"(I) think about 'The Lion King,' Simba gets hit over the head and (he's told) 'the past can hurt,' " Harbaugh said Monday afternoon. "'You can either run from it or embrace it and learn from it.'
10/10/2015 – Michigan 38, Northwestern 0 – 5-1, 2-0 Big Ten
It was one fan, maybe two or three, in the south endzone. He or she or they wrote themselves into a corner of Michigan lore with one of the simplest chants in sports. It's the one that gets deconstructed into the letter D and the outline of a fence at NFL stadiums across the country. It is about as unique and special as "Seven Nation Army" at this point, but life is all about timing.
I have been to every Michigan home game in the last 18 years and I have never heard that. It is alien, the kind of thing I recoil from because it represents the melting of our special Michigan snowflake.
And holy shit, man. The little pin-pricks all across your scalp; the tremor in the hands; the flush of sweat; the welling of tears manfully suppressed. I could not participate myself. I was too gob-smacked to do much of anything at that moment. Michigan was up 38-0 with time about to expire. It was 4th and 17. If you had asked me to draw a card from the deck at that moment I couldn't have managed it.
Since the podcast started I've looked at a lot of lyrics from songs I love, and on the page they're flat nothings. This was the inverse of that. Two syllables; one word; and yet, poetry.
This is it, already. The building process turned out to be a single offseason of four-hour practices and competition over everything from starting positions to the most elegant mashed potato sculpture at dinner. Brady Hoke may not have been able to point his team in the right direction given two tries, but he could recruit, and the fruits of his labors have been honed molecule-thin by a man who can get hat-displacingly angry up a billion points in the second half.
Michigan fans were dying for this. Barely anyone left until deep into the fourth quarter, and there were still enough people ready to run through a wall with 29 seconds left, enough people to rattle the press box and send electricity up your spine.
The recent Harbaugh-to-NFL flare ups caused Michigan twitter to once again latch on to the pant leg of anybody who dared assert that Harbaugh would ever leave the confines of Ann Arbor (save for road games, of course). In the aftermath, media members got rabies shots and quietly conferred about how Wolverines fans are low key the most annoying on the internet.
They are not wrong. We take after our mascot: outwardly innocuous, secretly vicious bastards with a pipe-crushing grip. Anyone threatening the precious will be verbally berated until they give up in exhaustion. After the last eight years in the wilderness even the thought of a diversion enrages.
I emceed the Alumni Association's tailgate on Saturday, and I heard an awful lot about how things have changed in just a year. Indeed they have. I went back to the game column after game six of 2014, in which I meditate on the mournfulness of the Kids In The Hall's theme song and embed their "Each Day We Work" sketch. This was the entirety of the bit about football:
Football happened, in the usual way.
That described a loss to Rutgers.
In that column I talked about how the most appealing bit of Kids In The Hall was always that theme song, titled "Having An Average Weekend"; I went back and listened to it, and now I think that song is genius. It filled me with a sense of contentment and optimism. That's an average weekend, just a year after things were so bad they spawned the first and only Wolverine Revolutionary Popular Front.
An average weekend ends with a stadium full of people exhorting Michigan to finish burying their opponent, with two syllables ringing through the nation's biggest stadium, once again full to the brim. With belief.
How I woke up this morning pic.twitter.com/RuyiRdECUL
— PeppyPep (@JabrillPeppers) October 11, 2015
Let those who would stand in Michigan's way come.
[Note: Alejandro Zuniga clipped the chant first but the sound quality wasn't what I wanted so I reproduced it.]
this will end badly for you son [Fuller]
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jourdan Lewis had a spectacular YOINK pick-six in addition to generally being Jourdan Lewis. Gypsy seems real good with him currently.
#2 Jabrill Peppers annihilated the option several times, had 3 PBUs when tested in coverage (though one of them should have been an INT), laid the final block on Jehu Chesson's kickoff return, got the key block on Lewis's INT return, and fair caught all manner of short punts, saving Michigan dozens of yards of field position.
#3 Jake Rudock was efficient and capable; called into action on the ground he left a Northwestern LB in the dust on a play reminiscent of Tate Forcier's "I Saw Cover Zero" touchdown.
Honorable mention: All DL were excellent but Henry and Glasgow in particular stood out. Jehu Chesson's KO TD was more scheme than magic but dang he is fast and added a few nice plays on O. De'Veon Smith only had eight carries but had the entire Northwestern secondary on his back for one of them. AJ Williams led the team in catches and blocked well.
6: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern)
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
4: Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern)
3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland),
2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU), Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland).
1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Jake Rudock(#3 Northwestern)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Jehu Chesson wins the game in the first 15 seconds.
Honorable mention: Ridiculous Lewis pick-six.
Utah: Crazy #buttdown.
Oregon State: #tacopunts.
UNLV: Ty Isaac's 76 yard touchdown.
BYU: De'Veon Smith's illicit teleporter run.
Maryland: Jehu Chesson jet sweeps past you.
Northwestern: Chesson opening KO TD.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
USA-Mexico. Seriously, I got nothin' from the actual game.
Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill's second touchback. I guess one of those third and fifteen conversions?
Utah: circle route pick six.
Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust.
UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3.
BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma.
Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT
[After THE JUMP: this week's ways in which Harbaugh out-schemed his opponent, Happy Iowa Rudock, John Baxter's first BANG, and more defense defense defense.]
We’ve heard a lot of guys say you tell them to stamp their personality on the defense. When did you start using that?
“I don’t know for sure when. Some time ago. I think it’s just a way for me to describe to those guys that-I mean, I think it’s important to play with a personality. You were recruited here for reasons that are good. Don’t change that. We don’t want robots. Keep playing the way you play, obviously within the scheme and what we do, but play the way you play the game. I think that’s important.”
They also say they believe in what they’re being given now, and that gives them more confidence. Can you talk about, as a coach, watching that process take place?
“Yeah. I just- I’m really proud of our guys of how hard they’ve been playing. That’s the biggest thing to me is playing with effort and playing with the technique we’re talking about, and so any time you get a group of guys that are believing in one another and playing for one another then I think you have a chance to have something special, and I think they’re starting to understand what that means.”
Any similarities between Oregon State’s offense and Northwestern’s
“Yeah, I think too often spread teams are all clumped together like, ‘Oh, they’re a spread team or a one-back team.’ I think there’s always a lot more differences that apply within those offenses than what some might say. Northwestern’s definitely unique in what they do and they’re really good at what they do. I mean, they’ve had that system there for a while and they do a great job. You can tell their players know what’s going on and know where they want to go.”
What are some of those unique things?
“Just…they’re committed to the run game. They’re a physical group. They’re committed to the run game, and they do a great job of changing up formations and personnel and all that but at the end of the day they want to run that ball, and they do a great job of it.”
You do some hands-on teaching. They said you get in the drills sometimes and show them stuff. Is that something that you’ve always kind of felt people learn better that way or it keeps you engaged or why do you do that?
“I don’t know. I’ve probably never but that much thought into it other than I think just what we said about stamp your personality as a player. I think you do the same thing as a coach, you know, and that’s…I don’t know. That’s just me. I like being hands-on and being involved in it. I like being high energy. Whatever your personality is, if you’re true to it I think that usually gets a response.”
[After THE JUMP: Nothing else about robots. Cyborgs maybe, but not robots. Fine, no cyborgs either. But defense, yes. Definitely some talk about the defense.]
|STRONG DE||Yr.||NOSE TACKLE||Yr.||3-TECH||Yr.||WEAK DE||Yr.|
|Chris Wormley||Jr.*||Ryan Glasgow||Jr.*||Willie Henry||Jr.*||Mario Ojemudia||Sr.|
|Taco Charlton||Jr.||Maurice Hurst||So.*||Matt Godin||Jr.*||Lawrence Marshall||Fr.*|
|Tom Strobel||Jr.*||Brady Pallante||Fr.*||Jabrill Peppers||Fr.*||Royce Jenkins-Stone||Sr.|
Whether Michigan's DJ Durkin defense is a 3-4 or a 4-3 is in the eye of the beholder. This beholder says it's a 4-3 under again with a weakside end who is a bit more likely to line up in a two point stance or drop into coverage than before. But he's still Dante Fowler, who's a dang end.
Adam did yeoman work with Royce Jenkins-Stone to get some kind of confirmation of this. First:
In your words, describe the Buck position in coach Durkin’s defense.
Hmm. Not quite specific enough.
Is it fair to say that it’s essentially a stand-up defensive end who can also do the things a linebacker might do?
Okay. Maybe we can get him to say more than one word at a time.
So you’re going to rush the passer and drop into coverage too?
“Yes, and I’m going to put my hand in the dirt, too. Just depends on the type of formation.”
/confetti drops from sky
So we'll leave these previews as they are. Michigan's running Mattison's defense from the first three years. It's not like any of the DTs are liable to be unmovable two-gap mountains anyway.
By the way, this is the most alarming bit of the defense, and it's not all that alarming.
WEAKSIDE DEFENSIVE END/"BUCK" LINEBACKER
Ojemudia is still learning how to smile [Eric Upchurch]
Michigan has no proven options and only one guy who's got much touted-recruit upside left, but they should have someone who's at least solid. Prepare thyself for the last Ojemudia Death Stare Compilation.
OJEMUDIA DEATH STARE 2015
MARIO OJEMUDIA is now a senior and is nominally ahead of the pack at WDE. This is going to be a platoon unless someone emerges; the bet here is that Ojemudia drives his coaches less crazy, especially early, and gets the most at-bats. He's seen the field on the regular for three straight years now, ascending to a starting spot once Frank Clark got booted. In that time he established that he's not the kind of tailback-leaping, OL-discarding athlete Clark was, but he's got his share of assets.
Ojemudia's a smart, disciplined player. He's excellent at splitting the difference on zone reads; by doing that he prevents them from escaping outside and remains relevant.
Multiple times last year he was the guy the zone is supposed to read and he made the tackle. That's good eats. Against Maryland he was heady enough to make a critical fourth and short stop when the Terrapins rushed to the line for one of those catch-you-off-guard QB sneaks. In general, whenever Clark would do something that caused his coaches to pull their hair out they'd throw Ojemudia out there for a bit and he would get that particular assignment correct.
Pass rush is the thing everyone is worried about. I neither can or want to dispel that entirely. Ojemudia did not have the same kind of impact Frank Clark did. (As the NFL reaction to Clark indicates, his stats badly underrated his play. Clark was robbed of a ton of sacks by poor lanes from the DTs and bad coverage by Blake Countess.) On occasion last year his lack of size and strength saw him blown down the line or pancaked in a way that Clark never suffered, because Clark was 280.
But he's not a total non-entity. He had 3.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs; not a bad total for a guy who spent much of the season locked behind a really good player. When he did emerge into a starter he made a reasonable impact:
On Michigan's defensive linemen: "The best kid they had was the kid that took over for Frank Clark [Mario Ojemudia]. We knew next to nothing about him because he was only getting 10-15 snaps per game and wasn't doing much but he was really hard to block and was in our backfield a lot. …
"I don't know what the plan is for him this year but [Ojemudia] is the guy that I think can be really good."
Chatter has actually focused on the two other guys competing for this spot, and both of them will play. The most likely outcome here is a platoon featuring Exciting Guy and Boring Guy; I don't know who Exciting Guy is. I do know who Boring Guy is.
And that's fine. Ojemudia's kind of like a defensive end version of Jake Rudock. That's a worse deal at DE, were a "game manager" is just a guy who doesn't pressure the QB much. But it's not the worst thing.
[After THE JUMP: Ghostly promise and a large man]
Next up in our series of Media Day interviews is Royce Jenkins-Stone, who talked about surviving four-hour practices, some operational differences between the last staff and this one, and being the Buck linebacker. This was a one-on-one, so all questions below were asked by me.
What were some of the things you worked on over the summer?
“Over the summer we were just working out. You know, getting bigger, getting stronger, getting faster. But spring ball was very interesting.”
In what way?
“Just different. I never had that type of practice. Four-hour practices can definitely take a toll on you. I’m just happy I made it out. Made it out in one piece!”
How have things changed since last year? We’ve heard about the four-hour practices, but what else is different?
“Really not too much is different. It’s still the same attitude toward winning and wanting the team to get better and wanting people to be more about the team and not about themselves. I feel like it’s getting better. Definitely getting better, especially after spring ball. Everybody endured thus far in practices and having a struggle between you and your team and knowing that ‘Hey, I went through the same things you went through’ is bringing everyone together and making people think about [things] more as a team and not about themselves.”
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]
Remember that one run that maize Michigan had against blue Michigan? It'll come to you: it was the one when the offense gained yards by running the ball. I mean forward yards, not the sideways stretch things. You know the one on the very first snap of the Spring Game that Ace giffed:
There wasn't much else from the Spring Game to pull out so I thought it would be fun to pick this one apart as a very vanilla example of Harbaugh's Power offense, and Durkin's gap-attacking with speed defense, and where various players are in it.
I also disagree with Brian on what caused this to happen. He gave RJS credit for fighting A.J. Williams to a draw and blamed Desmond Morgan for biting the running back's initial outside cut. Those things happened, but in the context of Durkin's defense I think Jenkins-Stone is mostly at fault for not being aggressive enough. In 4-3 world a tie is a loss.
What the offense was thinking. Here's the design:
This is Power O, the most base play of Harbaughffense, from a base formation for running it. The first play of the game, there was nothing tricky about it—the offense lined up where they snapped except (off camera) Chesson went in motion. You may remember this play from such offenses as Stanford under Harbaugh, and what Borges and Hoke wanted to run with two years of eligibility left on Denard Robinson. Well-defended it ends however far down the field the offense's bodies managed to move the defense's bodies. This wasn't well defended, as we shall see after…
3-4, 4-3, etc etc
I've said this before and I'll probably say it again several times before the season starts: Michigan is not likely to be moving to a traditional 3-4 system. Nor will they spend a lot of time implementing a traditional 3-4 to mix in with a 4-3. The time commitment to do so is prohibitive at the college level, and the kind of personnel who can effectively do both are too rare.
So what's with all the discussion about moving to a 3-4? It comes from the top, as this Sam Webb interview with Marcus Ray indicates:
Sam Webb: Michigan is telling kids that they are going to be basically 50/50 as far as 3-4, 4-3. As best you can without having a visual aid or a grease board, explain to people, how that will come to pass and why Michigan is saying that, why that makes sense.
Ray describes the 4-3 under as something that could be looked at as a 5-2…
Brennen Beyer, the stand-up SAM in this picture, bounced between SAM and DE for his career
…and says that a 3-4 can look a lot like the under. Both accurate, and as I've mentioned before you can look at the under as a defense halfway between the traditional Miami-style 4-3 even/over and a 3-4.
But I think the distinction here is a bit of a red herring. I asked Spencer Hall what Florida ran last year and he replied it was a 4-3 with a standup end (Dante Fowler); my observations of the Florida defense rarely encounter a nose tackle lined up directly over the center. He's almost always in a gap.
Could it shade to a 3-4? Sure, I guess. Why would they do that? There are two reasons:
- To run a 3-4! Obviously.
- To disguise their 4-3. Gap-sound unpredictability is a major goal of all defenses. Putting a nose tackle over the center gives him an advantage if he's going to slant one way or the other, but the idea is still the same: get in a gap.
"If you line up in that A gap or that center believes that they know you have this gap then it is easier for them to block you because you‘re more of a standing target, they know what gap you’re responsible for, but in that 30 front, you can slant and angle in either way. They don’t know which gap you are responsible for and they have to guess and try to figure it out once the ball is snapped, but it gives the D-lineman the flexibility to go either way. And then let the truth be told, in that same 30 front, if you have a noseguard that is lined up right over the center and he slants to the strong side, then that is technically going back to under. If that noseguard slants to the weak side, in the weak side A gap, then that technically puts you in an over front, because the entire front has to shift along with him, so now that gives you some 4-3 flexibility from a 30 front if you just slant and angle, it puts you right into a 4-3 defense.”
If you believe that Ryan Glasgow will hold the nose tackle job, a 30 front featuring him is an undeclared 4-3. Michigan doesn't have a Nix or a Gabe Watson to hold down the middle of that defense and two-gap the center unless Ondre Pipkins goes from afterthought to superstar in his final year or Bryan Mone is terrific as a sophomore.
Michigan may run a bunch of different fronts but at its heart the defense is probably a 4-3. And judging from Florida last year it's not going to seem that much different than Mattison's fronts.
Lawrence Marshall is a name to watch. [Bryan Fuller]
Anyway this is all a lead-in to an assertion that for now I'm still assuming Michigan has a traditional 4-3 look this fall and I won't be changing up the nomenclature yet.
If and when we get enough data to do so it looks like the first change will be at WDE, which Florida folks sometimes call "drop end." Reports hold that Mario Ojemudia and Lawrence Marshall are frequently in a two point stance—something Marshall had never done and was taking some time adjusting to—this fall. Again, this gives the impression of a 3-4. In my mind it's taking the Mattison 4-3 under a half-step towards a 3-4 but whatever.
Marshall is doing well. His athleticism stands out and he's already about as big as Ojemudia. Ojemudia had to put on a bunch of weight and topped out around 250; unfortunately he hasn't displayed the explosiveness he had in high school at the bulkier number. A platoon is certain… unless Marshall wrests the job away and Ojemudia is again called upon to be a guy who plays spot downs to rest the starter. Michigan is trying out the occasional linebacker there as well, with Royce Jenkins-Stone the most prominent.
The other three spots have seen a ton of rotation, some of it involuntary. Injuries have held out big chunks of the line for a practice or three. When present, Willie Henry has been impressive. Chris Wormley is playing SDE again($), which makes sense given the depth chart (especially with Henry Poggi trying his hand at TE, and double especially if Michigan is moving back to more of an under). 4-3 under SDE is a better fit for him, as he can be that RVB type with a bit more pass rush.
There's as of yet no movement away from the presumed lineup of senior starters: Ross, Morgan, Bolden. With Greg Mattison still around I'm not surprised. 247 does mention a competitor to the presumed starters($):
[Ben] Gedeon has popped out early as a potential contributor in this year's defense. He has potentially the best combination of size, athleticism and intelligence at the position and it might turn into a situation where it's difficult to keep him off the field. For the second straight season, linebacker may be Michigan's deepest position, so if he stays on the field consistently, it will be because he's turned into a good to great player.
Scout also mentioned Gedeon as a potential breakout performer.
True junior Gedeon is a prime member of Team Why U No Redshirt who needs to start making an impact now. Michigan has rotated extensively in the past—not so much last year—and I expect he'll get playing time almost in line with the starters.
That is about all the chatter, with Ross/Bolden/Morgan the presumed starters. They look good when the DL isn't having them catch blocks all day, which has been something of an issue since a lot of guys have been out.
There have been plenty of reports on Jabrill Peppers, who is looking like the Jabrill Peppers everyone dreamed about when he committed. Peppers bounces from safety to nickelback and looks like Jabrill Peppers should. He is taking ownership of his unit even as a sophomore:
"He's a high energy, high motor guy and he's going to talk trash," Countess said last week. "And he's going to get everybody going. He's been one of those guys you want on the field.
"Even if he has a bad play, he's going to let you know. And if he has a good play, he's definitely going to let you know."
Countess loves the energy and the intent. But when asked if there is ever a time when he'd like to have the ability to quiet his younger teammate, he's quick with an answer.
"I love it," he says with a smile. "He says the stuff that I don't say, but everybody's thinking."
As Michigan State demonstrated last year, one of the most important positions on the field as an aggressive defense going up against spread offenses is the slot-side safety. He often gets tested deep in cover four.
It'll be interesting to see how Michigan aligns. I'm guessing Peppers just gets the field side as they rely on the restricted space to help Jarrod Wilson out. An observer from the coaching clinic did note that Peppers is usually "aligning to pass strength," so that is encouraging in terms of keeping Wilson in a FS-ish role he's comfortable with and maximally utilizing Peppers's skills.
Jourdan Lewis is also drawing consistent praise. He was Michigan's #1 corner by midseason last year, passing both Countess and Taylor; it sounds like he has picked up where he left off plus a little bit of tackling strength. With Blake Countess set to be a four-year starter the top four guys in the secondary are pretty set. The main question is: can Countess bounce back from some rough times last year and play man to man? 247 has heard he is in "lockdown" mode, so there's that. I'm reserving judgment.
Freddy Canteen is getting a few reps at CB, so… that's odd. Harbaugh loves flipping guys around to see what they can do, and Canteen is a guy who could theoretically be a good corner. Doubt it sticks, but whatever.