better than running around screaming "we're all gonna die but at least my hair is fantastic!!!"
Pick a metric, advanced or not, and the improvement is incredible. The advanced ones are even more enthusiastic than the regular ones: Michigan is actually a top-20 FEI defense. Top 20! They were 108th last year! Excuse me, I have to go list this pool of razorblades, despair, and misery on Craigslist! Where an Ohio State blogger will purchase it to talk about their offense!
You can apply every massively-deserved caveat you can think of and the author will nod sagely about how that is a concern and the end result is still something that should approximate giddiness. When the turnovers stop coming in droves and a smaller percentage of games are played in a trash tornado, Michigan will backslide. But, like… backslide into the 40s or something. IE: the offseason's best-case scenario that didn't involve installing robots from the future at key spots.
RUNNER-UP, BEST DEVELOPMENT. Jordan Kovacs ending the debate about Jordan Kovacs.
If you strain your memory you can think back to a time where it was very warm and people had heated debates about whether Jordan Kovacs was any good or not. This was summer, and it was a silly time. A major reason the defense is scraping the ceiling of the ceiling above its best-case scenario is the near-total absence of big plays. Michigan still hasn't given up anything over 40 yards. Kovacs and (to a lesser extent) Thomas Gordon are primarily responsible for shutting down the Wolverine Free Touchdown Factory and shipping it to Thailand. WOO OUTSOURCING JOKE
WORST DEVELOPMENT. Denard's inability to hit Charlie Weis in three tries.
Even if you ascribe to the theory that Denard's passing success last year was largely a mirage when it came to Actual Big Ten Defenses*, his numbers against the two actual-seeming defenses on the schedule thus far have been horrendous. At least half of that can be ascribed to Denard just missing dudes.
Even running in place would have been disappointing after the quantum leap it seemed he made last year. He was still raw as sushi and could still be expected to move more towards quarterback-dom than a guy who'd had the slightest amount of polish. Instead the Al Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine has shoved him back to being that guy who heaved it up against Iowa when he had a wide open Odoms running underneath. I didn't like that guy as much as the one from last year, warts and all.
*[Which I don't, FWIW. I UFR this stuff for a reason, and that reason is "so I can do something more than wave my hands in the air and say 'nuh-uh' when I would like to dispute someone else's assertion." I charted all of Denard's throws before the dismal end of the RR regime and there's a definite backslide.]
RUNNER-UP, WORST DEVELOPMENT. What happened, offensive line?
Last year you were all like blocking your way to an insane YPC and hardly giving up anything on the ground and this year you can't pull to save your life; the impregnable wall of no sacks was punched into smithereens by Michigan State. Now it's hard not to look at next year without a sense of panic.
MOST MIDDLING DEVELOPMENT. The tailbacks. It's still Vincent Smith and increasingly less Fitzgerald Toussaint (for reasons that are opaque to me). They're not awful. I still covet any tailback who wanders by to break a tackle or two.
MOST MISLEADING DEVELOPMENT. The defense's turnover-fu. It is not sustainable. Repeat this in your head a thousand times in a futile effort for its lack to be tolerable.
MOST DEVELOPING DEVELOPMENT. Special teams. They've been bad so far but the sample size is small. Brendan Gibbons made three(!) field goals against Minnesota and is 4/6 on the year. His two misses were both blocked. He might be serviceable. He might be benefiting from a bunch of chip shots—he still hasn't made one past 40 yards.
Meanwhile, the starting punter was suspended for the first four games and is averaging under 34 yards a kick because he was a nonfactor against Minnesota and Northwestern and seven of his punts came in a howling windstorm, six(!) of those from the Michigan State half of the field.
They can't cover kicks and can't return them, either. So… yeah. The jury is still out.
OFFENSE: FOCUS: OFFENSE
100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jeremy Gallon cloaking device engagement.
The play that followed it was pretty sweet, too, but that thing took Michigan from dead in the water to fightin' chance in The First Night Game Evar.
100% WORST THING EVER. Fourth and inches play action pass from the nine against Michigan State. I assume this needs no explanation.
THING THEY DO THE MOST. Run inside zone.
THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Throw deep.
THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Use stretch blocking and deploy the quick screen with the wide receivers to force a third defender to live outside the tackles. Michigan hasn't attacked the outside enough, allowing Michigan State's double-A-gap blitzes to be ludicrously effective.
BEST PLAYER. Well… Denard, despite obvious issues.
SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Taylor Lewan. Lewan has been near-flawless in pass protection, and has generally done well when the run game has come his way, which hasn't been often given their inability to pull left.
PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Michigan hasn't been able to pull left largely because Patrick Omameh can't get to the hole before the tailback, which is not so good.
GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Vincent Smith. He's a third down back and useful player who's not a guy you want to give 20 carries.
GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. Denard. Please, baby, please.
DEFENSE: FOCUS: DEFENSE
100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jordan Kovacs depositing his head into a ball Alex Carder happened to be carrying.
That sack is like the awful Nick Sheridan interception that kicked off the Rodriguez era and made its way into the Worst Plays of the Decade more for what it symbolized than the actual impact of the play. It heralds a sea change in Michigan's fortunes.
Caveats, caveats, caveats: Michigan is now deploying a zone-blitz heavy 4-3 under that will draw valid NFL comparisons and will hopefully start playing like Michigan defenses of old, and by "Michigan defenses of old" I mean "Michigan defenses of very old or more recent Ohio State outfits."
100% WORST THING EVER. It's a tribute to Michigan's safeties and Greg Mattison that the only long-ish touchdown they've given up was the no-safeties formation that handed Notre Dame a freebie right before the Gallon cloaking device play. But, man… that was kind of not good right there.
THING THEY DO THE MOST. Zone blitz.
THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Let guys outside the tackles.
THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Uh… you got me. /shakes fist at format established by himself
BEST PLAYER. Ryan Van Bergen, I think. It's close between RVB, Martin, and Kovacs, but Martin had a tough outing against Michigan State. Van Bergen played well. Kovacs had a storming game the first time out and is a major reason for the lack of long touchdown but has not has as much down to down impact. Maybe that's just the nature of being a safety. If Michigan gets through the rest of the year without getting bombed deep he'll win by default.
SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Kovacs. I don't hate Michigan's safeties except from time to time when Johnson is missing tackles.
PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Weakside linebacker du jour. Woolfolk hasn't been good but that's obviously an injury thing. I've been leery about Jake Ryan from time to time but he's turning in enough good plays with his bad ones to nose above even most days.
But whoever's been at weakside linebacker has had issues. Brandon Herron started the year, had two defensive touchdowns, and got benched. Brandin Hawthorne came in for him, played okay for a bit, made some mistakes, and has rotated in and out with true freshman Desmond Morgan the past couple weeks.
GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Will Heininger. Heininger hasn't been a disaster or anything but he is single blocked often, rarely makes plays, and is pretty much what you'd expect a walk-on to be at defensive tackle.
GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. There are two: Jake Ryan and Blake Countess. Both are freshman starters* turning in promising plays amongst the youthful head-vs-wall moments. Ryan in particular has cut down his blatant errors to getting cut to the ground a few times per game.
*[Countess is not technically starting. He is getting the bulk of the playing time.]
THE BIG TEN
THE WORST. Minnesota. We have a GopherQuest dedicated to their badness.
THE SECOND-WORST. Everyone else. This league is not so good. The team leading the East division starts Matt McGloin at quarterback and is coached by a guy without a headset who isn't on the sideline. The team leading the West division is Michigan State. There are no undefeated teams, no national powers, and it's inevitable that the league's bowl record is going to be 2-6.
FUTURE OPPONENTS IN ORDER OF CONCERN.
- @ Iowa
- Ohio State
- @ Illinois
BALLPARK RECORD AGAINST THOSE FOLKS. 3-2.
WHO'D TAKE 9-3. That's everyone.
WHO'D WHIMPER AND HIDE AT THE BOWL OPPONENT IN THAT EVENT. Also everyone. Okay, not you, message board hero who spent the last week calling Michigan fans whiners. You will say unreasonable things about the prospect of beating…
Wait. There are only two good SEC teams this year. Am I going to tremble at the sight of Arkansas or Georgia or South Carolina? No. Nevermind.
FIVE GUYS WHO SEEM PRETTY GOOD WHOM INSUFFICIENT DISCUSSION IS HAD ABOUT.
Bryce McNaul, Northwestern LB. (Heady, quick the hole, part of Northwestern's good run defense, injured too much, can do nothing about the nonexistent Wildcat secondary.)
Marcus Rush, MSU DE. (Rush has been overshadowed by the Gholston controversy but is actually a better player. Gholston does nothing once he is blocked; Rush will shed guys. Gholston would be on the bench if Tyler Hoover was healthy.)
Devon Still, PSU DT. (Still may be a reach since he is reaching tongue-bath levels but I was all about Still last year.)
Kawaan Short, Purdue DT.
Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota WR. (Winner: most futile B1G existence.)
This was the one beacon of hope on the defense, provided mostly 4s. The preview was extremely high on one Mike Martin:
… it's time for Martin to make the same leap Brandon Graham did between his junior and senior years. I can't offer anything more powerful than this wonderfully ungrammatical assessment from Jibreel Black:
You look at the rest of this defensive line and there’s a lot of talent there, but is there anyone in particular that you look at and say, ‘wow man this dude is better than I thought he was? ‘
“Not necessarily better than I thought he was, because I know all of them are good, but when I see some plays that Mike (Martin) makes in practice, I be like dang. His explosiveness, his technique that he uses. You can tell the work that he put in with it.”
I hope to be like dang for large sections of the season. … I'm not sure if Martin will be on All Big Ten teams after the year, especially at a position at which statistics don't always tell the tale, but I'm confident in asserting he should be on them.
The preview misidentified the Banks/Sagesse combination as the other defensive tackle when it's primarily been Banks on the field and he's always a defensive end when Michigan goes to its four man front. The two were regarded as meh interchangeable pieces on par with Rondell Biggs, the Other Guy on Michigan's ridiculous '06 line. In sum:
Michigan's formations will go some way to determining which player gets more time. In three-man lines Sagesse is clearly going to be a pass-rush liability as a defensive end, but when Michigan goes to four (or brings in the "double eagle" package with the DEs lined up over the opposition guards) Sagesse's got more heft. I wouldn't be surprised to see both lifted for Jibreel Black or maybe Craig Roh on passing downs.
Take your pick of adjectives: workmanlike, yeoman, gritty, etc. Expect something okay here; the upside is low, but so is the downside.
Backups were not encouraging: "Everyone is worried" about Will Campbell's ability to stick after getting lit up in limited time as a freshman and falling behind Adam Patterson on the depth chart. Patterson was not projected to be good:
He'll play; I don't think he'll be much good. The dropoff after Martin will be similar to that Michigan experienced when Graham came off the field, though less severe since Martin won't be Graham and the backup is at least a senior.
Ryan Van Bergen and Craig Roh were treated as defensive ends, something that's been true for them about 50% of the time. When Michigan goes to a four-man line Roh is the weakside DE; he's a linebacker otherwise. When they're in a three man line Van Bergen is the strongside DE; he's still a three-tech DT otherwise. RVB in a nutshell:
Van Bergen knows the position [DE], was recruited to play it, and is entering his fourth year on campus with a season as a solid starter under his belt. Least useful phrase ever: he's not going to be Brandon Graham. Mitigating phrase: but he should be solid. At a spot more amenable to pass rush and with more experience, RVB should brush up against double-digit sacks and see his UFRs climb into the consistently good realm inhabited by, say, Tim Jamison as a senior.
Roh was given a 3 as the deathbacker and dubbed "the Denard Robinson of the defense," which was true last year but cannot be true this year since Roh hasn't decapitated three opponents.
The catch in the Craig Roh explosion is this niggling move to the 3-3-5, where he's a strongside linebacker. …No one's sure how much Michigan will be running a three man line this fall but it will be some, which will give Roh the ability to attack from surprising angles and use his vertical speed to get into the backfield. It will also expose him to play action, counters, and other plays he's not used to dealing with much that can take advantage of the inability to change direction that had everyone projecting him as a defensive end despite being linebacker size. Now, you could just say he'll blitz all the time but that would get predictable; it would also impinge on Jonas Mouton's ability to do the same thing, and Mouton's a guy who has the exact same strengths Roh does. They'll have to split the fun bits where they tear into the backfield.
All this makes it difficult to project what Roh will do this season. A guess: doubling his 7.5 TFLs and significantly adding to his two sacks is a good bet. I don't think he'll be a crazy star just yet, but I expect to be saying the same things about him next year that I'm saying about Mike Martin this year.
Fast forward to NOW!
I be like dang about Mike Martin. Fears about turning him into a mediocre nose tackle proved unfounded. The move to the 3-3-5 has actually freed him up to slant past offensive linemen and splatter running plays or unleash thumping pass rush up the middle. Despite essentially missing the Iowa game he's amongst the team leaders in TFLs with 5.5 and has 2.5 sacks. He's got 23 tackles, as well, an impressive 16 of those solos. He went into beast mode against Notre Dame, racking up an 11.5 and proving himself too quick for one guy to do anything with:
He followed that up with an +8.5 in his toughest matchup to date against Michigan State:
At the end of that game he got hit with a cheap block and sprained an ankle that saw him play like a ghost of himself in the Iowa game. He eventually missed the second half.
Van Bergen has also checked in around expectations. He wouldn't look out of place on Michigan defensive lines of yore when the defense was actually good. He's not making a ton of tackles (just twelve) but has two sacks and four of Michigan's eleven QB hurries on the season. He's been hovering around the +4/+5 area that's a decent to good day for a 4-3 DE, and since he's not a 4-3 DE those numbers point towards an above-average player. He was even an impact player against MSU with a drive-killing sack and solid play against the run. He tied Martin's numbers on the day.
The Banks/Sagesse combination has disappointed. Sagesse hardly sees the field. Moving him to the outside when he seemed like a functional DT last year is and was a strange move. It's hard to imagine he'd be less effective than Patterson, and with Michigan moving towards four-man lines against pro style offenses he could have reprised his role from last year as an okay backup to Martin. Though Banks leads the team in sacks that's because Ricky Stanzi inexplicably ran out of bounds, Indiana busted a protection, and one of the nonconference snackycakes was a nonconference snackycakes. He delivers no pass rush and often finds himself single-blocked effectively. Michigan's been trying to get freshman Jibreel Black more playing time in response; they're finding it hard to keep him on the field because right now he's horrendous against the run.
Finally, Craig Roh has not made the hoped for leap in production. This is largely not his fault. He's not a linebacker, he's a weakside defensive end, and when you put him in space he makes a lot of bad zone drops and is often beaten in one-on-one situations by far more agile receivers. He's okay in man coverage against a tight end, but he's hovering around 250 pounds—he is the wrong kind of mismatch against a WR.
Michigan put his hand on the ground against Notre Dame to good effect…
…until Brandon Herron went out with injury and Michigan felt forced to put him at linebacker. Roh had a +11 on the day; Herron hasn't seen the field since and Roh's been stuck at LB in Michigan's 3-3-5. As a result, he ended up solidly negative against Indiana. The pro-style attacks of MSU and Iowa saw him put his hand on the ground 70-80% of the time; Roh ended up in the +4/+5 RVB zone after both games.
Fast forward to LATER!
At this point it's obvious that Will Campbell is not going to have an impact on the defense this year, so things are settled and relatively static at three positions.
Martin's ankle is 90% of the variance in future performances from the Michigan defensive line. Since he was healthy enough to at least try against Iowa and has had a bye week the assumption/hope is that he's shaken it off and can resume his backfield-terrorizing ways. He should continue to perform at an all conference level; his numbers will probably come up short because no one can cover long enough for Michigan to get sacks.
Roh and Van Bergen are a level of play down from Martin; at this point in their careers they're both good Big Ten players but not stars. Roh should be improving more quickly than anyone else on the line because of his relative youth. Hopefully by the end of the year he can make more impact in the pass rush and Michigan can reliably get pressure with four.
The strongside DE spot currently manned by Banks could see a late switch as Michigan coaches keep trying to get Black playing time. Unfortunately, he's an obvious liability in the run game and opponents will have scouted this by now. They've already installed a run/pass platoon there, so all that's left is to throw Black in the game and hope.
Prediction accuracy to date: Complicated by the error when it comes to positions. RVB is about a 4, as is the combination of Martin and Banks. Roh is about a 3. If I'm ranking them by actual position the strongside DE is a weak 2, the DTs a 5, and Roh still a 3.
Level of play relative to prediction: About right; main error was being too optimistic about the Banks/Sagesse combo.
Expected level of play for remainder of season: No change unless Michigan manages to get Herron back and decides to roll with Roh as a 3-3-5 DE, something that will only be relevant against Purdue and maybe Illinois.
Taking stock during the bye week. Previously: secondary.
Following straight on the heels of the secondary preview, the linebacker preview caused more stomach-twisting agony at projected incompetence. Craig Roh was covered as a defensive lineman, leaving Mouton, Ezeh/Walk-on, and Freshman Spur Rotation the guys covered here.
Mouton and Ezeh were lumped together as close to interchangeable backers and given a two, except it was actually Mouton and Moundros evaluated as starters. Doom was projected at MLB:
…"sparsely deployed walk-on fullback to starting middle linebacker" is as much of a flashing sign that says DOOM as anything I've ever seen.
On the other hand, during the Illinois game last year Ezeh actually ran out of a hole Juice Williams was about to enter with the ball so he could chase after a running back. It looked insane, causing me to dig out the "run away" bit of "Janie's Got A Gun" and the fake Magic card you see at right. By the end of the year whatever hope remained for Ezeh was vestigial indeed; merely having options other than him could maybe possibly hopefully slightly improve matters?
All that was offered in hope was "Ezeh won't get worse and if he's replaced the guy doing the replacing will be better than him." When it came to address the backups, I was expecting "some" improvement from Ezeh thanks to the exit of Jay Hopson and the usual leveling up that comes through experience. The Enigmatic Kenny Demens was indeed dubbed The Enigmatic Kenny Demens; the tea leaves were not encouraging on him because he'd gone from pushing for a job in spring to all but absent in fall.
Mouton was declared a wildly inconsistent guy hopped up on bad angles but theoretically capable of becoming a "ruthless Crable-like playmaker." That was just a theory, though:
Unlike the situation at middle linebacker, it seems within the realm of possibility Mouton's light goes on and the talent he's flashed the past couple years turns into an All Big Ten kind of season. To deploy a cliche, he is the X factor, the guy with the greatest possible variance in his play on the defense. I'd settle for a return to his 2008 level; he is capable of more. There's a 25% chance he's awesome, a 50% chance he's okay, and a 25% chance he gets benched.
Mike Jones came in for the most pub as a backup.
His [Johnson's] recruiting profile picked him out as a true sleeper likely to exceed his relatively modest rankings based on local praise and late SEC offers, and while my usual heuristics lead me to be skeptical about a true freshman beating out a redshirt freshman with nary a fourth star to be seen, I've just got that feeling—what's it called—you know—optimism. Optimism enough to throw this position a 2, anyway. While two less-than-touted freshmen are not likely to be average Big Ten players in year one, I don't think we'll be looking back at 2010 and saying "oh God, what about that mess at spur."
Fast forward to NOW!
Mouton has settled into the broad 50% level where he is okay, in no danger of getting benched or making an All Big Ten team at year's end. He's come in for clucking on two separate Picture Pages wherein tailbacks got outside of him despite having a clear mandate to maintain contain. Despite this, he's been in the black most of the year on the UFR chart and has turned in some huge positive plays:
Mouton leads the team in tackles and is in a big pack of guys with around 5 TFLs. Though he hasn't made the senior leap he was capable of he is appreciably better than last year and is going to get some NFL team to take a swing at him in the draft.
Ezeh managed to hold off the challenge from Moundros largely because when Moundros came in he looked exactly like you'd expect a fullback to look at linebacker. The problem was that Ezeh looked like a fullback, too:
At this point it's almost hopeless. What are the chances Obi Ezeh learns how to be a linebacker in the last ten games of his career if he's still making incredibly basic mistakes like that after starting for three years? This has nothing to do with scheme. This is basic play recognition/ability to remember how to make your legs go. … The ugly fate foretold by the "Mark Moundros could start" preseason meme appears to be coming true.
That was after Ezeh scored a –8 against a I-AA team. That may have been harsh but if you're arguing that a –8 against UMass for a senior middle linebacker is really a –4 you're really just arguing about how obvious his future benching is. Frustratingly obvious, or eye-bleedingly obvious?
It was apparently the former. Ezeh hung onto his job until the Michigan State game, when a bizarre scheme that saw him fly out of the center of the defense on two long MSU touchdown runs was replaced by the usual thing where he was asked to read and react and did only the first:
The MSU game was finally enough. Michigan turned to The Enigmatic Kenny Demens, who'd been enigmatically buried on the depth chart. Placed on the field he hit the right gaps, made a number of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage, and could not be fingered for anything particularly negative that went on. Contrast the above clip with this:
I've got plenty more of the first clip to prove the trend. Demens hasn't seen enough time to prove anything but at the very least he's suggested he's already an upgrade as a sophomore. It wouldn't have taken much.
At spur it has been super boring. Johnson got knocked out of the UConn game and missed the next few weeks. He's reclaimed the starting spot after healing but he and Gordon alternate so much that it's hard to tell who is who. It doesn't help that neither of them has done much of anything good or bad. The hope was that maybe Cam Gordon would be able to pull the Brandent Englemon 1-0-1 this year. He hasn't come anywhere close, but the spurs are doing almost exactly that. Between them they have 25 tackles, 3.5 for loss and the one impressive sack of Dayne Crist.
Is that good? On this defense it qualifies. A couple freshmen are not huge issues. The 2 they were handed in the preview seems about right.
Fast forward to LATER!
Mouton is what he is at this point. He'll use his combo of size and speed to nail down a fair share of impressive plays; his iffy angles and pursuit will open up the outside and cutbacks. His pass drops have gotten much better. He's probably going to end the year as Michigan's leading tackler and have maybe 10 TFLs. He's not a star. He's not a liability. Except he's both. It all averages out to an average-ish Big Ten linebacker.
Rotating Spur Freshman should improve as the season progresses and the collective's eyes get less wide, but it's hard to see a lot of plays from Johnson and Gordon until 2011 when one of them can get a solid grip on the job and can focus on doing a bit more than not screwing up. But they're not screwing up—or at least not screwing up much compared to other spots. One negative: they must be iffy in pass coverage in practice if the exploitable nickel package has persisted this far into its erratic 2010.
The upside in the unit comes in the form of The Enigmatic Kenny Demens, who turned in a legitimately good—not good-for-being-not-Ezeh—game against Iowa. It is highly likely he is better than Ezeh right now. It is unlikely he is as good as he showed against an Iowa team that IIRC did not run a counter or anything other than straight zone blocking all day. Where he falls in that continuum from Linebackers Obviously Better Than Ezeh to Legitimately Good will have a huge impact on Michigan's rushing defense the rest of the way.
Prediction accuracy to date: Pretty good, though the preview punted on making a call on Mouton and was taken in by whatever it was that caused Demens to plummet down the depth chart.
Level of play relative to prediction: Slightly optimistic, as Ezeh didn't seem to be any better this year than last.
Expected level of play for remainder of season: Somewhere between slightly and considerably better than predicted depending on how sustainable Demens's play is and how much of an upgrade Carvin Johnson is over Thomas Gordon. The guesses here: 70% sustainable and not much of an upgrade.
Taking stock during the bye week.
People thought I was depressive when the secondary preview started "what's the point of anything?"
WHO'S DEPRESSIVE NOW!?!?! YEAHHHHH. Score one for cold-eyed realism. This could be the worst secondary in a BCS conference. It's definitely the worst in Michigan history.
Anyway, cornerback got a 1 and I thought about breaking the rules to go lower:
Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.
Some vague hopes were offered for JT Floyd despite his ugly, brief tenure as the starter opposite Donovan Warren once Boubacar Cissoko went ham. These were based on constant positive reinforcement from the coaches and the occasional mysterious practice observer, with the latter given more credence because they didn't have an obvious ulterior motive. "Average" was the "best anyone could hope for," though.
Opposite Floyd I took a wild guess that Cullen Christian would end up starting—if not immediately by the time the Big Ten season hit—because he was the most highly-touted recruit and was not James Rogers. Avery and Talbott were regarded as basically identical recruits who needed a year and 20 pounds before seeing the field. They wouldn't be allowed that luxury.
At safety 2 was offered, "generously." Jordan Kovacs was said to be totally incapable of playing a deep half but "pretty good as a tiny linebacker." In sum:
So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.
At free safety, Cam Gordon was named the Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype. The usual accolades were relayed, the thing about how he should probably be a linebacker mentioned, and a projection of a sort offered:
As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. … Repeating [Brandon Englemon's] +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.
Fast forward to NOW!
nothing really matters… anyone can see… that nothing really matters to meeeeeeeeeee
Depressingly accurate overall even considering the original depression that was depressing. Michigan is 118th in pass defense and 94th in efficiency.
Maybe the corners have been slightly less atrocious than expected, but Michigan's been limited when they try to play man coverage because things like Iowa's last touchdown happen when they do. On that play, Michigan sent the house and JT Floyd gave up a slant despite starting with inside leverage. They make plays on occasion, but lord they're not good. Michigan's defense is limited in the same way their offense was in 2008—with deficiencies that severe man coverage is a dangerous gamble every time it's deployed.
Floyd is significantly improved, so there's that. He's still below average. He's not a total liability. On the other side, Michigan hasn't been able to displace Rogers despite his tendency to go into anaphylactic shock whenever he comes within five yards of an opponent wide receiver…
OH MY GOD WHAT DID YOU DO BATHE IN CAT HAIR
…because the freshmen have been playing like typical three-star true freshmen: badly. They first started rotating into the lineup against BG; since then
- Cullen Christian was burned twice against BG and gave up an easy long touchdown against Michigan State,
- Terrence Talbott was primarily responsible for turning third and fifteen into first and ten on Michigan State's second touchdown drive and gave Indiana their last touchdown by dragging out of his zone, and
- Courtney Avery was personally responsible for large chunks of Indiana yards, gave up a touchdown on third and ten against Iowa by dragging out of his zone, and turned what should have been another third and ten stop into a whiffed tackle, 20 yards, and the field goal that was the final nail in Michigan's coffin.
This is disappointing, especially Christian's failure to beat out not only Rogers but apparently his classmates. Talbott and Avery feature in the nickel and dime packages while Christian backed up the outside guy; he has apparently lost that job. too—Avery came in against Iowa when JT Floyd missed a few plays.
At safety, Kovacs has been Kovacs. He's small, he's not very fast, but he's probably the team's best tackler and he's been in the right spot more often than anyone on the defense. This has resulted in a bunch of UFRs where he's got several half-points in each direction and comes out at zero. He could be the fifth-best player on a good defense.
Cam Gordon has been rough, honestly little better than the mess Michigan threw out last year. He racked up a double-digit negative day against Notre Dame and followed that up with another one against Michigan State. His angles have been too aggressive or too conservative with little porridge in-between, and he's failed to shake a nasty habit of not wrapping up his tackles. He's pretty good running downhill, and that's about it. Preseason hype has given way to cold reality. Gordon is a redshirt freshman converted wide receiver who should probably be playing linebacker. He plays safety like he's a bowling ball: he goes fast in one direction and hopes to knock over the pins with momentum because he has no arms.
Fast forward to LATER!
What can we expect the rest of the year? Pain, but less of it.
Rodriguez made an offhand comment about maybe moving someone from one safety spot to another when discussing the possibility of a Will Campbell move, but that would either be Jordan Kovacs or Marvin Robinson. Kovacs's tenure at deep safety last year was hardly less disastrous than that of Mike William or Gordon; Marvin Robinson is yet another freshman who is likely to make the same sorts of mistakes.
Gordon's it unless Michigan wants to turn to true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal, who picked off a pass from a third-string Bowling Green walk-on and has therefore made the best play by a Michigan safety in the last ten years. I'm not sure if that's a joke.
Floyd's not very good, Rogers is what he is at this point, and the freshmen are clearly not instant impact types, except insofar as they give up an extra touchdown per game than a Michigan secondary featuring Troy Woolfolk. That is an impact, just not the one you're hoping for.
Your best hopes the rest of the year:
- Courtney Avery learns WTF a zone is and how to play it.
- Cam Gordon's angles and tackling improve marginally.
- JT Floyd progresses towards average and at least gets basic things right.
Actually, your best hope is this: Michigan did okay against the two rookies and/or flat bad quarterbacks they've faced to date. Zack Fraser didn't do anything. ND's three-headed QB was contained. Bowling Green couldn't do much of anything. Michigan's next three opponents all feature freshmen at QB; they're ranked 104th (PSU), 105th (Illinois), and 107th (Purdue) in passing efficiency. They're bound to be less effective than the last three guys, a senior returning starter, junior returning starter, and senior returning starter who are all in the top 30 in passer efficiency. Tolzien will shred, but who knows what Terrelle Pryor will do? (Probably shred, actually—he has no problems against awful Ds this year.)
By the end of the year Michigan's numbers will be slightly less grim as the schedule eases and the freshmen learn WTF a zone is. They will still be grim.