...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Ankles are both good: "I'm at the health that I want to be right now." The week of rest has helped, and no hitting for a couple weeks should also do him some good. He expects to be 100% by bowl time. It's frustrating being injured, because you put in the work to be ready, "you got 12 opportunities a year... you're not able to play those minutes and those plays, it's rough." Getting to full strength is his priority. A lot of guys who were banged up have been getting a lot of treatment in the week off. "There's a very good chance for me to be feeling great for the bowl."
More practices will help the young team improve: "You improve any time you can get some work in. Whenever we get into practice or anything, we always make sure we're ready to work and get better."
Excited to play an SEC team. "It's big for me, it's big for the guys that I came in with that haven't gone to a bowl yet." It's rare for a junior to not have gone to a bowl game yet. Older players are excited to get back there. Michigan has a lot of contenders to win an eating contest, if there is one. Mike doesn't think he'd be one of them.
Mouton and Denard predicted wins at the banquet: "I would say that's just excitement." Everybody is just excited and anxious to practice, and to play in the bowl. "Jonas and Denard, probably just pure excitement. Just wanting to get down there."
Rodriguez job limbo: "That's not something I can control, or anyone on the team can control." The players are just worried about playing, and controlling what they can. "Whatever pans out, we're worried about the game."
Roh's move: "I know he feels a lot more comfortable being on the line." He played DE in high school, and wasn't as comfortable at linebacker. He's able to just play his game at DL instead of over-thinking.
Reaction of team to playing Mississippi State? "We was all pretty happy." Playing in a January 1 bowl game is exciting. "We're all happy with the Gator Bowl."
Playing an SEC team: "You always hear about the SEC speed, and the Big Ten is like slow and big muscle guys and SEC is the fast, athletic guys. In 2008 Michigan did a great job against Florida." Eager to prove that Michigan will be able to beat a good SEC team.
Exciting to play in his first bowl game. "Hopefully we can keep this going, keep the bowl game streak going, and get Michigan back to where it's supposed to be."
Taking the time in between the end of the season to heal up. "You don't want to go too hard." Worried more about sharpening skills than hitting each other. They know the whole playbook, they need to make sure they'll be able to execute well, "getting ready mentally more than physically."
Ankle is "pretty good," but he's still getting treatment. Should be 100% by bowl game. Against OSU "it was pretty tough. They tried to tape it up and do all kind of things." He was going to gut it out for the seniors no matter how much it hurt.
Denard deserved the MVP honor (though Darryl joked that he tried to vote for Troy Woolfolk). "Especially for a sophomore, so he's only going to get better. We're looking for big things from him his junior year, and big things in the bowl game" Denard should still be in the Heisman race.
In the bowl game, "I think you'll see how everybody played in the first few games," because they'll be much healthier. Everybody's rehabbing and should be fresh. "We'll be ready to go."
"No need to beat ourselves up. Might as well save it to beat up Mississippi State."
"Denard. Denard Robinson." for team MVP. Mike Shaw voted for himself as a joke, because he knew Denard was going to win it. "Everybody knew who was going to win it because of all the hard work he put in all season." There's still more room for improvement.
Denard's very humble every day. Always trying to learn something, trying to improve his game and his teammates. Even when he was getting mentioned for the Heisman, he was more worried about working on his game.
"I felt like I played great all year, but at times, lack of focus on the football." He knows he can play better than he showed in the last four games. He's only a sophomore, so he has the offseason to work hard toward a good junior year. "Trying to take off without the ball in my hands. Drops: I had several drops in this last game." Doesn't lack confidence, just needs to practice to fix it. "That's easily corrected. It's just up to me to really maintain that."
The team will work out to stay focused in the layoff. "When we do have practice, I'm sure pretty Coach Rod's gonna have us ready." It's helping people heal up.
It's nice to finally be playing in the postseason. "Watching bowl games? You know that really sucked bad. You really couldn't do nothing about it because of the season we had. Finally getting out there, getting ready to play Mississippi State, come January first, it's gonna be great. It's SEC vs. Big Ten and we're just getting ready to go in there and give it our all."
Chris Spielman's comments on how Jordan isn't good enough for Michigan: "I heard about it. It's nothing that I haven't heard before. Obviously it motivates me." Every player - especially walkons - motivated by outside comments.
Against OSU, the front 7 played pretty well "eventually I guess their running game just wore us down." They played hard though, and if they can continue that, the defense will be fine going forward.
Never been to a Michigan bowl game, even though he was a fan growing up. Remembers the Capital One bowl a few years back. Jordan was 1 year old last time Michigan was in the Gator Bowl.
His roommate spoiled the surprise yesterday by telling him it was the Gator Bowl. Excited to play an SEC team because they're supposed to be the best conf. All 4 of MSU's losses are to top-16 teams in the SEC.
"The first couple weeks, I think you've really gotta heal up, because it's been a long regular season." After a couple weeks of workouts, they'll start practicing, then preparing for Mississippi State specifically. "We can get back to fundamental football. We don't have to focus on Mississippi State as much right away." Can work on getting back to Michigan football and understanding team goals and individual roles, then worry about the opponent later.
Banged up a bit during football seaosn, because that happens to everyone. "We had a lift this morning, and I feel pretty fresh." Hit his high weight of the season, so a week off can help you heal up.
Ryan Van Bergen
"I voted for Mr. Shoelaces as well. He obviously deserved it, he broke all the records." He was unstoppable until he got injured. "He wasn't able to showcase how really spectacular he can be" at the end of the season.
Junior Hemingway made big plays against Indiana and Illinois, and could have been MVP. Roy Roundtree had a great Illinois game and a couple other fantastic games, but Denard was the guy who got the ball when they needed a play all year, so he's the MVP.
4-man front worked well against Ohio State: "I think that the 4-man front, we completely thwarted them the first half." He would guess that they run some 4-man fronts in the bowl.
Used to watch a lot of hockey, Red Wings v. Avalanche, excited for the Big Chill game. "I'm excited. I've never been in the student section at Michigan before. But I'll be there in the student section at the Big House, watching a hockey game."
Big Ten v. SEC: "I don't know if they're the conference to beat, but they're the conference that I'd definitely want to play against" to get the best test. SEC, Big Ten, maybe a bit of Pac 10 are the best conferences. Regardless of when it's played, those two conferences in a bowl are a big deal.
Nobody needs to worry too much about MSU yet. Focus on self, healing injuries, get in better shape, focus on fundamentals, and then 4 weeks in, you finally start worrying about the gameplan for Mississippi State. "If you focus on the opponent that long, you're just going to overlook self-improvement."
Media circulating talking about RR: "There's always something out there." RVB is in support of Coach Rod. Somebody around the program as long as Van Bergen has has, he's excited to get back to a bowl. "I would like to say that I want to be with Coach Rodriguez for the rest of my career."
"All people see is the stuff that goes on camera, that goes out to the television sets, and you can't understand what goes on at Schembechler Hall." RR is hard-working, and cares about his players "as much as any other coach in college football cares about his players." Wants them to succeed. "He's just a great guy, and when you recognize somebody that has those leadership qualities, that's somebody that you're going to wanna follow, and I think the whole team takes that attitude."
Voted for Denard as team MVP. "When he handed out the ballots, in my head I was saying 'do we even really need to vote?'" Denard getting hit hard every game, tough to keep that up. He persevered and was never out for extended time. "He's been through it, he's felt it, and next year it will be a little more natural to him."
OL MVP award: "It's a huge honor, definitely. To be rewarded for consistent play over three years is an honor." Proud to be a 3-time winner.
Really excited to be in a New Year's Day bowl game. Glad that OSU disappointment isn't his last game. Glad to get back to a bowl game for the seniors and want to start a new streak.
Feels like the Capital One bowl was a long time ago, but sometimes it seems like yesterday. Getting to a bowl game as a freshman helped him improve: "I think it was huge. Towards the end of my freshman year, I was struggling a bit." Having time off and able to worked on fundamentals and confidence helped him grow a lot as a young player. They can regroup mentally coming off a couple losses.
There's a long time between games, can't worry about MSU too early. First two practices are just getting back to fundamentals. Worry about the gameplan later, then "you go out there to win the game."
Big Ten and SEC are two of the top conferences. "It'll be fun to see how the two conferences compare" in the bowl matchups.
A few young offensive linemen will be ready to step up once Schilling graduates. Ricky Barnum got in a few plays at tackle against Ohio State "He's more fit at guard." Mealer's been playing a lot. Will Campbell has improved a bunch in the past couple weeks, and the bowl and spring practices might allow him to challenge for the job.
So… Greg Robinson doesn't know how to run a 3-3-5. For whatever reason, Michigan is running a 3-3-5. This results in situations like this first quarter run for the Badgers that echoes several themes from the This Is Not A Stack post: by lining up his MLB just behind his nose tackle he dooms that guy to take one step to the playside, whereupon he is eaten by a guard who has no one lined up over him. Even if Michigan successfully plugs that hole they are crazy vulnerable to cutbacks and counters.
It's second and three on Wisconsin's second drive of the day. they come out in an I-form with twins to the field side. Michigan aligns in its stack formation with Jordan Kovacs—supposedly the bandit—aligned to the strong side of the formation, with Cam Gordon hovering over the wide receiver stack to the outside:
Wisconsin's going to run a simple iso play that's designed to go off the right side of the line. You can see in shot two Demens's alignment just three yards off the LOS:
Martin's getting momentarily doubled in the shot below but the G peels off quickly to block the rolled-up Demens. On the backside Ryan Van Bergen has gotten kicked out and Mouton is staring down a free release from the backside G:
Demens is swallowed. I think the idea here is to force Wisconsin to come off their double of Martin quickly, allowing him to run free and eat people, but don't quote me on that. Ezeh is attacking the FB, and there's nothing on the frontside:
Because Martin has slanted past the center and Van Bergen has gotten kicked out there's a big cutback lane. Mouton is in a bad situation, essentially standing still as a guard comes out on him. Demens is getting blocked; the OG has his arm around his back. This never gets called holding but he's being held:
Mouton gets blasted three yards downfield and gives up the inside. Courtney Avery was filling from his overhang spot and could have maybe held this under three yards but once Mouton gets hit in that position the RB cut past him and it's up to Demens and/or Martin to spin of blocks and close it down.
They can't. Vinopal is forced to tackle ten yards downfield.
Object lesson type objects:
- Theory as to the deployment of Kenny Demens two feet from his NT. Demens threatens to shoot into the backfield immediately on plays like this, which seriously reduces the time Wisconsin guards have to double Mike Martin. This allows Martin to use his quickness to slant under the center, get to the playside, and close off holes.
- Problem with the deployment of Kenny Demens two feet from his NT. Once you're engaged with an OL he is going to grab you and delay you and let go before he gets a flag, so you can attempt to get off him and close down the massive cutback hole you've opened up by shooting both your MLB and NT to the playside but you're probably not going to make it.
- Second problem with the deployment. I imagine it has something to do with opponents' consistent ability to hit balls over the linebackers and in front of the safeties; having your linebackers five yards off the LOS gives them more time to reduce throwing windows. I've charted basically all of Tolzein's throws and three or four could have been shut down if the linebackers had been a yard or three deeper.
- WTF Van Bergen? When Michigan is aligned in this fashion the overhang guy—in this case Courtney Avery—is in great position to shut down anything that bounces all the way outside to the short side. With both Demens and Martin headed playside RVB should be flowing down the line, relying on Kovacs to bounce anything that gets behind him and Avery to clean up. Instead he gets upfield and seals himself, basically, leaving Mouton in acres of space with a guard bubbled over him.
- Mouton could do better here, too. It's never good when you're taking on an OL three yards downfield and that OL is moving while you're not.
Ironically, I think this MLB deployment would have worked out okay for Ezeh, who's a big guy with some pop but terribly indecisive. Here there's not much of a decision. Line goes one way, you pound the playside guard ASAP. It seems like a waste for Demens, who has displayed good read and react skills in his brief career as a starter.
I was looking for an adjustment here where Michigan would defense something like this by not having Demens right at the LOS but haven't found it yet. I've seen a lot of small guys getting battered and crappy pursuit angles. I'm not sure if my haziness on what the appropriate play is is my fault or the defense's fault; it seems like Michigan players are making basic errors but it could be a shifting scheme in which a guy like JB Fitzgerald's attempt to defeat a downblock sees him go from the LOS at the snap to six yards off the LOS outside the hashmarks.
More than anything this seems like another example where the scheme is either incoherent or the players don't know what they're doing. Van Bergen getting upfield is the killer here and makes no sense given the alignment of the D.
This game means a lot to the seniors, but also the last couple classes that never got the chance to beat OSU. "If we could put a stop to that streak too, maybe start our own streak of beating them" would be a big deal to the team. "It's not really a rivalry when one team wins every year. We've gotta get back in the win column."
"These last few years have been a little different Michigan, I guess, than the previous years." This win would be huge. "In a way, it could help rectify the four losses we've had. Obviously, it doesn't make up for them."
Never played in Columbus - he was injured 2 years ago. "It seems like a fun place to play." Jealous he didn't play last time.
Shown progression last three years, doesn't think about playing for Coach Rod's job this season.
The team has been trying to play catch-up in all four losses. Want to try for an early lead, maybe run some clock "especially in Columbus."
"We definitely think we have the ability to play with anybody when we're playing at our best."
Different intensity in Schembechler this week. "Put some band-aids on your wounds and get after it. Leave it all out there this Saturday."
The many good DL they've faced lately bring different skills to the table. "Arguably the top 4 defensive ends in the country play in our league." Heyward's great, played since he was a freshman. He has the whole package, and will be a big-time NFL prospect.
Don't want to see turnovers, protection from the OL has to help avoid it.
Denard has played well, set some records, but the team has struggled at times. Schilling doesn't worry about whether Denard is B10 player of the year. Denard's always got a positive attitude, no matter what's going on in the game. He loves playing football, always smiling. "You can tell he loves to play the game, and it's exciting to be able to block for a guy like that."
"Obviously my blood always ran Blue. My dad walked on here." Exciting rivalry, surreal to be a part of it. He was at the game the last time Michigan beat OSU. Sitting in section 27 with his parents and brother. Been to several games in Columbus, 2002 Game. Several M-OSU games. Didn't go to 2006, but that was the first one he missed.
Converted a couple buddies to M fans, some of them are still diehard Buckeye fans. "I do have some friends who go to Ohio State, and we're excited to go down there." Expects to hear from his buddies, win or lose. "Hopefully I can shut them up for a year, but we'll see."
Thrown in the mix early last year, gradually has become more comfortable with the defense. One of the more veteran guys on the defense already. Excited about the development of the young guys.
Pryor - "He's very versatile. He's a big guy... he can run and throw." The offense has a lot of different packages. They should be a great challenge.
"Anytime that you can make an offense one-dimensional, you've got a good chance of playing some good defense. If we can stop them on first and second down and put them in third-and-long, obviously we can create turnovers that way. But that's much easier said than done, and we've struggled with that so far."
Lost to Dane Sanzenbacher both times they played in HS. "I'm still looking for my first victory against him." He's not a big-name guy, but makes huge plays for the Buckeyes. "I wouldn't say that he does anything great, but he does a lot of things very well."
"We know we're going to have to play a flawless game." Guys are looking forward to getting into the film room. "We're confident. We're excited about this challenge."
"I'm playing this week, no matter what." Had "a little head trauma," wasn't cleared to play in the second half. "It doesn't matter for this week, because I'm going to be playing."
Defensive players draw confidence from each other, looking at each other's work ethic, etc. Defensive struggles are a mixture of several factors, but everyone on D is working as hard as they can to fix what they can contorl.
"Our defensive goals each week are six 3-and-outs, three turnovers." If they can pull that off, the team will have a pretty good chance of winning.
Didn't know too much about Michigan or Ohio State in 2003. "I was just in Arizona, you know, chillin'." Can't take M-OSU rivalry away from college football. Glad they'll still play when the B10 goes to divisions.
The mentality of each guy on the team shows how important the OSU week is. Everything encompassed into one is what makes this game so important.
Has only heard about going into Columbus from a fan's perspective "I'm expecting the worst, and it's going to be exciting."
On the stuffed whatever: "Are you saying there's an animal on the sidelines? Next question."
Playing for RR's job? "No. We're playing for each other... It would be a great win for Rich Rod, for the team in general."
"I love Rich Rod as a coach. He's just a tough working guy." Has a positive attitude, despite what he's been through. That positivity wears off on guys.
Ryan Van Bergen
"I don't remember that one. I would have been 14." Probably just playing BBall and chasing girls in 8th grade. Charles Woodson with the Rose in his mouth is one of his first Michigan memories.
From the West side of the state, his mom is always heckled by MSU fans. This week, people are coming in to offer her encouragement. She's now realizing their ulterior motives, as Michigan can help send State to the Rose Bowl.
"A lot of the guys in my class, it's their last year. One of the big things for seniors is you never want to leave this program without beating Ohio State." Guys who have left say there's a feeling of emptiness. When you come to Michigan, you know your performances against Ohio State will make your reputation. "If you come out against Ohio State and have your best game, a lot can be forgiven."
Some criticism of the team is unjustified: they've been able to play with some of the top teams in the league. "For some reason, we haven't gotten that attitude to come out on the first play." Need to be able to come together and do that throughout the full game. Older guys, RVB included, need to help motivate everyone.
The defense's performance against Wisconsin - "Most of it was schematic. I mean, They schemed us really well. They had a play where they pull the tackle and a guard and the tight end blocks down. They scored 2 or 3 touchdowns on that one play. All of those were explosive plays." It's not a good thing, but there were positives to take from it, some guys played with a physical edge. "We can adjust our scheme and be ready for Ohio State X-and-O-wise. I think we can definitely play with them."
Terrelle Pryor, canon for an arm, fast, big, has a bunch of talented, fundamental WRs, good running backs. "They're a very dangerous and explosive offense, but I wouldn't want it any other way."
Team and program are making some big strides. "I think that next year, the guys we return, there's definitely going to be a chance that we're gonna be big-time contenders."
Mike Martin - Aggressive, relentless. Off the field, he's... "cuddly."
"Lot of time in the training room and rehab. I've been struggling a lot with my ankles this season, which is a pain." Trying to play through it, doing as much as he can. Tough to push off with his ankles. Big mental thing, trying to play through it. "Hopefully that adrenaline kicks in, you know?" Only one of them is a problem at this point. Trying to be a leader when he's been unable to make an impact on the field. Adam Patterson has stepped up well in Mike's absence.
"It's tough, obviously, being on the team and being a fan. Any fan doesn't like that." Doing whatever they can to reverse OSU's dominance. No matter what each team's season is like, they'll both fight hard.
Has talked to guys who played in the 50s and 60s about the game. "We're just gonna play as hard as we can and make those guys proud."
Would feel really good to stop he streak. Overcome a lot this season, trying to improve each week. Anything is possible. "It's not about Ohio State, it's about us and what we do." Not looking to be spoilers, looking to win for themselves. "We're gonna control what we can control."
"It's gonna start with us down in the trenches." Need to force Pryor to move his feet, get him off-rhythm. Need to get pressure, wreak some havoc.
"I think they hate us, we hate them. That's just how it is, that's what it is." That leads to getting each team's best shot, no matter what. Different sense of intensity in the air this week. "You don't really need a motivational speech to get excited for it."
"We're not gonna get ran off the field. That's not gonna happen." They'll play hard to the final whistle. "That's not us, that's not our team, and we won't allow that to happen at all."
OSU might have a couple tricks up their sleeve, but this game is more about going straight at each other.
Not worried about what their impact is on MSU, just want to win for themselves.
Stuffed animal - "That's the defense's thing. We're not gonna talk about that."
"I don't really remember the game" last time M beat Ohio State.
Gave OSU a serious look in high school, but felt right in Ann Arbor. Talks to Roundtree about it. OSU wanted him on either side of the ball. His dad was a Michigan fan, that played a role in his decision.
Split in Toledo between OSU and M fans among his friends. Hears "I'm an Ohio State fan but I'm also a Kevin Koger fan" from most people he knows.
Have to take care of the ball to have a chance to win. Can't turn it over 5 times against OSU and still win. Need to pay attention to details. "It's not anything the coaches can do. It's definitely on us."
"It'd definitely mean a lot to us. Every game means a lot but this one means a little more."
Rivalry hasn't lost its luster even though OSU has won a lot. Streak is a bit embarrassing "It's on us to stop it."
"Hate? That's such a strong word." Respects, but does not like them.
"I guess I have to agree with Koger. Got respect for them, but don't like them." Wasn't aware of the rivalry that much in HS. Looked at the FSU-Miami rivalry, and heard that M-OSU was a bigger deal. "You expect a physical team, a great coached team, and a great team." against OSU. You have to be even more prepared than past games.
Knew last year's game would be intense when he saw Shaw's altercation with an OSU player going into the tunnel. He's also seen video of the famous Woodson/Boston battle. "It's a big game. It's still a football game. Still a game."
1500 rush yards: "That's a great accomplishment, but I don't know what to say about it."
It would be a big deal to get invited to NY for the Heisman ceemony, but can't worry about it while there are still games to play.
"We can't come out flat like we did against Wisconsin. We've gotta perform all four quarters." Need to protect "the program" the ball. They've been making a few more mistakes lately, and that can't continue.
"I think our defense is one of the best defenses in the nation. I don't care what nobody say. We face them every day, and they just help us get better."
Pryor reminds Denard of Devin Gardner. Big, and he can run and pass.
He's going to ask Falk about the 'Shoe once he gets the chance. Iowa and Penn State were also tough environments.
Felt fairly healthy the past month. "90%, pretty good." Doesn't know when he got dinged up, but he's healthy enough to be as fast now as he was in the first few games. "I thought I was gonna break a couple of them, and I just fell" against Wisconsin.
OUT (0% PLAY)
Ferrara, John Knee
Jones, Mike Leg
Jones, Teric Knee
Odoms, Martavious Foot
Van Slyke, Jared Clavicle
Williams, Mike Head
Woolfolk, Troy Ankle
QUESTIONABLE (50% PLAY)
Lewan, Taylor Head
Shaw, Mike Head
PROBABLE (75% PLAY)
Martin, Mike Ankle
Mouton, Jonas Chest
No surprises, on the heels of the news from yesterday that Lewan may have been concussed against Purdue. Martin and Mouton are likely to grit it out if they're needed.
Notes from Rich Rodriguez's Monday meeting with the press. Photo from file.
Mike Martin is going to be OK this week. "He's our best defensive... one of our best defensive players period. One of the best in the league when he's healthy." Other people need to be able to step in.
Perry Dorrestein should be able to practice by tomorrow. "Michael Shaw and maybe even Fitz Toussaint, we'll see if he can get back in the mix there." Will Heininger will be more in the rotation this week. "You'll probably see him more likely playing going forward."
Cam Gordon is now the starting Hybrid [Ed-M: Spur], backed by Thomas Gordon. Ray Vinopal is the starting Free Safety, backed by Carvin Johnson. "I thought the personnel moves defensively, I think were good for us in the short term and the long term." Cam Gordon more comfortable closer to the ball. Vinopal did "ok" for his first time out there. Staff is trying to figure out a unit that can get some stops, part of it is just getting them to play better.
There haven't been changes to the defensive coaching staff. "No. I've just met with the defensive staff the last couple hours, and we talked about some of our issues and talked about what to do to get ready for Illinois." "Y'all don't deal with rumors do you?" Everyone is frustrated, but it's always a collective effort, win or lose.
He'll be spending more time on defense this week, because the more inexperienced players over there might need more coaching. Injuries will affect lineups, different packages. "We have what we have." If there was somebody else there who could help, he'd be contributing by now. "I have a critical view of everything, every coach, every player, everything in our program every day... That's what head coaches do, you evaluate everything with everybody every day."
"Schemes are way, way overrated as far at 4-3, 3-3-5." There's no front that does or doesn't work in a particular league. "It's the execution of the schemes. We've gotta coach the schemes the right way, we've gotta execute the right way." They'll try moving Craig Roh around a bit. Laughed when he heard rumors of defensive staff changes.
"They're a big screen-draw team." They hadn't done much of it with their fullback yet. Defensive recognition wasn't great on that, partially experience. "When an experienced player gets hurt [Mike Martin] - I'm not making excuses - whether you put a senior, junior, or freshman in there, when a guy hasn't played a lot of football, it's different."
"That was one of the positives of the game, is I thought Denard played pretty well." They were close to breaking a couple big ones. He landed on his hip the one time, but was able to come back from it. "His shoulder was better. It's good, but it's not 100%."
Speech to defense at the start of fourth quarter was just a pump-up one, nothing particular schematically.
Personal foul call? "Well, I don't want to get in trouble here. There's some plays I'll send in and get clarification on the rule." Turn in a few plays every week "there's a few more this week."
Illinois - Not a rebuilding year, because they returned plenty of good athletes this season. "They're playing at a very high level right now - probably playing their best football." One of the more athletic teams in the league and that Michigan has played in the last two years. Illinois is playing with confidence.
Illinois has a bit of a rhythm, their young quarterback is playing well for them. They have really athletic guys.
Illinois has a similar offensive scheme to Michigan, it may help the defense be prepared for it. It'll be different to do it live, because they don't tackle Denard in practice.
Goods drive at the game (Gates 2 and 8) to send to troops and families in Afghanistan. Tim Horton's is donating 720 pounds of coffee to send as part of it. Team will be wearing a flag on the back of the helmets. The American flag will be embroidered on the coaches' hats (not the Adidas ones from the Sep. 11 game).
Some of the D problems aren't going to get fixed overnight, etc. "Not just the freshmen, we've got a lot of inexperienced players playing defensively." There is a bit of improvement at this point, but not to the amount that they need.
"We've gotta get faster and more athletic defensively." That was painfully obvious from the film.
"I don't have any grand magic wands to wave [at the defense] and all of a sudden they're going to be playing better." Spending more time with the D is something he's done a few years in the past. If it was an easy fix, he'd have already done it.
Talking about defensive turnovers gained "We're almost like next to last in the country." They're trying to improve that by making sure they get guys in the right positions, working on recognition, aggressiveness. "If it doesn't work out, don't go in the tank the rest of the game."
3rd and long conversions: "If it was jut one particular thing, it would be easier to solve... or one particular guy." It's always something different. They need to look at doing enough third-down work in practice, already doing more than they've ever done.
"We're playing OK offensively, but I think we can play even better when we have more of a rhythm." Defense getting opponents off the field will help establish that rhythm.
"When you play a whole bunch of freshmen in the secondary, do you want to play a lot of man coverage or cover-0?" Need to find a balance with inexperience. Took a couple chances against PSU, and got beat.
Stop a slide like last year? "I don't have to think about it. Everybody else writes about it." People want to focus on the negative, because it sells papers. Team is better offensively, team is closer as a group, making strides in classroom and weight room. Young men are growing up. The wins and losses are bad, but there's more to it than that.
"These guys that are playing young and inexperienced from now, they're going to be experienced a year or two from now. I'm not happy, but I'm optimistic."
"Nobody's happy we've lost the last three games. We're still five in the good and three in the bad." People can't walk around moping, just need to learn from the mistakes, be mad for 24 hours, and start working on the next game.
Turnovers "I thought we were really pretty good at it most of the year." Denard used the bye week to go back and remember to have his eyes in the right spot. "Denard threw one ball he'd like to have back that could have been intercepted," and Hopkins had the fumble, but it was good other than that.
Defensive scheme change help? "we're gonna try." Trying to simplify some, but still give them the opportunity to be aggressive without exposing the secondary.
"I'm not sticking my head in the sand... we know what we have, we know what we've gotta have, and we'll try to fix that going forward."
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.