it worked out okay for everyone in the end
Position battles: exciting instead of terrifying?
Way too early 2013 depth charts are beginning to pop-up. It’s looking like the battle at linebacker this year will be a good one (and both lines in future years). What was the last position battle that got you excited? 2 plus players going for one spot or, like the LBs, 3 plus players going for 2 spots. There have been positional battles the last few years, but those have been between average, at best, players.
Mike in Ohio
I'm not sure if excited is the right word, but the last position battle I remember being pretty "whatever" about was Henne vs Richard vs Gutierrez at QB in 2004. In some order those were the #3, #4, and #5 QBs in their respective years, so I figured Michigan was going to be just fine no matter who ended up starting.
The Gutierrez injury threw that all out of whack, of course, and we had Henne starting as a freshman, but he had Braylon to throw to so that worked out just fine.
It's tough to remember any others. The age of roster hyper-awareness was just dawning in 2004*, and Michigan hasn't exactly had an embarrassment of riches since. The linebackers this year should be a preview of coming years when Michigan is choosing between something like Wormley/Hurst/Poggi/Godin at three-tech and I'm all like "confidence, it is something I have."
*[I remember Tim Biakabutuka's first carries of Michigan being met with general merriment at his last name. If that happened now, the extent to which it did would be greatly reduced since about 40% of the people in the stadium would be like "four star recruit out of Canada, tailback, 6'0", born in Zaire, did well at Army Bowl. BOOM KIPER'D."]
obligatory (The Wolverine/Tim Sullivan)
With Taylor Lewan returning for his 5th year, I've read quite a few message board commenters suggesting that Schofield move back to LG and Braden or Magnuson take over at RT.
My question is this: for sheer upside, wouldn't it make more sense to move Braden inside for 2013 than Schofield? Just looking at their body types, it seems to me that Braden is more suited to the power run blocking Michigan needs than Schofield is. I'd enjoy your perspective on what you would like to see happen with the OL and what you think will actually happen with the OL.
Thanks, and Go Blue!
It depends more on Braden's ability to pull than anything else. We've had some indication that Schofield is capable of it despite his tackle-like size, since he played guard effectively and Michigan spent chunks of the year pulling tackles on that sprint counter and an occasional sweep. In the event that Braden forces his way into the lineup, is he going to have that same ability? I don't know.
A point in your favor: with Lewan back Michigan gets plenty of power run blocking from one of their tackles. They can probably afford to have a non-devastating drive blocker at RT if he brings more pass protection to the table, and Schofield does bring a lot of pass pro. Remember that both of South Carolina's defensive ends are damn good and neither did that much in the bowl when they weren't ending Vincent Smith on a busted stunt pickup. By the end of the year, Schofield was pretty good.
What I think will happen and what I'd like to see happen are the same, and it's basically the five-guy lineup I posted yesterday: Lewan-Kalis-Miller-InsertGuardHere-Schofield. I assume Kalis and Miller are locks (though if you heard my segment on WTKA yesterday you heard Sam Webb rhapsodize about Patrick Kugler's ability to start early). The fifth guy is up in the air; I would prefer that guy to be a guard simply because it provides less uncertainty, and I worry less about guards getting the QB murdered.
As I'm sure we all were, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Lewan's decision to return next year. However, it seems like all non-Michigan sources (and I'm not talking about rival fan sites like 11W) have done nothing but trash his decision. Analysts at ESPN, some of the pay sites, Yahoo and others have all said he's making a terrible decision...given the insurance policy he will take out and other factors, what gives? Many of the sources are saying there's much more risk than Jake Long took, but given the new rookie pay scale, I actually think there's less. What say you?
Lewan didn't come back because it was the most profitable thing to do, so analyses of whether it's the most profitable thing to do miss the point. They do so very badly, so badly that I assume Darren Rovell has been cloned a thousand times and sent to draft chattering class.
Anyone trashing the decision doesn't understand that there things other than money that might be important.
"You'll never play for a team again. You'll play for a contract."
It's a risk. But it's an opportunity as well.
but but but oversigning
Throughout the lead-up and aftermath of the BCS National Championship Game, we have been subject to overwhelming Bama praise. “How much better are they than everybody else?” “Is this a dynasty?” “How many years until Michigan can compete on that level?” My constant mental response to this is: but, but, but…OVERSIGNING!
The morning following the Bama beatdown, there was an interesting blogger exchange on Twitter. Basically, a B1G blogger alludes to oversigning as a competitive advantage, then an SEC blogger trivializes oversigning’s competitive impact. Looking back, I see our friend Ramzy once called oversigning an “almost insurmountable competitive advantage.”
What say you? Are B1G fans making too much of oversigning by using it as an excuse for its poor brand of football? Are SEC fans ignoring it in order to maximize pride in their conference? What’s the best quantitative analysis out there that attempts to truly measure the impact?
It's an advantage, but it's only a small part of the reason that the Big Ten has fallen behind the college football world. Florida and Georgia don't do it, and they have been okay at playing football recently. Ole Miss seems to do nothing but, and they suck every year.
- Sucky management of the Big Ten's elite programs. Michigan has been wobbly at best since 2006 largely due to coaching and the program's remarkable ability to punch itself in the face. Penn State was operating essentially without a head coach for the past decade and has now been nuked by the NCAA. Ohio State has largely escaped these doldrums but was stripped of various key players last year en route to a .500 season and banned from postseason play this year. No other Big Ten team can really pick up the slack, except somewhat Nebraska, and this is only the second year they've been in the league. Of course the league is going to be bad when OSU and PSU can't play in bowl games and Michigan's sixth offensive lineman is a walk-on.
- Talent distribution. Not sure this is a huge-huge factor in the Big Ten's sudden decline since demographic trends are very gradual, but population shifts aren't helping. Notice that the powerhouse basketball conference is hugely dependent on basketball-mad Indiana. You have the in-state schools, of course, and then the best player on OSU (Thomas) and second-best on MSU (Gary Harris, and he may be better than Appling) are from Indiana along with the backbone of Michigan's resurgence—Novak, Douglass, Robinson, Albrecht, and incoming Irvin and Donnal. Michigan has one player from outside the Big Ten footprint—Hardaway. Indiana is the Florida of high school basketball. Wisconsin is a great program… for a bunch of guys from Wisconsin and Ohio leftovers.
- Sucky management of every Big Ten program. Bielema flees Wisconsin for an SEC also-ran. Why? I guess more resources. What's the difference between Wisconsin and Arkansas's revenue? Zero. Tim Brewster. Danny Hope. Ron Zook. Tim Beckman. Purdue just hired Darrell Hazell, a guy with two years of MAC head coaching experience. Again, compare that to basketball hires: Crean, Beilein, Tubby, and Matta had all run programs that established themselves perennial ranked teams in major conferences before getting snapped up by the Big Ten. That's not happening in football. Instead Bielema gets sucked away.
- Yeah, oversigning and whatnot. "Whatnot" == jamming a kid full of fake classes to get him eligible and keeping him eligible with the Tarheel curriculum. JUCOs and such. It's a factor. How much? It's not nearly as big a deal as the first bullet here.
That's good news. If Michigan can recruit at a level with Georgia and Florida and Stanford, they can play at that level. That's probably not enough to go up against an all-time dynasty like Alabama that cuts ALL THE CORNERS, but those things collapse eventually, and they can compete with just about anything else.
My thing with oversigning is not that it explains the gap between the conferences, but rather it's the ultimate dick move and should be stopped if the NCAA wants to consider themselves a snow-white organization with pure motives. The Big Ten has plenty of problems, most of which stem from the leadership of the conference (leaders and legends) and trickle their incompetence down from there.
I'm not even sure how you would be able to quantify the impact. But the fix is so, so easy: remove scholarship caps in favor of per-year caps. Move from a system that encourages attrition to keep costs down to one that isn't about athletes going pro in transferring to Kenesaw State.
Notre Dame == Michigan?
Is there any validity to an assertion that Michigan and Notre Dame were basically the same teams this year but for Notre Dame has an offensive coordinator that knows the spread and how to use a spread qb?
No. Notre Dame's defense was a significant cut above Michigan's until it got eviscerated by the Tide, and remains so: 7th in total D, second in scoring D. While their secondary was not good, neither was Michigan's, and while Michigan's front seven was surprisingly capable, Notre Dame's contains many highly touted recruits on their way to long NFL careers.
ND's offense was only slightly better than Michigan's. Moreover, it was much different. Gholson had just under 300 rushing yards on the year. It's a passing spread that keeps a little bit of QB run threat involved; it's not a spread 'n' shred. I could have given you partial credit if you'd said "an offensive coordinator more comfortable with his personnel," but again the ND line was nowhere near as problematic as Michigan's. Mark it zero, dude.
Now that Kovacs has graduated, we need a new #11. I say we give it to Desmond Morgan. That would leave us without somebody for #48, but the problem could be solved by giving BOTH numbers to Morgan. He could wear 11 on the front side and 48 on the back, or possibly reverse the order week to week.
This violates NCAA rules, you say? I have thought this objection through. The answer is to give him a special jersey where the numbers are the same color as the rest of the jersey -- dark blue numerals at home, white numerals on the road -- so the number is completely invisible. The officials will never find out.
Never let it be said that the Outback Bowl jerseys were a bad thing if ideas like this flow freely after seeing them.
I have just spent the last six hours watching SEC football. I feel filthy. I need a shower. But you need content so here's a little bit of stuff I've learned about Michigan's Outback opponent.
The Most SEC Team Ever
South Carolina is not just an SEC team, they are the most SEC team ever, so SEC in fact that they're coached by one Steve Spurrier. They're major over-signers, massively talented, and minimally sane. A third came from a JUCO or prep school—Fork Union Military Academy is Spurrier's
rubber-stamping [EDIT: I can't support this, see comments] prep of choice though Georgia Military or Hargrave it's all the same. They're the reason you can't just say "SEC West" when describing the epicenter of NCAA rot with any kind of geographic specificity. In good-guy/bad-guy cartoon world, they're evil's comic relief henchman who starts every sentence with "Duuuhhhh, hey boss…"
Arkansas is Bebop, SC is Rocksteady.
The Most SEC Recruiting Ever:
SC has had a lot of attrition, to put it mildly. Of the 127 players to commit to Spurrier from 2008 through this season, 39 percent (50 players) are not on today's roster. Another five came back after a year of prep school. That's two dismissals, three early NFL entries, eight graduates (six JUCOs, two 2008 non-redshirts), four quits, two medicals, two unrenewed fifths, 14 transfers, and 15 non-qualifiers (one of whom made it back to FBS w/ Arizona).
Most of the transfers, as you might have expected, conveniently occurred under an over-signing scholarship crunch. Their 127 commits is just nine more than Michigan took over the same period, however M had a lot more scholarships available with massive attrition from small classes preceding the relevant years while SC's most egregious class was the 31 taken in '06. On the other hand the attrition wasn't so evenly managed as to not cause problems; as recently as 2011 their boards have had 'Never Forget'-levels of depth chart freaking out at cornerback. Their 2009 class is down to 11 from 29. With the new scholarship limits and attrition remaining very high (seven of those transfers happened this year), Spurrier has been doing it more with JUCOs lately, offering them scholarships on an availability basis. Things like grayshirting Matt Coffee because too many kids qualified seem to have been replaced with problems like "oh god we're out of linebackers!"
That said they've pulled in a lot of talent. Star chart (Rivals) of their current roster vs. Michigan's:
The five-stars are Lattimore and Clowney, and both were considered among the best overall recruits those years. Lattimore's season is over after one of those leg injuries you cannot unsee after seeing (case example: Tyrell Dortch vs. Wisconsin). Clowney is a freak.
Because he's hard not to watch I spent a good couple of drives focusing on Clowney, who of all the great DEs Lewan has gone up against is probably still the best. Clowney is really quick off the snap, as slippery as a defensive back, and so quick with his hands it is rare to see anybody get inside on him. Added this year, his swim move made every tackle he faced look ridiculous. Georgia held him like whoa, Florida optioned him off most of the game, and Arkansas mostly ran away from him or planned quick patterns. One time Florida tried to block down on him on a sweep and Clowney shot into the backfield so fast he arrived with the pitch.
SC tried to counter by doing some funny things, stunting Clowney around the formation or dropping him into coverage. At the latter he wasn't very effective; a couple of screens he should have blown up ended up going right by him. Optioning wasn't all that effective either, since Clowney often showed the agility to reroute and make the play anyway. Only teams with fast running backs made that work, and with Toussaint out this doesn't bode so well for Michigan barring a sudden emergence from Hayes or something.
You can try to put a tight end out there to double him but then this happens:
Neither is he an awesome tackler—more often he would just get to the quarterback so fast or break the pocket so badly that another guy got to clean up. Even our pair of escape artists is small solace; Michigan's best hope is that Lewan and Schofield can handle him. What worries me here is that Gardner was most effective against Northwestern and Minnesota thanks to long, leisurely days in the pocket; those won't exist unless we solve Clowney.
The Most SEC Offense Ever:
The first thing you notice while watching non-professional SEC football is the stupid. I went in expecting to blow up every stereotype about SEC speed versus Big Ten brains only to keep having those same stereotypes confirmed, especially with their offensive line.
Mattison is going to have some fun here guys. If you come at them straight up South Carolina's line can stand in the way as well as anybody; they've got quick feet, large bodies, and don't seem to be asked to do many non-simple things. As soon as things do get not-simple it's quarterback sacky hour. Stunts work, delayed blitzes work better, and I can't wait to see them try to react to Michigan's Okie package. The tackles Corey Robinson (6'8/337 lbs./RS So) and Brandon Shell (6'6/331 lbs/RS Fr) are big and young. Robinson has good footwork and is massive but I also saw him take a lot of plays off. The freshman right tackle will be really good one day; for now he's prone to lots of mistakes. The interior OL is older, smaller, and yet even more prone to mistakes—the right guard Ronald Patrick (#67) in particular seemed to miss a heck of a lot of blitzes.
The dumb very much does not extend to the coaches. Spurrier's old "Fun and Gun" offense is mostly gone, replaced with a base shotgun, spread stuff, options, zone reads, and wide receiver screens. What hasn't changed is all the cheating that Spurrier opponents have long complained about. SC has a tendency to come out in a wedge formation (I never saw them get called for it, though the tackles are clearly lining up a yard or more off the LOS) on passing downs. I also can't remember ever seeing so many pick routes and offensive holds to get their receivers open. When they get going Spurrier will speed up the tempo however they usually get set with about 17 or so seconds on the clock.
Quarterback Stephen Garcia is gone, but his hometown is Tampa and that's plenty of excuse to dig up every Stephen Garcia thing this week. Actual Gamecocks QB Conner Shaw was out (sprained foot) for the Clemson game but is expected to be back under center for the Outback bowl. The junior doesn't have the breakaway speed of Braxton Miller or Taylor Martinez, but Shaw definitely qualifies as a dual-threat by matching either for acceleration, and usually his third read is to scramble. The leaky line has made Shaw overly jittery in the pocket; he will move around a lot and get 10 yards if you break contain; if you don't he'll hold onto it too long and drive SC fans nuts. When he's got time to set and throw Shaw will put it on the money, however he's plenty liable to run around and toss something off his back foot even when he doesn't have to, and at this he's less accurate than he thinks he is.
The effective play of Dylan Thompson (more of a drop-back) against Clemson has started a bit of QB controversy, though nobody outside of South Carolina seems to think this is a thing (see: Denard vs. Gardner).
The blitzes they mostly minimized before with play action to Lattimore (no longer an option) and a dangerous QB draw it seems Shaw is allowed to call at the line:
The receivers are like our receivers—short but capable of whoa. Ace Sanders (#1) is the slot "weapon" who we'll come back to when talking about special teams. Nick Jones, an even tinier dude, is nominally the 2nd receiver. The deep threat is Damiere Byrd (#3); at 5'9 a giant among these men, Byrd is a Gallon-like player who made a ridiculous catch against Georgia. Bruce Ellington is the Dileo of the bunch. Dudes over 6 feet are extant but mostly freshmen; when bigosity is called for they go to the tight ends. The senior and better blocker is #87 Justice Cunningham (6'4/264), though Cunningham's been a receiver option plenty (22 catches for 287 yards this season). Sophomore Rory "Buster" Anderson (6'5/218/#81) caught 21 passes for 452 yards and 8 TDs in his first two seasons. There's a freshman they use sometimes here too.
The Most SEC Defense Ever
They're a base 4-3 that goes to a nickel against spread-ish teams. That nickel ends up looking a lot like a 3-3-5 because they'll split Clowney off into a 9-tech:
If you line up in a I-form on an obvious running down they will stack the line and creep up like woah—expect to want to kill Borges at least once when he runs Vincent Smith into that.
Clowney you've heard of, but he's not all they've got. The rest of the defensive front are eh—the other end is a Pat Massey-ian 6'8 except more athletic than Massey—but the DTs are active and vicious. They're big dudes with active hands who don't provide much in the way of pass rush except to shove your center back a few yards and make things even messier once Clowney begins breaking things.
The swing player is DeVonte Holloman, who plays Spur, the roving LB-safety spot that Michigan had during our 3-3-5 days—in SC's defense it's basically strong safety or nickel back depending on formation, though Holloman is liable to line up anywhere. Free safety D.J. Swearinger is a Kovacsian dude who seems to get to the ball quickly—I'm not sure why there isn't more hype for him. It's kind of hard to get a read on anyone else since Clowney forces the play so often that the linebackers are making tackles on dumpoffs more than anything.
The senior middle linebacker Reggie Bowens (#47) is good; he doesn't read plays that quickly but he's great at staying off of blocks and picking through trash to get to a ball carrier, and Bowens is big enough that when he arrives the RB's momentum immediately stops. The other guys tend to stand around a lot. Cooper just tore his ACL and SC blogs seem to agree that one or two 2013 recruits will start (if they can recruit any—that so far has been a disaster); backups are nonexistent.
At corner I got to see why Jimmy Legree lost his job when Akeem Auguste returned (Legree turned several plays into major gainers by going for a strip), but not much else. Everything just pivots around Clowney all the time.
The recipe here seems to be creativity. If you play them straight-up it's going to be just another Clowney show but Florida did a whole bunch of interesting things and ended up moving the ball enough to win by a lot. If Michigan can utilize our talent in the backfield to probe the weakside behind Clowney there's space here to put up points.
The Most SEC Special Teams Ever
Ace Sanders averages a bazillion per return, is described as "nifty" and never ever calls for a fair catch. Too bad we can't take advantage of that. Their punters seem to have little in the way of leg, which is scary if you imagine Gallon having to run up 20 yards to make a fair catch amongst a sea of coverage all the time. This would be a good time to deploy Dileo as short returner.
Liveblog update. I think we've found a much more reasonably-priced liveblog solution. We're taking a test drive at around noon Monday if you want to stop in, check it out, and ask a question about Will Campbell I can't really answer.
Hopefully this works out better than the last one. Denard is one of SI's 62 regional covers:
Hey, I wonder how Michigan did the last time they featured on one of SI's 64 regional covers?
Yipes. At least if they lose their opener this time no one is going to set the world on fire.
The Burzynski hypothesis. Joey Burzynski on his developing all-time beard:
"Facial hair goes in 150-year cycles," he says. "This was popular in the Civil War, and it should be coming back right about now I think."
And Mealer talking about… well, I'm going to pretend he's talking about their beard rivalry instead of their competition for starting LG:
"Joey's great," Mealer said. "He pushes me to get better and I hope I push him to get better."
Yeah, man, yeah. Follicles.
Wormley ACL bits. Chris Wormley's torn ACL is suboptimal but I don't think it'll be much of an issue either this year or down the road. Wormley was behind definitely Roh and probably Nate Brink, and Tom Strobel is a pretty big dude himself. If Wormley ended up being the #2 three-tech—vaguely possible—then Michigan has picked up a downgrade, but again, Matt Godin is already big enough to be an okay rotation player if Washington or Wilkins don't step up.
As for the injury itself, it's reportedly just a plain ACL tear with none of the assorted meniscus/PCL issues that are not fun. It just so happens I had a plain ol' ACL tear and am coming through rehab as we speak. Wormley will be on crutches for a month and then will start rebuilding his strength; he'll probably be limited or out for spring practice but by this time next year he should be good as new.
Meanwhile in Lansing injuries. Aaron Burbridge's rumored knee thing is now just a knee thing; he's out six weeks and will likely redshirt as a result. Meanwhile, starting LG Blake Treadwell has a stress fracture and will be out four or five weeks at least—hairline leg fractures can linger, especially when you're an unnaturally large human.
Hype that Bellomy. Russell Bellomy is coming in for a wide sampling of hype now, which makes sense what with Devin Gardner looking more and more like a wide receiver. Do you buy it? I dunno, man. Bellomy looked better than Gardner in the spring game but he was mostly dinking and dunking.
It doesn't really matter, does it? I mean, we're boned if Robinson goes down for an extended period of time either way. Carry on.
How did this happen? Tom Crean pulled a Les Miles yesterday as Indiana told 2012 recruit Ron Patterson that he wouldn't actually be enrolling at Indiana… after he had already enrolled at Indiana. He is eligible to transfer to another four year school immediately—he's eligible in the NCAA's eyes. Indiana had 14 players for 13 scholarships.
Q: isn't that against Big Ten rules? IIRC, if you don't have a spot for a player you have to explain where you're getting it before the Big Ten will allow you to go over. That reason could not have been "we will let this guy take some classes and then tell him to talk to the hand halfway through August despite being through the NCAA clearinghouse." How did Crean get this through?
Anyway, that's some dirt Indiana just did. They took a guy who was eligible, put him in classes, and then dumped him two weeks before fall classes start most places. Dwight Schrute, I am disappoint.
Etc.: Yahoo ranks Michigan #6; Pre-Snap Read goes with #18. I like reading previews just to see how many fanciful assertions each makes as someone with only a passing familiarity with the team in question tries to say stuff about guys on the line. Steve Sapardanis on Billy Taylor's shoes. Yeah, Pro Combat's a pretty dumb name for amateur non-combat. Maize and Go Blue breaks down some of Denard's mechanical issues.