chance of bowl: 13.6%
DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE
- S Jordan Kovacs. Long time safety blanket specialized in open-field tackles, especially on fourth down, and was rarely victimized by his brain. Speed exposed by speedy South Carolina receivers, but you'll miss him early when someone screws up and you remember what it's like to have a safety biff a tackle and turn not much into lots.
- SDE Craig Roh. Journeyman switched positions every year, finally finding a home at SDE. Four sacks were second on the team to Jake Ryan; did a lot of non-boxscore stuff. Quality player; never quite panned out into the QB terror he was purported to be. Production should be replaceable.
- MLB Kenny Demens. Started every game, finished second on team with 82 tackles, 50 of them solo. Surprisingly quality in coverage; never great; guy you can win with.
- DT Will Campbell. Long-time disappointment got serious in 2012 and turned in adequate, blocker-absorbing season. Not an impact player—1.5 TFLs on the year. May go late in NFL draft thanks to sheer size.
- CB JT Floyd. Three-year starter turned career around after debacle of 2010, but was always kind of a sore spot as teams went after him and his lack of speed over and over again. Rarely cracked; had to be covered for at times. Iffy run defender. NFL FA type.
- WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Nonfactor.
Ryan, Ross, QWASH
- SLB Jake Ryan. Barbarian was Michigan's sole impact player on defense; shut down screens consistently, explosive rusher led team with 16 TFLs and four forced fumbles. Remember that thing he did? Yeah.
- MLB Desmond Morgan [probably]. With James Ross champing at the bit to enter the starting lineup, the stout Morgan is likely to move over to middle linebacker, allowing Ross to flow freely. Morgan was third on the team in tackles last year—M's linebackers were 1-2-3 like nature intended, with Gordon and Kovacs next—and displayed tackling prowess. He'll get pushed; he'll have to be forcibly unseated.
- NT Quinton Washington. Season surprise turned nose tackle from looming liability to actually kind of a strength. Not a Martin-type penetrator but ended up powerful and difficult to block. Range spans from merely okay to All Big Ten. Has future as wrestler named QWASH if football doesn't work out.
- CB Blake Countess. Freshman starter was hyped up as next great Michigan corner before being hewed down in the first game covering a punt. Will likely return to the field corner spot he locked down in the offseason.
- CB Raymon Taylor. Stepped in for Countess after Courtney Avery didn't seem up to the task and held his own for the most part. Teams mostly went after Floyd, leaving him alone. Did get burned for a touchdown in the bowl game. Tendency to get lost on zones should attenuate; has better size than any other experienced corner and will probably end up at boundary with Floyd's departure.
- WLB James Ross III. Bloodhound as a true freshman but too slight to take on blockers and big tailbacks effectively. With a season in the weight room should go from promising to excellent. 2012 : Jake Ryan :: 2013 : James Ross.
- FS Thomas Gordon. Unsung counterpart to Kovacs has not made as many flashy TFLs but is part of the Michigan defense's remarkable ability to prevent big plays over the last couple years. Probably takes over Kovacs's frequent blitzes.
- MLB Joe Bolden. Played a lot as a true freshman and will push Morgan and Ross equally. Survey says he loses the starting job but gets so much time he's essentially a third ILB starter. Needs to get a little meaner, work on pass drops, all that freshman business. Will be quality.
- Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
- DT Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
- WDE Brennen Beyer. Best of the three WDEs at run D; nonfactor getting to the QB. Let's all focus our Heininger Certainty Principle at him.
- WDE Frank Clark. Co-starter at WDE made more plays behind the line (9 TFLs) and batted down a lot of passes, but had trouble beating blocks—thus all the batted passes—and still blows contain responsibility on the read option a maddening amount. Up or out for him.
- SDE Keith Heitzman. Redshirt freshman flashed a couple things in the spring game and came on as a rotation guy about halfway through the year, grading out okay. Could emerge into SDE starter or could maintain that rotation thing another year.
- NT Ondre Pipkins. Massively hyped recruit was rotation partner with Washington. Got knocked over by a running back once; did bull his way into the backfield impressively a couple times. DTs need time; Pipkins should make a leap in the offseason.
- WDE Mario Ojemudia. Hilariously undersized high school DT promised to be mini-Martin… still working on that. Needed size, technique; may burst past WDE competitors with strong offseason.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
A couple guys on the DL. Last season this post focused on the three departures from the line, found only Washington and Campbell and what seemed like a woefully undersized Roh, and was pushing any button available whether it was marked "PANIC" or not. A year later, Roh was good, Washington dang good, Campbell at least serviceable, and we're all like COME AT ME ATTRITION BRO.
The problems here are insignificant compared to last year. Michigan gets Matt Godin, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, and Tom Strobel off redshirts. They'll add an early-enrollee in Taco Charlton plus a couple of guys who just showed very well at their respective all star games in Maurice Hurst and Henry Poggi. They return Washington, Pipkins, Black, Heitzman, and three guys who saw time at WDE. They will find folks to fill in the gaps.
They do have to figure that out. First up: dollars to donuts Black moves to SDE. It's a better fit with his size, he spent that fateful final drive of the Outback Bowl running around the South Carolina left tackle, and even if it's a horde of redshirt freshmen who would hypothetically replace him, there is a horde.
At the now-vacated three-tech spot, pick from Wormley, Henry, and Godin. I bet Wormley is the winner there. There will be rotation, and improvement, and you will feel fuzzily positive about this in September.
Lineback—nevermind. Demens was missed in said bowl game, but with another offseason behind Morgan, Bolden, and Ross the ILBs should actually get better next year.
Not having an utterly reliable tiny linebacker at safety bailing your ass out for four years. Miss you, small guy xoxo.
WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
Keith Heitzman is like a living breathing miracle of having a two deep
DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH DEPTH WOOOOO! We covered the line. Each positions has a two-deep of non-true freshmen, many of them proven or hyped. At linebacker there are three quasi-starters plus a solid rotation at SLB. The secondary is a bit dodgier but Terry Richardson should be serviceable as a sophomore.
Experience. Michigan loses five starters, yeah, but that's almost literally all they lose. Mike Jones may or may not return for another season of staring from the bench, other than that the only player they lose is Brandin Hawthorne, who was exclusively special teams as a senior. They return 16 heavy contributors to the D, 17 if you count Jarrod Wilson.
Linebackers. Ryan, of course, and then you've got Ross/Bolden/Morgan returning in the middle. Many people will pine for Michigan's linebacking corps next year.
My difficulty in thinking about bullets for the following two sections. Only got two in each.
WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA
looks good; was Mattison getting a free rusher at Miller's backside
Getting to the quarterback. Mattison generates lots of free blitzers with his schemes; other than that the only guy to consistently generate pass rush was Ryan. WDE, the glamor spot in a 4-3 under, barely produced. Three guys had three sacks between them last year. All of those guys are back, and Charlton gets added in. The time for someone to step up is now.
Matters should be a bit better on the interior, as whoever replaces Campbell is going to be a leaner, quicker guy who can get more penetration than he did.
A lack of outright stars. You've got Ryan, and I think Ross will get there next year, and then… maybe Countess, but that's asking for a lot after an injury like he had, and… dot dot dot.
WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX
Will not having Jordan Kovacs doom Michigan to a Yards After Safety kind of life? I don't think so but the parade of incompetents (and Jamar Adams) before him makes me leery.
Can anyone step in right away and be a QB terror? Looking at you, Taco Charlton. He and Ojemudia seem like the best bets for a truly fearsome edge rusher—we've seen a lot of Frank Clark this year and he just hasn't done much.
MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS
I was worried about a backslide last year. If there was one, it was exceedingly minor. In 2011 Michigan was 17th in yardage, 6th in scoring defense, 36th in pass efficiency D, and 39th in rushing D. Last year those numbers were 13th/20th/50th/51st, and if you'd added Blake Countess for the whole year, well…
I tend to trust the poorer numbers there since Michigan moves at such a slow pace and their YPC average allowed—3.8—is pretty meh. Pre-Outback Bowl, FEI has them 20th, and that feels about right.
Michigan is probably still a year away from being capital E elite, but you could see how they get there ahead of schedule. It requires three things:
Countess comes back and is a "war daddy," to use super secret football lingo.
Someone emerges as as serious pass rush threat at WDE.
Kovacs, peace be unto him, is adequately replaced by Jarrod Wilson.
#1 is possible. #2 seems doubtful, and #3… I hesitate to predict anything about that because it will blow up all over.
Anyway. Michigan tightens up its run D, moving from around 3.8 YPC allowed to under 3.5. The pass defense looks worse superficially because the Big Ten isn't as terrible at throwing the ball next year (right?) but is actually better since neither starting corner spends the entire year getting balls thrown over his head. The D moves up to around tenth in the advanced stats, stays static in yardage and improves pass D efficiency.
[PROGRAMMING NOTE: Due to a three-pronged failure in various systems I lost the first half of UFR and had to re-do it. I tried, but couldn't get it done for today. 2x UFR tomorrow.]
Minnesota's offense struggled to move the ball most of Saturday. When they did move it was often because Michigan was in a difficult position against spread principles. For example: on Minnesota's first snap, Michigan slid their linebackers way to the field against a trips formation and gave up five yards when the tailback cut all the way behind the defensive line.
I'm not sure if this is actually a problem Michigan should fix or if they're taking away certain things that would otherwise be open and will just open up another hole in the dam. In certain cases, anyway. I caught a second-quarter run—at twelve yards, Minnesota's long run of the day—on which Michigan's alignment had them in trouble from the start. Since the Big Ten Network was running an uncommonly large number of useful replays, we can take a look at it from the end zone.
From the dead center of the field Minnesota comes out in a pistol formation with two backs flanking the quarterback. Minnesota has two WRs not shown. When Blue Seoul was pumping out With Pics on the regular he would often point out presnap alignment issues, and Michigan has one here.
This is a balanced formation right smack in the middle of the field, but note that the linebackers are shifted to the left—Demens is left of the center; Morgan is inside the tackle to the right while Ryan is well outside. The line is also shifted left: Washington is inside the guard, Campbell outside. As a result you can draw a line with five Minnesota players to one side and three Michigan defenders:
Minnesota will run at this, running the back on the left across the QB and pulling a guard to keep that two-man advantage as the center uses his angle to take care of Campbell.
Before the mesh point a few things are clear: the three backside defenders are basically nonentities. Demens has a shot, maybe, but he's getting a free release from a tackle with an excellent angle and is in tough. The two backs are available to take on Clark and Morgan.
At the mesh point and just after, two things. First, Clark:
Clark dives inside the pack trying to get him, which could be a valid move. The second frame there has a pulling guard; if Clark hits him that's two blockers on one guy. Because Michigan was badly aligned that still won't matter, though. Minnesota will run this later at Keith Heitzman; Heitzman will do the same thing and peg the QB, so this was what Mattison wanted… sort of. I'll explain below what he actually wanted, probably.
He eats a block, but I'm not even mad when he eats a guy before it's even clear who has the ball. Even if he reads the play on the snap this guy probably gets him since he's got a great angle; if the tackle doesn't the pulling guard literally has no one to block so Demens will again feel the wrath of two different OL on the same play. If Demens is at fault it's for presnap stuff involving this alignment that gets him in trouble.
By the time the back breaks outside, it doesn't really matter what Morgan does, the play is getting yards, whether it's inside or out.
But man you still shouldn't get hewed to the ground like this and give up the edge:
It was faintly possible that Washington, who beat a down block, gets in some sort of tackle attempt, and you also wouldn't be forcing Kovacs to get on his horse outside like he does. Note that Raymon Taylor is also on his knees after eating a cut block:
Kovacs has to take an awkward angle around that block and misses the tackle as a result. He does get the guy off balance; Taylor recovers.
Things And Stuff
I don't really have a big theme here. Often these posts are attempts to explain a general trend—like Michigan not blocking anyone against Nebraska—with some concrete examples. This is just a thing that happened and probably doesn't mean much of anything. These things pop up from time to time; the defense is still really good.
If there is a theme it's that these things tend to get fixed, as we'll see in the next bullet.
Clark is less good at defending the run than other folk/Mattison adjusts fast. There are two main differences between this and a –1 yard run later in the game off this same play. One is Heitzman. Watch the defensive end to the bottom of the screen:
That may be a different playcall that causes Beyer to move down on the tackle and prevent him from releasing. It is more useful than what Clark does above. While that's not a two for one the guy taking Demens is now the pulling guard, who takes a lot longer to get out on him. That allows Demens to get outside of him; a gap further inside James Ross is also playside of that tackle when he finally releases.
The other difference is of course JMFR, who demonstrates what the coaches are talking about when they call him an "unorthodox" player by taking a cut block hard and still managing to fling his off-balance body at the RB for a TFL.
Even if that does not happen Michigan has this covered as this chain…
- Beyer holds up T
- Demens beats pulling G to outside
- Back bounces it outside
- Gordon runs past RB with no angle now
…has an unblocked guy waiting to clean up if'n Ryan isn't a wizard or something.
These things tend to get fixed. Note that Michigan's alignment above is even instead of slid to one side or the other.
I am sorry to remind you of our shared, dark past, but remember the GERG defenses when Michigan would frequently get annihilated by the same thing over and over again? In the Oh God Justin Siller game (to be fair, a GERG defense only in spirit, not in letter) it was ten yard outs over and over. In the 2010 Wisconsin game I think the Badgers ran power 28 straight times in the second half, and I am not even sure that's a joke. One of the most frustrating aspects of Michigan's terrible terrible defenses pre-Mattison were the times when the same thing just kept working.
Here Michigan gets burned for a first down. The next two snaps they see out of this formation are runs that go for zero and –1 yards. That's why there's not a theme, because the things that seem to be dodgy with this defense are pure talent issues. Michigan doesn't have an elite pass-rusher or a lot of speed in the secondary. This leads to lots of attempted deep bombs that have not come off yet, mostly.
Minnesota backs and receivers can really cut block. Seriously, our guys could learn something from the Gophers in that department. Michigan CBs and LBs hit the ground a lot in this game, even if sometimes they got up like an unkillable zombie and made the tackle anyway.
Washington: pretty good. He couldn't do anything about the 12 yarder above; he did get off a block and pursue in case he could.
Formation notes: Most of the game was in the under:
On certain passing downs Michigan did this weird thing with one of the DEs pulled up in a two point stance between the two NTs:
M dropped eight on this and got quick pressure when Roh beat the T around the edge one on one.
Here it is again:
May see that a little more going forward, but it's obviously a gimmicky passing down defense only.
Substitution notes: Back seven was the established starters the whole way with two exceptions: Cam Gordon got a fair number of snaps in place of Jake Ryan and Bolden came in for Demens on the last drive. I don't think Morgan came off for even a snap.
On the line, all spots got a dose of rotation. Roh got the most time; Heitzman backed him up and got a couple spots at three-tech. Washington was also heavily deployed; Pipkins backed him up. Campbell had the edge on Black at three tech but Black got more snaps than he has in the recent past. Beyer went most of the way at WDE with Ojemudia backing.
[AFTER THE JUMP: charts and stuff.]
Bowlettes [Updated for clarity]:
- Devin Gardner has been taking most of the snaps at QB this week. Denard is obviously limited during his recovery, but I think it's curious that Bellomy has gotten only "a couple," regardless of whether he's the No. 1 or No. 2 backup. You'd expect Gardner and Bellomy to split reps equally and compete for the top backup spot. Plausible explanation: Bellomy is also limited by some undisclosed injury. (I don't know for sure, but it's an educated guess.) Either way, it sounds like Gardner is the bona fide starting QB until Denard recovers.
- As of now, Denard is expected back for Saturday. Hoke says the final call on the quarterback situation will be made just before game time. If you have been paying attention to Michigan's football program over the last season and a half, however, you have surmised that Michigan is highly unlikely to make this kind of decision just before game time. That decision will probably be made very soon if it has not been made already.
- If the distribution of QB snaps (see above) and Michigan's track record for saying things that turn out not to be true (e.g. previous injury reports and recovery projections, most notably during the Nebraska game, "Michigan says Denard will return to the game in the second half ...") are any indication, I would guess the probability that Denard plays on Saturday is around 50%, maybe less. In the absence of real information though, anything is possible; I'm not optimistic, but I never am.
- Amara Darboh and Joe Reynolds have gotten the reps at receiver that Gardner is now missing.
“Thought we came out yesterday and had a really good practice. That’s good to see. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to. I think everybody understands that, but I think we’ve moved forward and did a lot of things as a team very well. Competed very well. We’re pretty physical with each other, which is always a good thing. You don’t have guys feeling sorry for themselves, so the intensity level was good.”
Can you talk at all about the division of snaps at quarterback?
“You know, I couldn’t give you an exact number, to be honest with you. You know, Denard took some, Devin took a lot, and then Russell took a couple.”
Will Denard play on Saturday?
“We’re planning on it.”
Does he have any physical limitations?
“Not really. Not right now. He’s better. It’s not all the way cleared up yet, but it’s better.”
- Raymon Taylor should be good to go Saturday against Nebraska.
- Hoke is being super coy about putting Denard on the kickoff return team.
- Spread punts! I asked. Hoke answered. And ... he's just more comfortable with the traditional punt, it seems.
“You know, we had a good practice last night. Good energy. We have an opponent that’s an awfully good football team when you look at they’ve won 18 of 20 at home. They’re 4-0 this year. I think Taylor Martinez is playing his best football. You look defensively or offensively, they’re leading the league in scoring. Very good football team. They’re physical up front. Defensively you look at tackles for a loss and you look at negative plays that they create. They’re leading in sacks, I think they’re leading in TFLs. Very physical group. Playing in Lincoln a neat place to play because of their tradition and their passion that they have as a fan base about Nebraska football. It’s really a neat place to play. It’ll be loud. We’ll have to play our best football that we’ve played this year.”
“This is the week you look for. This is a big week for us, and you know, I know our guys are going to prepare that way. I think as a football program, we’re very very excited about this challenge.”
Can you talk about the emphasis on physicality this week?
“There’s no question about it. I think last year if you look back, that’s something that kind of sticks with us the entire year. They took it to us. You can cut it any way you want. They lined up, ran the football, and knocked us off the football and we don’t like that. We don’t believe in that at Michigan. It’s going to be that kind of game. It’s going to be a very physical football game.”
Do you feel like that game motivated your defense the rest of the way?
“Oh no. I don’t think -- any time you don’t play well, I hope you don’t use that for motivation. I think if anything, it emphasized that each and every week you must play physical. You can’t go out there anytime and think we’re Michigan, we’re going to play. In this league, against the people we play each and every week, you have to bring your a game.”