"Rodrick Williams Jr.'s 10-month old, 2-foot-long savannah monitor named "Kill" gets the RB some strange looks when they go for walks together."
10/5/2013 – Michigan 42, Minnesota 13 – 5-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Jon Falk has a compatriot at Minnesota. He's probably had a dozen over his 40 years as Michigan's equipment manager. Some guy who comes in with the latest Gopher coaching staff, wonders what it's like to hold the jug in his meaty palm, and maybe once gets to shepherd it for a year. Since Falk arrived at Michigan a fresh-faced young thing four years into Bo's career, his opposite number has had this experience three times.
In proof lingo, this means that beating Minnesota—beating up on Minnesota, usually—is a necessary but not sufficient property of Michigan teams that want to do anything with their seasons. Sometimes you can retain the Jug despite not being very good; sometimes you can retain the jug despite being headed for 3-9 because Nick Sheridan has an out-of-body experience. When you're headed for 3-9 you get a little misty about the Jug coming out. When you're not the worst team in Ann Arbor since the 1930s it's a checkbox to fill out.
Michigan did so in perfunctory style, grinding out a second half in which they went from vaguely threatened to bored. Since this came on the heels of narrow escapes against teams that lost 43-3 to Ohio on Saturday and 41-12 to Buffalo last week, it's progress. How much is unknown.
This game settled into a grim fugue state almost from the drop, as Michigan manballed its way into the endzone on a Statement Drive to start the game. Unfortunately, that Statement was "by putting Taylor Lewan next to Michael Schofield we can bull our way down the field against Minnesota." That statement is unlikely to apply to many teams on the schedule. But, hey, progress.
Then Minnesota donned turbans and embarked on the Ishtar Drive. An epic production galaxy-spanning in its dullness that arrived at its destination two hours too late and failed to have the desired impact, it ate up the rest of the quarter. Michigan left it without having attempted a pass.
This was a little dull.
It was the kind of dull that had Space Coyote, the Michigan's blogosphere's resident instant analysis savant, pleading with the masses that the intricacies of a well-blocked power play were just as appealing as, say, watching 175-pound Venric Mark activate his truck stick on an Ohio State safety. I can't imagine there's another Michigan fan in the world more receptive to that argument than yours truly and even I wasn't buying that as the secondary effect of all that manball kicked in: punt, commercial, play, end of quarter, commercial, play play, punt, commercial. Touchdown, commercial, kickoff, commercial—the NFL special. As the teams' attempt to blow through this game in record time was thwarted by the networks, being in Michigan Stadium became the worst concert of all time interrupted by bouts of football-related activity.
It was the kind of thing that made you consider what the purpose of your fandom was. Am I only here to see Michigan end a game with a larger number on the scoreboard than Opponent? Is there any valid goal outside of this? Am I a bad fan for wishing something interesting would happen? Do the people on twitter who scorn you for having feelings other than Go Team have a point? What is the point of any of this, and why can't they make the wifi work?
At halftime, the guys in front of me discussed whether they would bolt for Frazer's, and two did. I'm usually a guy who thinks leaving an athletic event before it's decided is a mortal sin, but I kind of envied the guy in the home-made muscle shirt screwing off to a place where he could get a beer and not hear "Build Me Up, Buttercup." At any other time, I would have thought this man's attendance at Michigan Stadium was a necessary property of a fan that he had just shown was not sufficient by leaving a touchdown game at halftime like he was a sorority girl about to blow a .341. On Saturday, I was with him in spirit.
This is a fearful development. I don't want to think like that. I want to be forever ten years old, excited by everything. On Saturday I had a long look down the elevator shaft.
It'll pass like the moment above did. Someone will do something interesting, and there will be something at stake other than a piece of crockery that just means you're not horrible, and sometimes not even that. I had a bad day, I was pissed at Dave Brandon when I discovered I was thirsty but knew I couldn't do anything about it without missing a large chunk of the game I was there to see even if it was narcoleptic, I was emo after the last few weeks of expectation-depressing terror. It'll pass, and the doors will close on the moment where I reached out and felt the slight outlines of a limit to my fandom.
Michigan won by a lot, eventually.
Completely one-sided highlights:
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. Has to be Michigan's new favorite worst nightmare at wide receiver: Devin Funchess. Relieved of many blocking duties and deployed on the outside, Funchess displayed fantastic hands on a couple of catches outside of his body, ran routes that got him tons of separation, and went right by a Minnesota cornerback(!) on a straight-up fly route(!) to prove himself Michigan's best deep threat(?). By the end of the game he had newspaper types plumbing the statistical depths for completely invalid comparisons to Jim Mandich, who was a tight end, which Devin Funchess is not.
Honorable mention: No Turnovers, which may be Devin Gardner's temporary name until such point as he turns it over. Schofield and Lewan were mashing as tackle brothers. Blake Countess did have a pick six, albeit one of no importance. James Ross and Desmond Morgan had lots of tackles, usually at the LOS when not facing spread formations.
Epic Double Point Standings.
1.0: Devin Gardner (ND), Jeremy Gallon (ND), Desmond Morgan(UConn), Devin Funchess(Minnesota)
0.5: Cam Gordon (CMU), Brennen Beyer (CMU)
I guess? [Upchurch]
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. Wow. Are we at a loss here? We might be at a loss here. Countess's interception was after the game was decided, as was the long Funchess fly route thing. Michigan's longest run went for not many yards. I guess we're going with Fitzgerald Toussaint scoring an easy ten-yard touchdown, as it hinted that Michigan may be able to run the ball forward? Yeah, okay.
Honorable mention: Funchess reception, pick one. Countess pick. Black FF.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
8/31/2013: Dymonte Thomas introduces himself by blocking a punt.
9/7/2013: Jeremy Gallon spins through four Notre Dame defenders for a 61-yard touchdown.
9/14/2013: Michigan does not lose to Akron. Thanks, Thomas Gordon.
9/21/2013: Desmond Morgan's leaping one-handed spear INT saves Michigan's bacon against UConn.
10/5/2013: Fitzgerald Toussaint runs for ten yards, gets touchdown rather easily.
[After THE JUMP: actual game analysis instead of pathetic emo self-pity mooning!]
Funchess is listed as a tight end, but you played him as a wide receiver. Was that the plan?
“Well we obviously planned it that way. Getting him out on the perimeter a little bit, a mismatch in a lot of ways because he runs awfully well. He’s a big target. And then we get into the 11 personnel and he’ll be a tight end. Just trying to really take advantage of his skill sets.”
No turnovers coming out of a bye week has to be a big plus.
“It’s huge. No turnovers. Had two penalties. So I think that speaks to how these guys have really worked. The bye week, I thought, came at a good time for us in a lot of ways. It was good to see us respond.”
It’s one thing to have a plan, but another to execute it. You obviously want to get the running game going. Can you talk about how that played out?
“Well we wanted to run the ball. We wanted to send that message. I thought we did a pretty good job of it. We didn’t have as much yardage probably as we’d like to have from that aspect, but I really believe the threat was there consistently throughout the game that we were going to run the football. I think tackles for loss, I think there were three until the last when we were milking the clock at the end. I thought it worked out well.”
This space mentions all the time that in Mattison's defense the usual end/tackle distinction for the four guys on the defensive line is not a good representation of how similar or interchangeable those guys are. The nose stands alone; the SDE and 3TECH are kind of the same player, and the WDE and SAM are kind of the same player.
A primary reason for this is that Michigan runs a ton of defensive plays on which the SDE/3T and WDE/SAM switch roles. These are so common that they have a mascot around these parts: Slanty The Gecko, who was inexplicably the first Google hit for "line slant football" a ways back. This is another Slanty post.
I've covered this ground before, but to reiterate: a slant is an aggressive defense designed to get penetration as offensive linemen are surprised by the gap the defender tries to fill. This can lead to unblocked defenders—and big cutback lanes. Unless the offensive line makes the on-the-fly adjustment they lose a blocking angle at best, and then you've got a free hitter… as long as your linebackers understand what's going on in front of them and present themselves at the spot they should.
I'm revisiting this because the UConn game provided a look at what happens to the WDE when the playcall asks him to become the SAM. Both of these plays are Frank Clark-centric; as is often the case, this means one is good, one is bad.
The Good Part
First quarter, second and four on the UConn 29. they come out in four-wide. Michigan shows five in the box with linebackers over the slots.
That safety is a bit of a giveaway that Michigan will bring Beyer off the edge.
On the snap, Michigan does send Beyer; simultaneously UConn sends a slot guy in motion, threatening a jet sweep.
One of the primary goals with a slant is to confuse an offensive lineman expecting one assignment executing that either against air or a guy who he really can't block. Here that's going to be the right tackle. Henry, our last arrow to the bottom of the screen, is going to head outside immediately on the right guard; he needs to get upfield and be the force player.
Clark will "fold" back after taking a step past the line of scrimmage to get the right tackle to commit.
[After THE JUMP: it's like origami except someone gets buried at the end.]
A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Keith Heitzman||So.*||Quinton Washington||Sr.*||Jibreel Black||Sr.||Frank Clark||Jr.|
|Chris Wormley||Fr.*||Ondre Pipkins||So.||Willie Henry||Fr.*||Mario Ojemudia||So.|
|Matt Godin||Fr.*||Richard Ash||Jr.*||Ryan Glasgow||Fr.*#||Taco Charlton||Fr.|
Depth chart shows everybody just because.
Michigan has promise, depth, and even experience at defensive tackle that reaches three-deep. Greg Mattison's spent fall camp telling people that he feels he can rotate three-deep everywhere across the line, and I almost believe him. Aside from nose tackle, where it's doubtful Richard Ash gets a lot of playing time, Michigan does have three guys who can play.
At nose they just have an above-average returning starter and the sophomore year of five-star Ondre Pipkins. That'll be an okay platoon, I think. Three-tech is dodgier, with 280-pound Jibreel Black trying to hold up a year after 280-pound Jibreel Black was flipped out to end late so that Washington could make his way into the lineup. Even there they've got two guys they seem to like a lot behind Black.
It's weird, I know. Get used to it: this is a preview of what it's like when Hoke's recruiting classes finally take hold.
Instructed and instructor [unknown/Upchurch]
|slants for big TFL|
|painful looking tackle|
|and then SC never ran again|
|just UMass but still|
|pad level pt 2|
|refuses to get trapped|
|fights through scoop|
|sets up Ojemuda FF|
|pancaked vs ND|
|control and chuck|
|discards NEB OL|
|gets into the chest|
Will Heininger's progression from guy getting blown up against EMU to serious contributor and guy you worry a bit about replacing established this site's "Heininger Certainty Principle," which states that because of Will Heininger Michigan fans should have confidence that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison will get every ounce of talent out of their charges. That hypothesis graduated to theory when QUINTON WASHINGTON chiseled it in stone over the course of last season.
Washington was a converted offensive lineman with maybe a half-dozen snaps to his name when he was suddenly (and perhaps accidentally) announced as the starter at nose tackle when the Big Ten Network visited Michigan's practice. This caused the usual round of animated emoticons running in circles and a big "I don't know" in last year's preview:
I have no idea how Washington will do. … Washington is a redshirt junior and former touted recruit, so this could work out. Totally. Maybe.
So of course he was one of the strengths of the defense. Heininger Certainty Principle, you guys.
Washington was flat good last year. When I went back to the UFRs I had nearly as many clips for him as I did Jake Ryan, and in approximately the same proportion of good to bad. He combined power with a fair amount of penetration, and while he wasn't Mike Martin in the UFR charts he was a consistently positive presence. He was the top performer on the defense in the Alabama game, was only negative against Air Force (weird option cutting business) and Nebraska (a –1), and usually ended up solidly positive. His Notre Dame performance was a revelation:
Washington in particular was impressive with his repeated penetration. He's probably as shocked as anyone about this, so he's continually overrunning things, but whatever, man, he's blowing up blocking. I told you this would happen after UMass!
In fact I said that Washington seemed to play well but would obviously not do that against Notre Dame.
While it wasn't a secret All Big Ten season, he was probably better than any nose tackle in the league other than Kawaan Short and Jonathan Hankins. (And maybe Penn State's Jordan Hill; I didn't UFR a Penn State game last year.) Not bad for a guy who caused people to twitch a little bit when he was named the starter.
Along the way he did a number of impressive things. Here he clobbers a Purdue guard into a puller, who ends up clobbering the running back. Unsatisfied, he tries to put the guy in the band:
He gets under guys, rocks them back, and then can rip through at the proper moment:
When he got negatives, they were usually for getting hacked to the ground or not being mobile on stretch plays. Given his plus-level penetration I don't think the latter issue is set in stone. The balance thing isn't a huge problem. He's okay, he's just not Ryan Van Bergen.
Incremental improvement as a senior should get Washington's performance level to All Big Ten. As a nose tackle he may not have the requisite stats to get there, but I'll be surprised if he's not amongst the top guys in the league and a mid-round NFL draftee.
[After THE JUMP: depth! Undersized Jibreel Black! More depth! Seriously!]
"Well, it's about time to start, isn't it? We're excited about it and can't wait to see what this defense plays like. I'm excited about how they've prepared, how they're working, and now we have to get that first game."
What has Channing Stribling done to put himself in position to play?
"Made plays in practice. Practiced very hard. Has picked up the defense quicker than a lot of freshmen. He's a very competitive young man. He's got good range. He's done very well."
He had good instincts in high school football. Have you seen that?
"The thing about him is he came from a very strong high school program. That high school program that he's from coaches like we coach. He understands that everything he does will be critiqued and coached and he moves onto the next one. That sometimes separates freshmen from when they play or don't play -- understanding the toughness and the scrutiny that they go under to make sure they're ready to play."
GENERAL NOTE: I am not doing the chart because of Michigan's uniformz. It was just about possible to tell white guys from black ones and big ones from small ones but an awful lot of the time I had no idea if a player was Beyer or Roh, Morgan or Bolden, Pipkins or Washington, Clark or Black. I noted this early but eventually I just started going "eh." I did do the plus minuses in the chart but adding them up is an exercise in futility that people will take as gospel in a year. Nope.
It's not going to be that exciting anyway. Because of the nature of the game the linebackers and linemen all had very few opportunities to even get +/- and the secondary just got destroyed. If you want to imagine it: Black and Washington are good, Campbell was bad, Wilson got destroyed, as did Taylor, Kovacs and Gordon are moderately negative, and all the linebackers get 0-0-0.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan had some oddities going on but the exotic packages were kept to a minimum by their inability to substitute in the secondary and South Carolina consistently spreading the field. One thing of note was Michigan's frequent deployment of a 3-4, like so:
South Carolina was little threat to run—the starting tailback had 5 rushes for 6 yards and the only reason SC got anything on the ground was two Will Campbell busts on midline zone read plays—and Michigan used this to send four man rushes from a variety of angles. A GERG-like side effect was a large number of three- and even two-man rushes.
They did this a bit on passing downs. Note that the DT in there standing up is a linebacker:
As per usual I called this 3-3-5 nickel.
SUBTITUTION NOTES: Again because of the uniformz I'm partially guessing here. Mostly, actually. The line seemed to be the usual in four-man fronts but Michigan spent a big chunk of the game in that 3-4; when they did that it was Roh/Washington/Black as your first options on the line with Clark and sometimes Cam Gordon as the extra LB type. In the linebacking corps, Kenny Demens left early and never returned (probably), leaving Joe Bolden to pick up a ton of snaps.
The secondary lacked JT Floyd, of course, and Michigan responded by putting Avery and Taylor outside and really, really trying to avoid nickel packages. When they did run nickel—mostly on the last drive—they brought in Jarrod Wilson and shuffled Gordon or Kovacs down as the nickelback. This would end in disaster.
[After the jump: a big damn table and moaning about big plays.]