FORMATION NOTES: Nothing weird. This one has pinched DTs, but they only did this once. This was in the first quarter, so you can see the three linebackers on the field:
In the second half they ditched a linebacker in favor of nickel packages (and probably tipped a stunt):
This is what I mean when I say pistol diamond: four guys in the backfield, hanging out and stuff.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Secondary was almost entirely Wilson/Gordon/Taylor/Countess with the nickelback usually Jourdan Lewis and occasionally Delonte Hollowell. I don't think I saw Stribling except on special teams.
At LB, it was the usual Bolden/Ross/Morgan rotation. Bolden had some issues and late it was just Ross/Morgan. SAM mostly didn't exist, but Beyer got the vast majority of those snaps if you include the nickel DE looks.
On the line, much rotation.Clark and Ojemudia rotated with a little bit of Charlton. Black was almost omnipresent. Wormley, Godin, and Heitzman all got significant amounts of playing time; Glasgow was marginalized in this game to make way for Willie Henry. The nose tackles played a bit but they were largely lifted in the nickel.
[After THE JUMP: it's fine, it's fine, it's fine… erp.]
"Well, we're ready to go out for the next one, I guess. That was an exciting game. The thing I'd say is that I was very proud of how hard our kids played and how they were very resilient. The biggest thing -- we've talked about it all since we've been in it, is red zone defense is critical. If you can keep teams from scoring seven down there, you're going to win. There were so many opportunities down there, which is not always a great thing or a good thing, but that happens when you play a good football team, and I was really proud of our kids, the way they played down there."
How much do you take into account how good Notre Dame's offensive line is when you judge your defensive line?
"They're very good. They're strong, they're big, they're experienced. But I still believe that we should win the battles we're supposed to win. A couple times we gave up yardage that we shouldn't have given up because guys got out of their gaps. Guys didn't play the technique. When you're a young player, you have to play great technique. That's the only chance you have. I think a couple times we didn't do that. We weren't gap-sound a couple times as far as fitting our gaps. When you look at our tape, you're sitting there going, 'This should have been a hit.' I go back to the fact that they all stuck together, though, and they all played so hard during the game. Now it's time to move on to the next one."
After Beyonce appeared on the Big House scoreboard, Eminem gave an astoundingly bizarre halftime interview, Devin Gardner threw the most inexplicable interception in the history of interceptions, the game-sealing interception went through James Ross's fingertips, and a couple of questionable pass interference calls set up Michigan's final score, this was the only way it could end—with a Tommy Rees pass ricocheting off Raymon Taylor's foot and into the stratosphere, landing safely in the arms of Blake Countess, who kneeled in the end zone and effectively ended a game full of lunacy even by Michigan-Notre Dame standards.
The Wolverines held a 34-20 lead to begin the fourth quarter and looked to have the game in hand after the defense forced a quick three-and-out; with the way Michigan had been able to move the ball, victory seemed assured. After a Devin Gardner keeper lost four yards on second down, however, Michigan's newly-christened #98 took a snap from his own 16-yard line, scrambled back into his own end zone to avoid a hellacious Notre Dame rush, then desperately chucked the ball ... directly into the arms of Irish DE Stephon Tuitt. The play stood on review, beginning a snakebit sequence for Michigan that hushed the record-setting crowd of 115,109 into a nerve-wracked silence.
Michigan's next drive started with a seven-yard pass to Jeremy Gallon, in the midst of a record-setting night of his own; then Gallon didn't get up, and the fans watched in horror as he limped off, favoring his hamstring. A false start by Devin Funchess on the next play negated most of the original gain. On second-and-eight, Gardner rushed for four yards—and both Funchess and Taylor Lewan came up hurt, though Funchess's boo-boo actually gave Lewan time to recover from what appeared to be a poke in the eye. After Gardner shorted a third-down pass to a gimpy Gallon, the Wolverines had to punt—which Matt Wile shanked 21 yards into the Notre Dame sideline, setting up the Irish at their own 48. Five plays later, Notre Dame's Kyle Brindza connected on a 40-yard field goal, and in less than three minutes the Michigan lead had been cut to just four.
A lesser quarterback may have wilted after committing such an egregious error; Devin Gardner (right, Upchurch), however, is no such quarterback. Gardner found a wide-open Fitz Toussaint in the flat for a 31-yard gain two plays after Toussaint broke left for a 22-yard rush, his best on an otherwise tough night. A very questionable pass interference penalty gave Michigan a first down at the Notre Dame 14-yard line. Three plays later, another pass interference flag on a goal line pass to Funchess (less questionable this time, though still not the most obvious of calls) gave the Wolverines first down and goal to go. On second down, Gardner stared down an unblocked Tuitt and threw a dart to Drew Dileo, who ducked into the end zone; the 41-30 score would hold up as the final margin after Rees's second pick, coming on first-and-goal from the Michigan six, took a most unusual path into the arms of Countess.
Until all hell broke loose, the story of the game was Gallon, who finished with career highs of eight receptions, 184 yards, and three touchdowns. His first touchdown came when he utilized his cloaking device, as Gardner found him uncovered in the middle of the field; 61 yards, one great Jehu Chesson block, and a few missed tackles later, Michigan led 10-0 with 5:35 left in the first quarter.
The Irish responded quickly, albeit fortuitously, as Rees's third-and-goal pass bounced off his intended receiver, George Atkinson, and directly into the hands of T.J. Jones on the very next drive. After a Michigan three-and-out, Notre Dame opened the second quarter with a 44-yard field goal from Brindza, knotting the game at ten.
From there, Michigan took control of the game. Gardner capped off the ensuing drive by audibling to an option play at the last possible moment, scoring on a two-yard keeper as Brady Hoke tried—and, fortunately, failed—to call a timeout as the play clock ticked down to one. After the teams traded field goals, Countess undercut a Rees pass for his first career interception, weaving through the Irish offense to give Michigan great field position at the Notre Dame 23. It took four plays for Gardner and Gallon to connect for another touchdown, this one a perfectly-thrown ball low and outside which Gallon scooped up for a 12-yard touchdown. At the half, Michigan led 27-13, held a 268-199 advantage in total yardage, and appeared to be in total command of the game.
After a halftime show featuring Beyonce—yes, that Beyonce—doing the intro honors via scoreboard video and the band playing a few of her greatest hits as the stadium lights dimmed to reveal a Maize and Blue laser show, Michigan received to open the second half. A promising drive stalled when Ishaq Williams sacked Gardner at the Notre Dame 41, forcing the Wolverines to settle for a Matt Wile punt. Rees engineered a 12-play, 90-yard drive that ended with a 20-yard pass to tight end Troy Niklas, who bulled over Jarrod Wilson and into the end zone to once again cut the deficit to seven.
Once again, Gardner and Gallon stretched the lead out to 14, this time on a bootleg pass to Gallon on a crossing route; this year's new #21 dove over a defender and reached the ball over the pylon for a 13-yard score. The game looked well in hand when Notre Dame's next possession ended when Rees, facing a heavy blitz, overthrew a corner route on fourth down, setting up Michigan at their own 17.
Three plays later, Gardner lost his mind, as many in the stands surely did when he tried his patented weaving escape, only to find himself dead to rights in the end zone. It wouldn't be a Michigan-Notre Dame game without a ridiculous finish, and only the 2009-2011 games compare to tonight's in my (admittedly recency-biased) memory.
In the end, one good tipped pass deserved another, and the PA guy not-so-fondly known around here as Special K delivered a trolling worthy of the heated rivalry with a triumphant playing of "The Chicken Dance", a fittingly absurd end to a fittingly absurd game.
|Boundary Corner||Yr.||Field Corner||Yr.||Nickelback||Yr.|
|Blake Countess||So.*||Raymon Taylor||Jr.||Blake Countess||So.*|
|Channing Stribling||Fr.||Delonte Hollowell||Jr.||Dymonte Thomas||Fr.|
|Terry Richardson||So.||Jourdan Lewis||Fr.||Courtney Avery||Sr.|
The headliner here is the headliner last year, frozen in carbonite: BLAKE COUNTESS. Countess was Mattison's prophesied War Daddy at field corner, and then he got blocked on a punt return in the first game. That blew up his ACL and ended his year.
A year later, Countess is back to full health—he could have gone in spring if it wasn't, you know, spring—and ready to fulfill the promise he had a year ago. But that doesn't mean I've got anything on Countess that I didn't a year ago, save the occasional coach quote.
What I had last year: Countess started on the traditional Michigan Star Corner track, getting into the second game as a reserve corner and emerging as a starter halfway through the season. In six starts, Countess had six PBUs; he was named to various freshman All-American teams. As a freshman he manned up on Marvin McNutt pretty well:
The downside was the Ohio State game in which he was no match for Devier Posey on one of OSU's three long touchdowns. That'll happen when you're a freshman.
Despite that, even then he was Michigan's best corner. Anonymous Big Ten receiver:
On the cornerbacks: "Two years ago, they had a kid [Blake Countess] that was different. He played with a swagger and just seemed to attack every ball thrown his way. Last year, he wasn't out there, and it made my job a lot easier because I could use both sides of the field. Their corners were good, but they didn't go after the ball. They just wanted to stay between our receivers and the big play."
Countess seems to have had no problem reclaiming his starting spot and should resume the star corner track he was on before injury intervened.
[After THE JUMP: Taylor! Depth! Special Nickelback section!]
Weird line combinations and depth stuff have been coming out of practice. What should we believe, what's motivational, what's a boo boo, what's anything in this crazy world? We go under cover and bring you the NEWS that HITS the HARDEST (at least until Jake Ryan returns, because he hits harder than our news). The staff:
- Brian Woodward
- Seth Bernstein
- Ace Bradlee
- Heiko Felt, Sr.
- Blue in South Katherine Graham
- Deep Throw
And the question:
Heiko and I have been arguing about this on gchat and I thought I'd bring it to the team. We want to know where you think there are real positional battles going on right now, and how you're handicapping them. For example:
Center: 55% Glasgow, 40% Miller, 5% Kugler
SAM: 85% Gordon, 15% Beyer
Norfleet: 100% Norfleet, 400% Norfleet, Norfleet% Norfleet.
Mathlete: Shouldn't it be Norfleet: 75% Slot, 20% RB, 5% DB, 100% Awesome?
Ace: The lineup seems refreshingly settled at most spots (hooray depth!); the only positions I see having real competition are tailback, outside receiver, center, and strongside linebacker, though it'll be interesting to see if there are any surprises in the defensive backfield with the return of Blake Countess and Dymonte Thomas's potential early impact at nickel. I'm operating under the assumption that Keith Heitzman earns the nod at SDE and Jibreel Black starts at three-tech with Chris Wormley playing a key role as a backup.
Starting from the top, we've discussed the running back battle ad nauseam; Fitz Toussaint should start against CMU and Derrick Green will push for more and more carries as the season wears on. I'll go 99% Toussaint (barring injury) and a 1% chance that Dennis Norfleet gets the season's first carry as Al Borges epically trolls Brian.
[Surprising (and probably meaningless) revelations and scandal, minus the scandal, after the jump]
left: Bryan Fuller
Earlier this offseason I stumbled onto an old article where Bill Walsh wrote what qualities he looks for when drafting various positions. Meant to be a one-off on the offense, I took requests for a defensive version and broke it up into D-Line, linebackers, and now, finally, the defensive backs. The idea is since the coaching staff is building a "pro-style" team with principles more akin to the Walsh ideal that dominates the pros than the collegiate evaluations made on scouting sites and the like, we shall re-scout the 2013 roster for Walsh-approved attributes.
Since coverages have changed the most since Walsh's day—a reaction to the spread—this is probably the least valuable of the series. To bring it back on point, I've gone off the page a little bit to note some of the attributes that NFL defensive coaches are looking for nowadays, and what those changes mean.
Plankamalu / Shazorvacs/ M-Rob if all quarterbacks were Brian Cleary
Walsh Says: 6'3/215. Now hold your horses before going all "SHAZOR?!?" on me—I'm making a point: The type of player you have at safety depends on the type of system you want to run and the type of player you have everywhere else. If you're going to be playing more odd coverages (cover 1, cover 3) then you want your strong safety to be more of a run support guy, in many ways a fourth linebacker. If your base coverage is even (cover 2, cover 4) the strong and weak safeties will be more similar:
"There are other systems of defense where both safeties play a two-deep coverage and only occasionally come out of the middle to support the run. They basically play the ball in the air, the middle of the field and the sidelines. When you do that, then the stress is on the cornerback to be the support man.
So you must keep in mind these various philosophies when considering what types of cornerbacks and safeties you want to put together in forming a defensive secondary."
The attributes of your defensive backs should be complementary. Here's what Walsh is getting at: your backfield has to be able to defend the pass first and the run second. And here's the key: the more you can trust one player to handle coverage without help, the more you can stock up on extra run defense with the other guys. If your backfield already has plenty of coverage, you can have a strong man:
"The strong safety is historically the support man. He must have some of the traits you look for in a linebacker. In fact there have been some hybrid players in that position. Cincinnati had David Fulcher [right], who was as big as some linebackers but could function also as a safety. The Bengals moved him weak and strong, inside and outside and he became that extra man that the offensive run game had to account for but often could not block.
"But the typical strong safety is someone who can hit and stop people and respond spontaneously and go to the ball. Naturally, the more coverage talent the man has the more you can line him up on anybody."
Today, defensive coordinators sit on porches, remember when you could play a guy like Fulcher, and say "those were the days." The epitome of this type of safety is former Buckeye Doug Plank, who defined his position to such a degree that the defensive system itself was named for his number (46).
It's also called the "Bear" defense because it was the Bears
This defense was at the height of its popularity when Walsh joined the 49ers in 1979, and it was this defense his model passing concepts shredded. The defense played to Plank's strengths as an overly aggressive, hard-hitting run stopper with some coverage skills. The SAM linebacker in today's anti-spread sets (e.g. the 3-3-5's "Spur") is a closer analogue to the Plank-style player than the modern strong safety, with the key difference being that, as a safety, you couldn't put a blocker on a 46 without removing one from a lineman or linebacker, meaning the SS could flow cleanly to the point of attack and wrack up ridiculous tackle numbers.
College teams loved this, since passing quarterbacks were hard to come by and the big boys were running three yards and a cloud of dust (and later the option). A lot of cool names for linebacker-safeties were passed down from this period, such as the "Wolf" on Bo's teams, or the "Star" (names which today are coming out of retirement for the nickel-SAM hybrid position in base 4-2-5 anti-spread defenses).
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Why does a mid-'70s response to off-tackle NFL running games matter to a collegiate defense in 2013? Well because we have a really good free safety, and play tight end-heavy outfits this year in UConn (T.J. Weist, a rare member of the Gary Moeller coaching tree, is taking over there), Penn State, Michigan State, and Iowa, with the outside possibility of a Wisconsin if we make it to the conference championship. Also because the coaches have been subtly putting safety-like objects (Woolfolk, Gordon, and now Dymonte Thomas) at nickel, and recruiting a few linebacker-sized safeties.
I don't know what he'd think of Kovacs. We loved him, but Jordan had two weaknesses: 1) his lack of overall athleticism made exploitable if left in wide coverage (see: his abusing by Ace Sanders on the last play of the Outback Bowl, and the utter disaster that was GERG's attempt to play Kovacs as the free safety in 2009), and 2) his lack of size made him blockable if a lead blocker could get to him (see: bad things happening whenever Mouton abandoned contain).
He would have loved Ernest Shazor, a knife blade listed at 6'4/226 with a scatback's acceleration who loved nothing better than demonstrating the force equation. Brian calls Shazor "the most overrated Michigan player of the decade" because he has to live with the bolded subconscious of UFR, and nothing pisses off a figment of a blogger's imagination like a safety who gives up a big play in coverage.
Here's the point: the ideal safety would be a dude with the size and stopping power to pop a lead blocker and make the tackle or lay out a guy like Shazor, read and react like Kovacs, and cover like Charles Woodson. That human doesn't exist. A combo of epic athleticism with plus headiness and serviceable tackling and size equals Ed Reed or Sean Taylor. Epic headiness with plus size and serviceable everything else nets you Doug Plank, with plus athleticism: Ronnie Lott, Troy Polamalu or Rodney Harrison. The trick is to have epic everything between your safeties; for strongside then it's not Ernest Shazor or Jordan Kovacs; it's SHAZORVACS!
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At either safety position, instincts rate highly and speed after that (less so for the strongside). You're looking to first make sure you have enough coverage in the entire backfield, and once you do you can use this position to stock up on linebacker traits: tackling, size, taking on blockers, personal contribution to local seismic activity, that sort of stuff.
What you can learn on film: Everyone loves those bone-jarring hits and coaches are more than happy to put them in a recruiting video, but not all hits are created equal. Sometimes they're generated by another defender cutting off the lead blocker, other times it's your guy reading the play so early he can go all-out on the hit. More important is what happens to the ballcarrier: he needs to go down. Safeties are going to be left in space, and making that tackle is more important than making the offensive player wish he'd never met this oblong brown thing.
What could signal bust potential: Remember you want a safety, not a horse, i.e. overrating the secondary, linebacker-y attributes and expecting the rest to come along. Adequate coverage and good instincts need to be there or else this guy is just a platoon player. "May be a linebacker on the next level" is a red flag, unless he actually becomes a linebacker. Brandon Smith's recruiting profile is instructive.
It's usually good policy to discount ESPN's opinion when it's in wild disagreement with the other services, but here I tend to give their rip job ($, "he's not a fast-twitch athlete and lacks explosive quickness and speed"; "Takes too long to reach top speed"; "He can be late, takes false steps and doesn't see things happen quickly enough") some credence. Reasons:
- Rivals started off very high on him, ranking him around #50, but steadily dropped him as the year progressed despite his status as a high-profile uncommitted player.
- Despite all the guru accolades Michigan's main competitors were Rutgers and South Carolina; other offers came from Maryland, NC State, Wisconsin and West Virginia. He wanted offers from Florida and Ohio State which never came.
- You always risk looking like a tool when you rely on your super awesome scouting skills and six plays on youtube to discern a kid's fate, but... yeah, I didn't think he was all that.
The guy left in a huff after they tried to wring the last bit of value out of him as a Doug Plank-like extra linebacker vs. Wisconsin, and Wisconsin ground us to dust, but then Smith was a high school quarterback whose development as a defender had to come almost entirely from the Rodriguez-era coaching staff. Anyway you've seen this again and again: rave reviews for the guy's "frame" and a profundity of attributes that would make him seem a really nice horse, combined with not nearly enough "makes plays." First have all of the safety stuff: can read and react, cover, and tackle in space. Then care about the size.
How our guys compare: Jarrod Wilson (6'2/196) remains my favorite to start at this spot because he is adequate (not yet plus) in coverage and the other guys aren't. Like the Jamar Adams he reminds me of, Wilson doesn't stand out in any category but doesn't have any major holes in his game other than being young.
The other leading candidate is Marvin Robinson who scares the hell out of me. He was a big-time recruit early in the process thanks to apparently having an early growth spurt, and his profile was filled with horsey metaphors. The same player still hangs on that frame (he arrived at 203 and never deviated more than 3 lbs from that) and hopes for him hang on the comparative competence in coaching plus the fact that being behind Jordan Kovacs is a perfectly reasonable excuse for not seeing the field earlier.
The redshirt freshmen at this position are stiff and linebacker-ish with instincts, more Plank than Polamalu. Jeremy Clark is all of 6'4/201 and did an okay job against the run in the Spring Game I covered in this space a few weeks ago, but lacks speed. Allen Gant also had instincts praised as a recruit, but also lacks the kind of athleticism and would at best develop into a slightly bigger and less heady Kovacs. If going forward Michigan can develop a superstar at the other safety spot or with a corner, they might be able to Plank it with one of these guys—when Woodson gave us that opportunity in '97, Daydrion Taylor and Tommy Hendricks went ham.
Thomas Gordon is super-instinctive and would be a perfect fit here except he's needed at the more important free position he's been playing.
[The rest, after the leap.]