in town for free camps
10/13/2012 – Michigan 45, Illinois 0 – 4-2, 2-0 Big Ten
Six games into year two of the Hoke and Mattison defensive regime, Michigan stands 10th in total defense. Last year they finished 17th. The year before that they languished in the triple-digits, unsure of who they were, what they were doing, and how life was supposed to have any meaning. Now, they know.
The flow thing is no coincidence.
RYAN THE BARBARIAN
Yeah, you can use the advanced numbers to push the exact measure of Michigan's improvement to and fro—Michigan is 16th in S&P+ with FEI pending—but who cares? The exact magnitude of the improvement is difficult to measure in the same way an exploding volcano is. It is organized and has long hair and will hit you very hard. Volcanoes. Dig it.
Michigan has not quite swept across the steppes, burning all in its path yet. They're still waiting for a real test after they got run over in the opener and had to survive an option attack they were ill-prepared for. Since those two games they've played UMass, a Notre Dame team that seems to score 13-20 against any opponent more competent than Miami, Purdue, and Illinois. Competent quarterbacks have exited. Chaos reigns even before Michigan gets involved.
But but but, by whatever measures you care to look at Michigan is providing novel horrible experiences to the hapless in their path:
- Illinois was held to under 150 yards of offense. In blowout losses against Arizona State and Penn State, the former without Scheelhaase, they racked up over 300 and scored. They neared 300 against Wisconsin last week.
- Purdue's worst yardage output of the season was versus Michigan; they've played ND and Wisconsin.
- Michigan held Notre Dame to under 250 yards, also their worst output of the season.
When life gives you lemonade stands, all you can do is pillage five-year-olds. Nickels in hand, Michigan faces a recent nemesis this weekend. They've got a real nice stand set up. Would be a shame if something happened to it.
It's mostly lemonade stands from here on out. Only two of Michigan's remaining six opponents squeeze into the top half of the total yardage rankings—Ohio State (34th) and Nebraska (12th). Hypothetical Big Ten Championship Game foe Wisconsin is cooling its heels at 87th. Thanks to the BIG TENNNNNN nature of the Big Ten, Michigan's defense can get along despite being rickety in parts.
Six weeks in it's getting hard to figure out what those rickety parts are. Kenny Demens has just spent three weeks attacking third and one with abandon and dropping into all the deep seams. He's been able to do that because the defensive tackles are keeping him clean. Raymon Taylor is being avoided by opponents who would rather go at JT Floyd. Craig Roh's move to strongside end has been successful beyond all reason.
The big hole on the defense is…
…weakside end? Maybe Floyd himself? It's unknown, really.
We do know now what we hoped—maybe suspected—at the beginning of the year: the GERG to Greg turnaround was 10% fumble fluke, 90% sustainable development. I watch Michigan play defense and think about watching Greg Mattison get distracted by an endzone shot of his four DL making the exact same step on a particular cutup at a coaching clinic. The line moves with perfect choreography and Mattison's supposed to be talking about higher-level stuff but is simply incapable of looking at that beautiful synchronicity and not stopping to talk about it:
Mattison did not select the cutups himself—that was delegated to a video coordinator—and didn't know exactly what would come up. This made for an interesting dynamic as he evaluated each play live. He repeatedly digressed from his main topic to note the footwork of his linemen: Van Bergen is getting distance with his first step. All of these guys have identical footwork.
The tape winds back and forth; Mattison beams like a proud father. He fumes at imaginary people who would not direct their weakside end to put his outside foot back when he gets a tight end to him. He passes the geek test.
The same folks who made Will Heininger a key piece of a top 20 defense have reconstituted Michigan's defensive line from a converted OL, a five star at the bottom of the sea, and a 250-pound weakside end. When not battered by a once-in-a-generation outfit in Tuscaloosa, they've stoned everyone they've come up against*. That line is not where Michigan's going, but it's good enough to be amongst the best in the conference.
That is the brick on which Hoke's program is built. They will take whatever they've got and turn it into a well-oiled machine. Some years they will be undersized and coping well. Some years they will be rampant. The next ten years will feature an endless procession of mashing defenses. There will be one blip to the downside and two units that put Michigan in national championship contention.
Year in, year out, lemonade stands across the Midwest will burn. Toddlers in Elmo t-shirts will weep. Winged helmets will look on impassively, knowing what is best in life.
*[Air Force's success was not on the DL, at least not much.]
Highlights from parkinggod:
The Ford presentation:
Upchurch photos went up this morning.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point of the week. Jake Ryan, come on down. Obviously. He's got a bullet down the page, but: 11 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and a number of plays made that didn't even show up on that statline.
Honorable mention: Denard Robinson (7/11, > 10 YPC, no turnovers), Patrick Omameh (seems to be destroying Akeem Spence on a few of Denard's long runs), Kenny Demens (INT, two third and short thumps), Greg Mattison (knows what is best in life).
Epic Double Point standings.
3: Jake Ryan (ND, Purdue, Illinois)
2: Denard Robinson (Air Force, UMass)
1: Jeremy Gallon(Alabama)
I know, man.
My God, It's Made Of Funchess note of the week. From my vantage point in the stadium, I thought the play-action rollout that eventually turned into the Funchess touchdown had been defeated by coverage. I thought that Denard saw this too and was chunking the ball out of the endzone, which I was pleased with—WOO NO INTERCEPTION—as I saw the ball soar into the stands… at least the dance team… well past Devin Funchess's outstretched… oh.
Ace made this. ESC to stop it, unless you're on Chrome.
Wow. Is that legal? Should I clap now? Is touchdown? Is touchdown. Clap. Smile. Turn to wife and console her that the Illinois people are probably used to this anyway and she shouldn't feel bad for them because… um. Return to clapping, wait for day when Michigan throws more than 15 passes and Jim Mandich Watch returns.
norfleetwatch. hai guys here's this punt i should probably fair catch this syyyykkkkkkeeeee hey i'm going this way syyyyyyykkke I PUT OUT MY HAND AND YOU STOP BECAUSE I HAVE POWERS goodbye tackler goodbye tackler goodbye tackler hello sideline i am sorry i will never touch you sideline i just don't feel like that about you ZOOOOOOOOOOOOM wait wat is punter
wat is punter wat is
Kicking from the one. Michigan pooted in the shortest possible field goal late in the first quarter, which normally would have driven me bonkers. IMO that was a close enough call that I wasn't super peeved. The situation:
- Denard is out so you've got a freshman at QB.
- Barnum is out so you've got your 6'1" walkon at LG.
- You've just been stuffed twice consecutively since Illinois knows you're not throwing, not least because…
- It's a rainstorm that could easily degenerate into an MSU-Iowa-ish slopfest in which points are at a premium.
If an 18-yard field goal in the first quarter is ever going to be the right move, it's there. It was really hard to disentangle any emotions about the kick from the momentary dread experienced as I watched Michigan's season circle down the drain in an injury deluge, but before it was a laugher it seemed like the kind of game where the first team to 17 wins and the field goal is defensible.
This is an extension of my being fine with a similar chip shot field goal in last year's Illinois game; that one came later and extended Michigan's lead from 14 to a probably-insurmountable 17. Early in this game any points seemed like a good idea in case the skies truly opened up.
Not that it mattered, but this wouldn't be MGoBlog without minute dissection of every possible game theory decision.
Even if you didn't like the kick you should note with approval that Michigan tried to take their two-minute opportunity at the end of the half only to be foiled by a bad snap after they'd moved the ball 19 yards.
Never again. Hey, guys, we're past Annual Denard Versus Illinois Injury Scare, and this one was the best of all because Denard came back and Illinois scored no points anyway. High five.
Michigan has now survived half the season with only one major injury, that to Blake Countess. While Wormley and Brink being out strips Michigan of some of its DL depth, neither guy was playing much or projected to play much—hard to imagine Wormley being a major step up from Michigan's current three-tech/SDE production.
That's getting off relatively light. Anyone glancing at Iowa City or East Lansing will get quick confirmation of that. Brady Hoke poops magic, still going strong.
Everything is not a bubble screen. I got a half-dozen tweets after the Gallon touchdown about bubble screens, and I knew that there had been a disturbance in the force due to announcer incompetence. Watching the highlights, I found out: the PBP guy thinks any throw to a wide receiver behind the line of scrimmage is a bubble screen.
That's not true, obviously, and the Gallon touchdown was the Always Works Every Time Except That One Time Against Iowa throwback screen. That play has little to do with the various critiques leveled around here about the lack of edge pressure applied by the Borges spread. It works by getting the playside tackle out on the edge without blocking that DE, and that gets you a chunk of yards. Michigan's broke huge as Michigan picked up +++ downfield blocks from Schofield and Kwiatkowski:
Schofield got a piece of the safety 20 yards downfield. That's a throwback to his days as a guard and a reason Rodriguez was so hyped on acquiring him. Michigan's OL can still get downfield like a boss.
Anyway, the throwback screen has been a strange disconnected bit of the offense that Borges pulls out once a game that picks up between 15 and 70 yards without fail except that one time against Iowa. It's always run from under center; it's obviously a pretty awesome play but it isn't yet anything more than a dime store novelty because the core of the offense remains spread.
Lewan injury scares. Taylor Lewan wasn't the first choice in warmups and again exited before the rest of the offensive line; a couple of people have mentioned to me that he seemed to have a limp as he went back to the locker room at half-time. This is fine, because Lewan is in fact powered by injury. Tom Gholston will rip his leg off, laugh evilly, and turn around only to be faced with a being of unimaginable power created by his very own hands.
PROTIP: let's not try to throw screens over that guy.
Fitz vs Rawls vs Hayes vs Norfleet fight. The Toussaint Job Threat watch is still on after his YPC was the worst of anyone who got more than one carry—and the guy who got that one carry also almost took a punt return 90-some yards.
Rawls has earned some more playing time—if he's not taking over short yardage duties posthaste I'll be surprised—and will be given an opportunity to take some chunk of the carries, but Fitz is going to remain the starter, I'd imagine. Michigan did hand it off to Rawls on an inverted veer, FWIW.
Rotation. Michigan had more of it in this game, especially one Pipkins:
That started early on Illinois's somewhat annoying early successes straight up the gut. I'll have to see what was going on there in the UFR; live it seemed like a thing that Michigan was not quite expecting but quickly got fixed. Think early Rodriguez offenses in the first half versus the second.
Moore return, maybe not so much. Brandon Moore was back and still apparently behind Kwiatkowski and Funchess, possibly also Williams. I saw him whiff a block badly on one of his limited snaps. I don't think he's getting much playing time back.
Everybody Hates Russell. It was bad enough that Michigan receivers reacted to Russell Bellomy's passes like they were radioactive, but does the media have to pile on? Daily:
Bellomy struggles in spotlight
Apparently the offense couldn’t move a single yard without Robinson under center, and the Wolverines settled for a field goal…
Fans’ expectations for the quarterback position could be a bit exaggerated because they’ve been spoiled by the exhilarating play of Robinson, but Bellomy didn’t do a great job of living up to any expectations in his brief role on Saturday.
On the following drive, he tossed a pair of incomplete passes — granted, the second was dropped by fifth-year wide receiver Roy Roundtree — before Michigan punted on a three-and-out.
Russell Bellomy wasn't exactly sparkling in mop up duty for Robinson. He took over with the ball inside the five in the second quarter, and couldn't get Michigan into the end zone. He also lost a fumbled snap in the second half.
Michigan's backup quarterback situation is shaky. Russell Bellomy struggled somewhat. He let a snap squirt right through his hands, and he completed just 1/3 passes. I'm not a huge fan of what I've seen out of Devin Gardner as a quarterback, and I do think Bellomy has potential down the road . . . but boy, does he look shaky right now. He wasn't helped out by his receivers, though, who had their hands on both incompletions; but Bellomy looks afraid to push the ball down the field, and he's not very crisp running the plays.
Come on guys, he handed off a couple times and threw a few passes that were dropped. Given the conditions, the fumbled snap is not a huge surprise—I file Bellomy's performance under incomplete.
Hoke likes him. Yeah.
Another lost shoe. An epidemic. This never happened before. What's the deal?
Roh pretty damn good. Two of Michigan's WDE's switched positions in the offseason, and that was pretty worrying. At least one of those seems to be working out pretty well: SDE Craig Roh. Check out Michigan's first third and short stop. Watch 88, the DE to the top of the screen:
Shift a step before snap to line up right over the TE, get under the TE, move upfield and pop the pulling guard. That's why Demens is free to tackle. That's a full point in UFR that doesn't show up at all in the box score, and Roh has been doing that consistently for the first six games. There's a stretch at 2:14 that's similar: Ryan gets a TFL because Roh beats his guy playside.
Also on that first play Jake Ryan pops his guy back and disengages to make that Demens tackle a matter of stopping an already-falling guy's momentum. Funny how Demens is a lot better now that he's not eating guys on a free release. Speaking of…
JAKE F RYAN. Ryan needs no explanation, and in this game he put up the kind of stat line that makes even distant observers sit up and take notice: 11 tackles, 7 solo, 3.5 TFLs, a sack and a half. He also got some of those Roh plays—the stuffed fourth and inches was Ryan getting the two-for-one with a slant under the tackle and letting Demens roar up into the hole untouched.
Repeat of all things previous about all Big Ten, verge of—the next two weeks will either solidify that or delay it.
A screen worked, to a running back and everything. That's an everything's coming up Milhouse moment.
Scheelhaase out. At least one team in the Big Ten is willing to remove a guy with a concussion. Terry Hawthorne didn't play, either. Objection from UV withdrawn.
OL doing stuff. Big Robinson runs resulted from:
- Omameh blowing up Spence one on one.
- Lewan blowing up a DE on the easy Denard draw TD.
- Omameh blowing up Spence again on the 49-yarder
Student section fight. Michigan State:
Difference is that Michigan was up by a billion in a noncompetitive game, and they look to have about twice the people. Win for Michigan.
Yakety sax pending. THE KIDS ARE PLAYING THEIR TAILS OFF AND THE COACHES ARE SCREWING IT UP
FURMAN DESTROY. My only disappointment with the above highlight reel is that it leaves out a fifteen-yard penalty on Michigan, when Josh Furman went Fresno State on an Illinois punt returner. A personal reaction:
OHHHH HE'S GONNA LIGHT THAT GUY UP
/ball hits ground
That punt had ridiculous hangtime, is what I'm saying.
Damn you, Special K. Damn you. You know, you get through two full games without hearing the Dog Groomers play "In The Big House" and you think you're out of the woods and then they bring it back. False hope is worse than death.
I am so with you HSR:
Really, I could have like six anti-Special K bullets here, but will it really do any good?
The weirdest thing was the soulful acoustic guitar thing they played for like an entire commercial break. YEAH I'M FIRED UP HIT ME WITH THE JOSE GONZALEZ I CAME HERE FOR WARRRRRRRR.
Now you can't do it. Ace mentioned the on-field proposal after everyone had cleared out Saturday, and now the gentleman who totally one-upped you passed along the event itself:
Jonathan San declares "I've never made that many girls scream before," and he's got you topped. Unless you're Steve Breaston—in which case respext, you are good at football.
Dang big gap. The MSU line opened at M –11.5 and currently stands at M –10.5.
After watching the Spartan fan-fail, I was curious to see how UofM's students would approach the game. Even though the weather was basically the same - rain - the stands looked full to me. There were a few who left the game in the 2nd half, but I'm sure if we would have gone to double OT, the stands would have been full. So even though State may have won the last four games in the series, they have a long way to go to match the University of Michigan on the field, in the classroom, and in the stands.
Also, ST3 goes to badminton practice. MICHIGAN MENZ.
Turd Ferguson kicks off a rivalry week with a dossier of Michigan State's recent achievements, as well:
Michigan State athletics programs have become pioneers in 21st-century teambuilding. Concerned about the rapid decline of face-to-face contact, MSU athletes have repeated come together, in large groups, to contact the faces of their fellow athletesand classmates.
Spartans are known to generously extend a hand to those in need. They’ve developed a prison-to-work program seen by many as a model for how to reduce to an absolute minimum the time between prison and work. Their athletic director moonlights as avolunteer career counselor and their football coach as a public speaking coach, offering their time even to supposed athletic rivals. When one of their neighbors could use help just stretching his neck, scratching his eye, massaging his arm, or bludgeoning his face, a Spartan is always there to assist.
As I mentioned a moment ago, I was lucky enough to play football, first on Ferry Field and then in the stadium. And I was lucky enough to start a few games in the football season of 1934–and that was quite a year. The Wolverines on that memorable occasion played Ohio State, and we lost 34 to 0. And to make it even worse, that was the year we lost seven out of eight of our scheduled games. But you know, what really hurt me the most was when my teammates voted me their most valuable player. I didn’t know whether to smile or sue. [Laughter]
It’s seems like a simple expectation but you forget, especially in the aftermath of the Alabama and Notre Dame games, that these coaches have a track record of making players better. You are seeing it. The defense confident and fun to watch and they’ve retooled the gameplan with Denard and it’s clearly working. I’ll take this stat line 24/7: 7-11, 2 TD, 0 INT.
If yesterday was a heavyweight title fight it was over in the first round. The only drama came when the champion hurt his hand because he was hitting the challenger's face too much. TKO Round 1 - UMass played harder in the Big House.
One thing we do know is the defense put in an amazing performance against Illinois. They were held to 3.3 yards per carry (with a standard deviation of 5.1 yards). These two stats indicate that not only did the D hold the Illini in check, but that they kept them from pulling off many big runs; in fact, Illinois only had one run of over ten yards all day, the Nathan Scheelhaase dash that knocked him out of the game. If you calculate the standard error about the mean, it's 0.14 yards, suggested that if U-M and Illinois face of again and again, Michigan would hold them to under 3.5 YPC again and again and again. That's consistency. That's dominance.
Al Borges continues to pare down his play calling to suit this team, and it has worked the past two weeks as Michigan has run for just under 330 yards per game and thrown the ball only 27 times total. The
When Odysseus* returned home, he was met with a cohort of unruly suitors. Like those suitors, Illinois simply did not have the strength to string the bow and fire.
RAMROTH FINNEGAN declares Michigan by far his best visit. I know the kid is destined to end up at Cincinnati, where all the best names go, but let's savor this moment when it is just fate, not fact.
In our last nine Big Ten games, we’ve scored 7, 14, 7, 14, 17, 7, 7, 14, and 0 points. 9.7 points per game. Has to be the worst such stretch since the 1970′s, right? We had huge offensive failings in 2005 and 2003 and 1997 and even 1993. But we’ve never had a stretch like this, have we? I mean, since the days of 0-0 ties with Northwestern and such in the 70′s. Can anyone remember anything this bad?
Less than two years ago, we scored 63 points at Michigan. With Nathan Scheelhaase at quarterback. How could we fall that far in 24 months? Yes, Michigan’s defense has improved tenfold over RichRod’s 2010 defense. But from 63 points to zero? How is that even possible?
Mainstream folk. Grades are somewhat good from Meinke. Daily game story. Smith sat out with a hamstring issue, "boo-boo" resurfaces as nonspecific Denard injury term. Helfand on Michigan's defense. Estes on Kenny Demens. Meinke on MSU week. Baumgardner on lack of turnovers.
- Vincent Smith was held out due to a hamstring.
- Kenny Demens jumped the route and got the interception because he knew it was coming based on film study and preparation.
- Fitz's job isn't necessarily in danger; Hoke says he just wanted to get the other tailbacks some quality work.
- Hoke made the decision to pick Desmond Morgan for No. 48 before realizing the Grand Rapids connection, but learning of it made it cooler.
File, because I forgot to bring my camera and I forgot to take a picture of Hoke with my phone because I was a little out of it because I wasn't feeling well because I was ... dehydrated. Yeah. Dehydrated.
“It was good to win Homecoming. It’s good to win any time. And really thought complete game-wise, a lot of ways this was the most complete we played. Running the ball with the running backs, Denard obviously had some great runs in there. I thought defensively, after the second series, third series, we started playing Michigan defense. Played well against the run. And then I thought when we did that on first and second down it gave us an opportunity to try and put some pressure on the quarterback and helped the guys do a nice job. Some things in there -- we had some penalties, running the ball early, [penalties] against our defense we weren’t happy with, but overall it’s probably as complete as we’ve played, but it’s not near good enough.”
Both fronts look very solid. Your assessment?
“I think really up front defensively, I didn’t think we were playing with gap integrity and getting of blocks as well as we needed to. They were hitting in there and getting four or five yards, or five or six yards. That wasn’t stout enough at the line of scrimmage. I thought we had some more work to do there. I thought we played better as the game went on. I think at the same time there was a lot of improvement. From an offensive standpoint, as we continue to grow to some degree, I think we’re playing a little better when you look at pad level, I think we’re playing a little better with the speed we want to play with.”
There were a couple critical fourth down stops by your defense when the game was still in doubt. How important were those plays?
“Those were critical, but the one where they went for it on fourth down and our defense stepped up and did a nice job, we got the ball [with] two minutes, and we got nothing. That’s frustrating because we felt coming in the locker room after half time that we left some points on the board. You can’t do that when you play for championships.”
Quinton Washington and Kenny Demens?
“And I’ll tell you. Quinton has improved every game. It’s exciting as a coach when you see a guy who steps out there and gains confidence and plays better, and he’s a big part of our football team, and he’s a wonderful young man. Kenny, I tell you, the interception, he had seen the route. He was prepared. And that’s one thing we’ve done better as a team is the preparation. He knew formationally, he knew route-wise, he knew when they lined up what route was coming so he could jump the route. That’s the maturity that you like to see in your football team. Kenny being a senior, you expect that, but when it works out you’re excited about that.”
Can you assess how Russell Bellomy played, and how important is it to give him some good game experience?
“It always is, you know. Russ, we’re very excited about Russ Bellomy, and have been. He came in there with a lot of confidence. We had the one exchange problem alter in the game, and I think the ball slipped or we didn’t get it up enough, but he’s a guy that we think is a good quarterback. That’s why we recruited him. It was good to get him some work. Obviously meaningful work, but any work is good work.”
At what point do you start thinking about Michigan State?
“I don’t know. I mean I hope the guys enjoy this right now. I don’t know if you ever don’t think about rivalry games. I think that’s always part of what makes us special being Michigan.”
Why did you choose Desmond for the jersey, and did you lay any special expectations for him with Gerald Ford being a president and all that?
“Yeah. And I’ll tell you, it was very easy to choose Desmond because of his character and his integrity, because of how he comes every day in our building, I think in our classroom, in the community. He’s a great kid. It would really -- the grand rapids connection didn’t have a whole lot to do with it until I felt that I was going to do it with Desmond and then it kind of clicked in.”
What was the thought process behind using Justice Hayes and Thomas Rawls earlier in the game?
“Um, you know, we just wanted to give them both some more carries. I think competition is always healthy for everybody, so giving those guys out there some time. Vince, we didn’t play him at all becaues he had a little bit of a hamstring, and that’s where Justice got some more reps because of that. Giving Thomas more carries was part of it.”
Is it still Fitz’s job?
When Denard went out, how confident were you that you could win with your defense?
“I’d like to tell you I was very confident. I felt good that our guys on defense, and then the other piece of it I thought our kicking game -- I thought we had kind of challenged that group, challenged ourselves as coaches. Our kicking game had to make improvements and has to continue to. At that part of it, I was comfortable if that’s the way it would have gone.”
Was Denard’s boo boo a hand injury?
“Just a boo boo.”
How relieved were you that it wasn’t that serious?
“Any time any guy gets dinged up with boo boos and stuff, you always worry about it.”
It’s two games in a row that Denard hasn’t thrown an interception. Is that comfort with the game plan or just maturity?
“I think it’s a combination of both. I think he obviously reassessed probably after Notre Dame a little bit. I think we all did. I think game plan-wise, we were bound and determined that we were going to run the football. In the passing game, the play-action part of it, the part of the passing offense that he felt most comfortable with.”
Can you assess Fitz’s play today? Did he get the jumpstart he needed? Second question is how much did you stress not peeking to Michigan State?
“I’ll answer the second question first. I didn’t even talk about it because our guys never even mentioned it, looked at it. I was really surprised, but I felt real confident about every week for us is a championship game no matter what. So they have to prepare for every opponent like a championship game. There was none of that in the locker room or anywhere else. It was Illinois and how we wanted to play and how we wanted to prepare. I thought Fitz ran the ball hard. I thought he got more north and south. Jump starting? I hope. But at the same time, I think there were two runs I didn’t really like, but other than that, I thought he really started getting vertical.”
Is it fair to say he needed a jump start?
“Eh, I don’t know. You gotta explain jump start. Is that when your battery dies and you -- ”
“Well we didn’t do that with him. But I just think, and I said this before -- it’s not always the back. There’s 10 other guys other there. If Denard doesn’t carry out fakes very well, then that’s not going to be effective. And I just saw that as a piece of coaching and how you put an offense together.”
You always preach relentless effort. Can you talk about Jake Ryan missing the quarterback, hitting the ground, and then coming back to force the fumble?
“You know, Greg and the defensive staff do a tremendous job when you talk about effort and the toughness that you need to play football at Michigan with, and defense at Michigan with. And the pride that, number one, the self-pride that Jake has and how this is a football player. It’s more of a Michigan pride than team pride and a defensive pride -- that’s not why he got off the ground and forced a fumble, but that’s part of who he is and who we want to represent.”
The tumultuous recent years of Michigan football have spawned some truly boggling "this hasn't happened since" statistics. Most prominent was the OSU streak, of course, but this year Michigan enters a year running the same defense it did a year ago since 2007. Next year they'll have guys with a third year in a single system for the first time since 2003—remember Jim Herrmann's one-year experiment with the 3-4 in 2004. I'm just wow, man.
Even more remarkable is that if Denard Robinson remains healthy they'll get a season's worth of starting from a senior quarterback* for the first time since John Navarre 2003 almost a decade ago. If I hadn't used the Grosse Point Blank "TEN YEARS!" joke for basketball's 2009 tourney bid, I'd deploy it now. I'll still use this:
Yeah, Piven, I feel you.
If you don't remember, senior quarterbacks are good to have. They're generally efficient, even when they aren't escapees from a top-secret government experiment attempting to breed a new race of Sonic The Hedgehog soldiers. They change plays at the line and don't throw interceptions and sometimes pilot the kind of offense that can sing your baby to sleep with its metronomic precision.
Is that happening? Uh… probably not. But the Sonic thing gives you a lot of room for error.
*[Chad Henne's '07 season does not qualify, as he missed games against ND, Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (basically—he threw five passes) and was wounded most of the rest of the year, most painfully when he was throwing up Sheridan-esque moonballs en route to 68 yards passing against OSU. That space station was not fully operational until the bittersweet Citrus win over Florida.]
|QB drawin'||Hopkins floater|
|juke in out in out in .||holds up Hemingway|
|drop snap deadly||ZIPPY ARM|
|bursts outside||no pressure == good|
|patience FTW||can zip it|
|damn Lavonte David||no pressure again|
|VEER ME BABY||no pressure rollout|
|gashing Purdue||UNLEASH THE DRAGON|
|woop woop||bombs it deep to Hemingway|
|zooooooom||chuckin' it up|
|shortie vs OSU||fires deep anyway|
|seeya Shazier||deep corner|
|SCRAMBLE MORE||back foot bomb|
|you never do this||bumpy bumps|
|hate you David||Odoms back of EZ|
|WTF READS||UNLEASH THE D'OHGON|
|looks open on the corner||this is more Smith's fault|
|again misses a keep read||PLAIN IMPRESSIVE|
|pitch the ball!||sets feet on roll|
|refuses to pull||nails Dileo|
The comedown was predictable, and a little sad. Denard Robinson's electrifying 2010 season saw him garner Heisman votes and All-American nods like they were rushing yards. He shoved a rainbow down Notre Dame's throat and made them pop out of your head. He shattered records, big records, NCAA-wide records for rushing quarterbacks, and if he hadn't been saddled with the Worst Defense Ever on the other side of the ball, he might have continued doing so ad infinitum.
But he was, so he didn't. Enter Al Borges, a guy who has about as much experience with running quarterbacks as Rich Rodriguez did with intricate West Coast passing games. Enter Brady Hoke, who declared that POWER would be run powerfully. Exit the Denard-iso-based offense that disguised for Robinson's many shortcomings as a passer by getting guys flabbergastingly wide open.
Down went many of the stats. Denard's rushing yards dropped from 1702 to 1176. His yards per carry went from 6.6 to 5.3. Passing yards dropped by about 400, yards per attempt went from 8.8 to 8.4, and Denard's already high interception rate ballooned from 3.7% to 5.8%.
There wasn't much compensation in terms of keeping Denard hale. His carries scarcely dipped (256 in 2010, 221 in 2011) and he got knocked out of games against Michigan State and Illinois. It just did not work as well.
That said, the offense didn't fall off too much. Buoyed by a tough schedule, Michigan's offense didn't slide much in advanced metrics (FEI went from 2nd to 9th) and had barely budged after the regular season. They put up more points against Ohio State than any Michigan team since Fritz friggin' Crisler. They return eight or nine starters depending on how you want to configure the offense and how you feel about tagging Ricky Barnum a starter. If they can refine things…
Denard just wasn't very good at reading defenses (or wasn't allowed to be) in any phase of the game. There's no reason he would be good at the passing stuff given the Rodriguez offense. He'd stare down guys, like when Kevin Koger ended up wide open in the flat against Purdue. If he got a little pressure he'd chuck balls off his back foot, like he did three times against Northwestern.
It didn't seem like the coaches had a whole lot of faith in Denard's decision-making on the ground either. While they showed various option looks, these were basically run plays on which opponents had to respect the RB. Denard pitched once, and that was a fumble. In the Nebraska game I became increasingly more perplexed at Denard's refusal to pull the ball, eventually giving him an epic negative score for not doing zone reads at all properly. In retrospect it seems clear that those weren't reads at all if they were being so consistently missed—they were called keeps or handoffs and if the defense did something unsound, oh well. Here's a paradigmatic screenshot:
That speed option was a keep for a loss of three, and Denard's not even looking at a potential pitch.
After arghing arghing I came to this conclusion…
The one time he did pull the backside tackle blocked the end inside and nobody scraped, which makes me wonder if I am putting all of this on his shoulders when Michigan has abandoned the zone read in favor of making it look like the zone read but not actually giving Denard the option.
…and after several months remove that still seems like the most likely explanation.
Hypothesis: you choose to rep one thing hard to be an expert. Previously, it was zone stuff that forced defenses to be wrong with certain players and get players wide open. Under Borges, it was West Coast passing. The read skills atrophied to the point where they were not reliable enough to use regularly, Denard was always coming from a thousand miles behind in the air, and the results were a step back all around.
Borges hasn't turned into someone else, so the way forward is obvious… but might not be achievable.
Denard's season trajectory told a story of real progress culminating in that brilliant Ohio State performance:
So… we have a pattern now. In the beginning of the year Denard had no idea what to do with this passing offense and his lack of comfort screwed up his mechanics. As he progressed and Borges adapted to his strengths the comfort level rose and he hit a plateau of totally acceptable performances before lighting up OSU. The progress is undeniable. He'll regress a bit against VT but if he nudges his DSR above 70% it's time to quietly hope he can have a ridiculous career capping year in 2012.
The best part of going 14/17 for ten YPA? Three QB draws for 10, 10, and 16 yards. Run and tell that, homeboy. If Denard is the QB he became after the trash tornado game, look out: 59% completions, 7-4 TD-INT, 8.4 YPA against Purdue/Iowa/Illinois/Nebraska/OSU translates into… I don't even know what.
Here's his UFR chart for the year:
[Hover over column headers for explanation of abbreviation. Screens are in parens.]
[I went back and did a passing chart for the Sugar Bowl FWIW.]
After the dismal Michigan State trash-tornado-and-double-A gap game, something clicked. Or he stopped being bothered by an abscess on his elbow (or "boo boo" in Hokespeak). Either way, the uptick was dramatic.
This is hard to see in the traditional stats for two reasons: Gary Gray and weak opponents early. Denard's YPA actually dipped by a yard (Sugar Bowl included). The closer look UFR provides shows progress, and a lot of it. After racking up 17 BRs in the first seven games, Denard had just one per game in the last five before the bowl. His interception rate plummeted from an insane 7.1% to a still-very-bad 4.2%. His downfield success rate leapt up into the same approximate range he spent his sophomore year in, and he even scrambled a little against Nebraska.
The Main Thing
This is not going to be news, but my God, the interceptions. Last year when Football Study Hall took the top 100 I-A QBs by passing yardage per game and ordered them by interception rate, Denard was 84th. His 2011 number (5.8%) would have been 99th(!) on the list. Worse than Jacory Harris, BJ Daniels, Stephen Garcia, and everyone else except Boo Jackson of OHIO.
Virginia Tech is of course the great raspberry in the narrative of progress here. Since I am the worst (seriously: I apologize profusely for not doing that UFR, I really am the worst) I'm more hand-wavy than usual about what went on but I did go back and chart all of Denard's throws. I found an MSU-like game in which he responded very poorly to pressure, and since VT pressures a lot and got Michigan behind the sticks all the time, he was often put in positions to fail.
I noticed a similar trend when I went back through my Denard clips from last year. Most of the throws filed under "zippy arm" are ones in which Denard can set up in the pocket and chuck it without having to re-set his feet. Por ejemplo:
It's when he has to move around and re-set that we get most of the erratic throws, and it didn't take much for him to revert to bad habits last year, as the first half of that Northwestern game showed. He backfooted a bunch of throws that he didn't have to:
Stepping into those gets them off accurately without getting you sacked.
It's no coincidence that Denard's by-far-worst outings of the year were against the two teams that got in his face over and over. All quarterbacks see their performance decline when they get pressure; few have as an abrupt a cliff as Denard did last year.
Rodriguez's solution to this problem—if he ever had to consider it—was to make the offense so heavily run-based that passes were rarely met with heavy pressure. Straight dropbacks were rare, and defenses were hesitant to blitz in case they got a constraint play in their face or blitzed up the wrong gap. Borges probably won't and probably can't assemble an offense where the parts move just so, and anyway Denard threw a bunch of interceptions as a sophomore.
There's only one thing that can fix this, and that's Denard not deviating from his mechanics as much and knowing where to go more. At the Glazier Clinic, Al Borges talked about the "backside cuts" that are built into Michigan's passing game. Those are deep routes that are supposed to be aborted to whenever the guy away from the main thrust of the play gets one on one coverage. Borges said Denard was "very aware" of these backside cuts, "very aware," and visions of double-covered WTF bombs danced in my head.
He should be more aware of the other guys running those routes (e.g., safeties) this time around, and have better timing on some of the underneath stuff that was an issue. He will get pressure, and I don't think his issues are the kind of thing you can fix in an offseason. There was a groaningly inaccurate pass at the open scrimmage in which Denard had to move around and he made a leaping heave across the middle that was yards behind a crossing route. That's just never going to go well.
Improvement should be expected, though. Denard was still super raw a year ago, he is entering year two, and you know he worked at it all offseason. How much will be the tale of the season.
A Couple Other Things
1. FOR THE EVER-LOVING SAKE OF SNEEZY JESUS WOULD YOU JUST TAKE OFF WITH THE BALL WHEN NO ONE IS OPEN?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Sorry. Sorry. I just don't get it, man. The ratio of ridiculous athleticism to passing skillz dictates that whenever Denard gets past read two he should be thinking about an exit strategy. But Denard all but refuses to run. He scrambled more than once in exactly one game last year, Nebraska.
It's almost as if he wants to prove he's a quarterback so badly that he refuses to use his legs when not required to. This combines with the feet-setting thing in a toxic cocktail. I'd prefer it if Denard either set up and threw without moving his feet or ran, with nothing in-between.
Survey says: unlikely.
2. Shorten the passing game.
The trend in the ND game—bombz—was one that lasted throughout the season. That trend:
Hoping for the fluke explanation, but there seems to be some merit to Door B. He's a breakdown of passes in last year's Notre Dame game:
- Hitch: 9
- Flat, seam, bubble: 6 (one waggle FB flat!)
- Deep curl, flare: 3
- Tunnel screen: 2
- Post, corner, fly: 1
- Throwaway: 1
- Run around like Tate: 2
This is a dedicated short passing game that ran a ton of curl/flat. Denard completes 60% for 1 TD and no INTs, averaging 6.1 YPA. This year we've got the eight downfield chucks, two throws behind the line (8% of attempts) instead of 11 (over 28%), and a total lack of free touchdowns in the seam or hitches to stationary targets that worked well last year when Roundtree wasn't dropping them.
Some sort of perimeter stretch would help Michigan a great deal. Those flats and quick hitches and bubbles are not only highly effective quasi-run plays but drag linebackers away from Denard in the middle of the field. Borges is still thinking like a guy who has a quarterback who happens to be the fastest kid in the country instead of a guy who has the fastest kid in the country at quarterback.
3. I-form snaps are inherently dumb with Denard.
Short yardage, whatever, fine, but any other I-form snap is burning money.
What to expect
I don't actually know, man. He's not going to do that Cade McNown thing. He should get a lot better. Extrapolate the back-half of his season out across a full year, add in a year of experience, and pray for health, and you've got a Heisman contender.
This is the worst thing I've ever said, but I don't think he'll get there. Thus the 4.5 above instead of last year's 5-plus-exclamation-point. There will be a game or two against elite defenses in which Denard's limitations are made plain, and that will keep him out of the running. His interception rate can end up halved and still be really bad. There's just too far to go in one offseason.
The projection in numbers: YPA remains static. Completion percentage jumps up a few points, scrambles are a little more common, and interceptions drop to around eight. Rushing is about the same as last year.
Devin Gardner spent last year making cameo appearances in the two-QB package Al Borges calls "deuce" but should by all rights be called "Fritz" and running the base offense when Denard was inevitably banged up. Neither of these things went that well except on that one pass in the Illinois game. Gardner rushed for 3.5 YPC even if you exclude the Michigan State game and its yakety sack, completed fewer than half his passes, missed a blitheringly wide open Hopkins against MSU and threw a fugly interception against Purdue.
Then spring practice hit and rumors leaked out that Gardner was not only playing wide receiver but playing it ridiculously well. Gardner has spent every waking moment since deflecting questions about his position; 42% of all sports content on the internet since has speculated about a potential position switch, its costs, and its benefits.
This site's been on Team WR from the beginning and became even moreso after an alarmingly poor performance in the spring game that caused me to survey the Gardner oeuvre with a suspicious eye:
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. … [The year before that] Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
When fall practice started up Hoke offered up the only piece of solid information he's provided in months by admitting that yes, Gardner was practicing at WR. His potential impact there will be covered in that position preview.
Gardner will have an opportunity to play at both spots. He's getting the same load of QB reps and moonlights at WR when other quarterbacks are taking snaps, and Borges pointedly defended Fritz from a reporter's question despite the thing seeming to run out of gas after the Denard end-around package was adequately scouted. He may not be the first guy off the bench if Denard needs to come off for a play, but any long-term issue will likely see Gardner ascend to the starting spot, where his performance is anyone's guess. He needs to get a lot better to be plausible; raw athletes going into their second year in the same system do that sometimes, but maybe not often when they're spending at least half their time at another position.
Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy [recruiting profile] is the third(?) stringer and only other QB on the roster. He was clearly more effective than Gardner in the spring game, but had the luxury of going against backups and was a checkdown-heavy dink-and-dunker. He went six of nine, sure, but he averaged six yards a completion. He displays some athleticism, though not anything in the same stratosphere as either of the veterans. Tate Forcier was his YMRMFSPA; former Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch is also a decent comparable.
The coaches have been talking him up some. When Tom Dienhart hit up a practice he returned back with this news about Bellomy:
…the guy to watch is Russell Bellomy. Brady Hoke told me he is faster than you think. I also asked him if he’d be comfortable if Bellomy had to play, and Hoke said he would.
It's hard to tell whether Bellomy's development allows Gardner to play wide receiver or the crying need at wide receiver forces people to play up Bellomy's progress. Either way the downgrade from Denard to Bellomy would be severe. A few plays here and there for dings will be fine.
Gave up trying to find shapes that look like states after MI. Click embiggerates.
Cartography week. Unless you're Ricky Stanzi, in which case this is every day, the 4th of July was for honoring America. Since this is a thing named for a cartographer, what better way than mapmaking. Randall Monroe (of xkcd) chose to take the Michigan=mitten thing and come up with objects for the other 49 that's worth a 'brief' look just to see what Ohio is and shall hereafter be referred to as for all time. Maize.Blue Wanger decided to pen a 7,700-word thesis about the best Michigan football players from each state. My map above used his work for most things except I used Spencer Brinton for Utah, split Michigan between his choice (Braylon) and mine (Harry Newman, but coulda been Oosterbaan), counted the little New England states as one Jamie Morris, and put a Block M over the ones I didn't care to do Google image searches for since I almost didn't return from my last quest for a representative photo of Brandon Williams. Anyhoo, for such a Herculean effort in service to his country, MBW is awarded Diarist of the Week.
The author also discovered the mess that is Bentley's enter-the-data-then-forget-about-it player database, which is more comprehensive than any other team's database in the country yet manages to do horrible things to Opong-Owusus ("F13" is not a football position!) In spite of such hazards, justingoblue followed MBW into the archives to chart up which states/regions have been dutifully paying their tributes of football talent.
Here's the context then. At the HTTV release after-party we had a long discussion about the '99 Penn State team, to the point that Brian was surprised everybody remember Penn State so damn well. For my part I learned everything I could about them when they joined the Big Ten. It all said they were a true national power, and nothing they did in the interim—like going undefeated in '94—suggested otherwise. The conference might have tried to shoehorn them in to a rivalry with MSU because they both got Morrill Act grants when the SEC seceded from the union, but it was the Michigan games they got up for, and vice versa.
The 1997-'99 series was among best of those. They'd won the last three. Judgment Day marked the point when the national championship run became real. The Sunday morning after—still fresh acceptance packet folded up in my cargo pocket—the glow of that win was still palpable in the chill air, cup-strewn lawns, and weary students stumbling home trying to decide if they'd really been partying at Bollinger's house. In '98 the student section was so loud it turned back multiple Lion goal-line and field goal attempts.
And 1999, when Florida State and its weak-ass ACC schedule was the runaway AP favorite, but No. 2 Penn State the best team in the country. The Nittany Lions had Courtney Brown and LaVarr Arrington, and strength everywhere else. Then they ran into Minnesota (at their Mason peak) and lost in one of those final play games any team can lose any time to a decent team. We laughed, but we knew our offensive line was too hobbled to give Brady time or Thomas lanes, and our cornerbacks were Future Stars of the SmurfFL, and Minnesota's upset was just luck.
Then that game, which you can re-live thanks to footage by Gordon (and photos via DeSimone) The score was close but true to the short-lived rivalry, Michigan beat the snot out of them. A-Train knocked out Arrington and bruised up Brown, and by the end we'd seen something nobody thought could happen that year: Penn State beaten and broken by a better team. The next week they limped through a loss at Michigan State that Spartans remember as the debut of T.J. Duckett, and everyone else remembers as the result of Michigan softening 'em up. Penn State ended with the most sour Alamo Bowl bid ever, Michigan took care of Joe Germaine to earn a trip to the Orange Bowl, MSU whined because they got only a Citrus invite despite winning the head-to-head, and Saban bailed for the Bayou because he realized no matter how many Plaxicos you rent this will always happen at Michigan State. That's the context by which I remember the '99 Penn State game. Also for Penn State it was the goodbye game for their longtime defensive coordinator, meaning when you re-watch there's a way different context. /Penn State memories week on MGoBlog.
Elsewhere in old video, watch the 2003 team trounce Houston.
Search: "Quarterback Depth."
Found" "Devin Gardner" autorun "peanut_butter_jelly_banana.exe"
Actually from this he seems to be the opposite of Tate. Tate would make bad decisions, then could get away with them thanks to his accuracy and moxie and winning smile (or not get away with them). Bellomy makes the right reads then throws a slightly bad, slightly fluttery ball that gets the job done and no more.
Speaking of 2008 I think that's when the Mathlete first introduced the famous (for an MGogiven definition of that) "Michigan Helmet" chart about proper 4th down etiquette based on down and distance. In 2010, with a top 5 offense and no kicking game, the "go" region essentially became anything after the 50-yard-line. This has now been updated for the 2011 offense, and comes with a Googledoc spreadsheet you can use to decide when to go and when to kick. I'm going to keep this handy during live blogs so I can sound smart.
Etc. World Cup 2014 favorites. U.S. Olympic Track and Field. Don't let the fact that the NCAA just instituted a playoff stop you from posting your idea for a D-IA playoff. And do not, under any circumstances, follow recruits on Twitter.
Best of the Board
THE FRESHMEN HAVE NUMBERS (SORTA): Okay, fine, Heiko can follow recruits on Twitter, but only because people have EA Sports dynasties starting this week and need to know which digit to put Wormley in, etc. I'll have a post up when the media guide is released with all of them, but for now Heiko managed to track down most of them from changed @names and twitpicks of lockers/gear.
PHOTO BATH! Brian last week put a link to the favorite football pics from 2011 thread in UV. If you missed it then, go back now because there are so many great images. Max followed up a day later with a favorite all-time photo thread. Leaders And Best added a Sports Illustrated Cover review in there which alone could have been its own diary. Can somebody who knows the history stuff explain:
PICKING YOUR POISON: Who would you like to see added to non-conference schedules of the future? This offseason thread generated a bounty of responses (note: playing Delaware won't make them stop wearing our uniforms), but little in the way of feasibility. We're really talking about three different tiers: Home-and-homes to replace the ND Series during that hiatus, one-offs with BCS schools we can convince to come to Ann Arbor, and then those filler games with MACrifices and I-AA opponents that won't make you gag when Michigan needs a quick pansy to round out the empty weeks.
Tier 1 should be someone everyone wants to watch on TV and would be worth visiting just to see their game day atmosphere and city: Auburn, Georgia, Bama, Tennessee, Texas, Cal (or Stanford though Palo Alto is pretty boring), Virginia, and Clemson. Ole Miss I'm told has an interesting game day, but busing Ann Arborites to Oxford necessarily brings up some nasty history. Tier 2 is pretty much any BCS opponent. The bottom of the Pac12 is nice however I'd love to see Vanderbilt again to pad our historical record versus the SEC, and I believe any Big XII team not named Texas or Oklahoma will take our calls right about now. Tier 3 I'd skip entirely except this is the place I can use to begin an annual pre-season exhibition against Slippery Rock. I personally don't mind playing directional schools because everyone has family there.
THE OPENING: THE THREAD: This thing had some 17,000 views. It's mostly pics from twitter feeds because people are…HEY I TOLD YOU… Related is a thread where everyone posted about that time they met a celebrity. Beat getting kissed on the cheek by the bride from Father of the Bride.
VALLEY OF THE LOST HELLO: ____ POSTS: Bronxblue was wondering what happens when Ace or his predecessors heads into the Super Secret MGoRecruiting Chamber to produce one of those "hey a guy committed!" posts, only to emerge and discover the kid in question chose unwisely. Answer: if the whole thing gets written for naught a respectable blog for the winning fanbase is offered the thing, which is then torn apart for the links and left to rot in the internetherworld. The rest of the closet of unpublished MGoContent is mostly junk nobody ever got around to throwing out. Sorry to burst anyone's bubbles.
Your Moment of Zen:
Party at Bollinger's! The Michigan Daily
There will be no Lincoln-Douglass debates about who the starter should be but MGoVideo has helpfully boiled down each quarterback's performance into individual video clips.
Lost in the fretting about Gardner's passing is that he looked very dangerous as a runner. That pop outside on the inverted veer he kept on was worthy of Denard. Kid is a big-time athlete.
Eric Upchurch. Upchurch's spring gallery.
The Spring Game came and went and I don't think it was just me: this one seemed flat in comparison to previous editions. The last time Michigan had a spring game so devoid of intrigue it was 2007, when senior versions of Hart and Henne ruled on offense and Lloyd Carr was the coach. Carr often seemed like he'd prefer it if his team played in front of no one, and this tendency was most frequently expressed at spring games. 2007 was boring and that was the way of things: boring.
- 2008: closed to the public thanks to Michigan Stadium construction, we still get our first glimpses at the spread offense… and our doom. The sense of the willies you got reading descriptions of what went on (you dismissed it as meaningless spring game stuff because you didn't want to ruin your summer as well as your fall) was the first indicator of what we were in for. The turnover party did not stop until the season did.
- 2009: Tate Forcier's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for the first time as an early enrollee, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Ace puts together Weapon of Choice video that is then recut into Weapon of Choice w/ Christopher Walken video. Youtube now thinks this video is set to Avril Lavigne's "Girlfriend," which is Skynet-level commentary on how that Forcier thing worked out.
- 2010: Denard Robinson's coming out party. Program savior gets a run out for not quite the first time but definitely the first one in which he looks like a plausible quarterback, performs brilliantly, everyone high-fives. Afterwards mgovideo published cutups of all three QBs' snaps so people could engage in Lincoln-Douglass debates about who should be the starter.
- 2011: Will Al Borges stuff Denard Robinson into a pro-style offense designed for the exact opposite sort of quarterback? Answer: argh, yes. Spring game spawns offseason-long running debate about whether it's pure folly to move away from all shotgun, all the time. Borges participates in internal conflict version of that debate and generally sides with the shotgun crew, except against Iowa, for which we all pay dearly.
The past four years the spring game has been an important data dump that has indicated quite a lot of things about Michigan's season to come. Doom in 2008. Better quarterbacking the next couple years but with a fatal flaw: Forcier and Robinson's blowout performances came against Michigan's defense, which merely blew. Last year displayed to all how bad an idea it was to go under center a majority of the time.
This year Michigan spent about the same number of snaps as last year in the spread, ran Denard out there for one series, gave the established top tailback a few carries, and the whole thing was… just there, flopping around being dull and stuff.
Maybe this opinion is influenced by the fact that I wasn't there, but I don't think so. The things we think we found out are generally less exciting than "introducing DENARD ROBINSON!" and less important than the possibility we might totally screw him up. This is a sign of health in a program. It just makes this post a little less throbbingly important than it has been recently.
Anyway, there were some things we did learn…
DonkeyPuncher231 (please change that username someday, dear DP) has spliced together just about the whole thing:
The official site put out a highlight video about half that length:
An unofficial box score from AnnArbor.com. Notables:
- Gardner two of seven with an INT and 36 yards passing.
- Bellomy six of nine but the same yardage as Gardner.
- Gardner 9 rushes for 41 yards.
- Toussaint five for 39.
- Rawls 9 for 39.
- Hayes and Smith had one yard between them on 11 carries.
- "Unknown" caught two balls for 20 yards. Tacopants?
That data in hand, let's talk turkey.
Backup Quarterback Derby? I've Never Heard Of Such A Thing
Michigan's coaches took the Colonel Tressel approach to the obvious #1 storyline of the day, Russell Bellomy looking a lot better than Devin Gardner. Bellomy praise was ladled out but when a reporter asked point-blank who the #2 guy was, Hoke's response:
If you were to name a No. 2 quarterback today, who would it be?
“Well, it’s Devin.”
I see nossing. I do not comment on Devin Gardner throwing multiple five-yard dumpoffs in a manner that John Shurna thinks is unusual and Northwestern's perpetual 6'9" euro center who takes threes despite never making any of them thinks is inaccurate. Neither do I comment on Gardner throwing an interception that, while a pretty good play by one Blake Countess, was also very late.
Borges's Bellomy praise was specifically parceled out after a section of Gardner hype:
You gave most of the snaps to Devin Gardner and Russell Bellomy today …
“Yeah, that’s what we were trying to develop. We decided before we came in that we were only going to play Denard just a little tiny bit. We wanted to see these other kids.”
Thoughts on their springs overall?
“Yeah I think Devin in particular has had an outstanding spring. He’s really done some very nice things and has developed in the position more and more. Needs more time in situations like this where there’s a lot of people watching and the pressure’s on and all that, but he has really done a nice job. And Russ -- I said it last week and the week before -- Russ has been steady and solid and [when] guys get open he hits them. He makes very few mistakes. He’s just one of those kinds of guys. He too is very athletic and can get himself out of some messes. He’s a solid guy.
If Gardner's been really good and Bellomy uninspiring but solid and mistake-light throughout the spring, only one of these traits came through on Saturday.
Twitter took the evidence on hand, considered it carefully, and wrote out a PhD thesis about how Gardner was terrible forever and Bellomy should be the backup quarterback as Gardner became LarryJustin FitzeraldBlackmon. And, yea, because twitter always has the most considered opinions these were not immediately regretted in the morning and… actually, hold that twitter sarcasm for one twitter moment.
Do we of the twitter hivemind regret that? Let's consider the evidence. Last year Gardner got into various games and threw 23 passes. He was 11 of 23 for 176 yards (7.6 YPA), one touchdown, and one INT. There was also this:
The defense would like to add this:
That's not much to go on. Let's make our data big, at least insofar as it can be made so.
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. Stuff on Gardner from the last spring game post:
As per usual, many events from the spring game are in the eye of the beholder. Is Devin Gardner's inability to find anyone open an indictment of him, an indictment of the second-team wide receivers, or… uh… like… people being covered? I know that latter seems improbable but I have seen football games in which this has happened. …
Unfortunately, there was a lot that was unambiguously bad, most of it from the quarterbacks: interceptions whistled yards over the intended receiver's head or thrown directly at linebackers, a Mallett-like plague of dropped snaps, offsides calls, etc. The general impression was more 2008 than 2010. … The QBs sucked on their own. …
Devin Gardner was also inaccurate in drills. They have this dig route where a slot receiver works to the seam then cuts his route off 15 yards downfield and Gardner was consistently missing it.
Robinson went out and did okay for himself after that business, minimizing its importance in our attempts to judge him. For Gardner it remains a big chunk of the time we've gotten to see him.
Here's the video of the year previous:
A summary of that from the immediate aftermath:
Devin Gardner looked raw as hell, fumbling snaps, scrambling into trouble, and reverting to that ugly shotput motion whenever he was forced to throw on the run. He looked like a freshman, which is okay because he is a freshman. However, the torrent of spring hype that suggested Gardner would probably not redshirt because he would be Michigan's best quarterback by UConn… eh, not so much. Maybe it was just a bad day. Even if it was an off day, Robinson showed enough to relegate Gardner to the bench for the first couple games and hopefully his whole freshman year.
Gardner did show the his deep touch on a third and long seam to Odoms that was laid in perfectly. Odoms dropped it.
Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
So. This is our oeuvre. Now consider Michigan's situation:
- They didn't even attempt a long pass yesterday, presumably because they were all covered. After tight end, wide receiver is the position on offense that could most use an instant talent infusion.
- Most of the unambiguously good things Gardner did yesterday involved his legs. That scamper down the sideline… good lord y'all. It's not a big stretch to declare him the best athlete on the team outside of Denard, and given that size and wingspan he could be pushing close to #16.
- Bellomy looks like a competent game manager should the need arise.
- Given Robinson's previous two seasons at QB, the need almost certainly will arise.
- Moving Gardner away from quarterback gives Michigan exactly two QBs this year and next and means either a true freshman or low-profile redshirt sophomore starts for M in 2013.
What do you do with that? Hell if I know. If you still had Forcier around and recruited a 2012 quarterback I would be at the post office right now watching Hoke mail a bow-clad Gardner* to Jeff Hecklinski. If there were enough of us and a fiddle we'd probably be singing Hava Nagila and dancing.
*[He's also wearing a full uniform, pervs.]
In Michigan's current situation, moving Gardner is asking for this interlude in game nine:
MCDONAUGH: Michigan's quarterback is now Jack Kennedy. Ask not what your team can do for you, Jack, amirite?
MILLEN: He looks really, really sweaty.
MCDONAUGH: Astute observation, Matt. Jack Kennedy is soaked in a bodily fluid we dearly hope is sweat.
MILLEN: Someone should get him an IV. I… what is that? That can't be healthy.
MCDONAUGH: Jack Kennedy is leaving a trail of viscous material behind him that must be a slurry of sweat and pure, distilled fear. Here's the snap. Kennedy hands off from the I-form… Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: Can all that fluid really be coming out of his body?
MCDONAUGH: Take it from my uncle Morty: all that and more. Vincent Smith with a one-yard loss.
MILLEN: How can he even hold on to the ball?
MCDONAUGH: I have no idea. This series of one-yard losses may be the most heroic in football history. Vincent Smith tackled for a loss of one.
MILLEN: Just look at him not fumble that snap despite having lost half his body weight in the past six minutes.
MCDONAUGH: It's kind of beautiful.
MILLEN: For spacious skies. For aglumb waves of grain. For purple mounted mohair above the fruit-tossed Spain. AMERICAAAAAAA—
MCDONAUGH: Hagerup in to punt.
MILLEN: –AMERICAAAAAAAA, GOD SPED HIS FACE ON THEEEEEE. AND CROWN THY HOOD WITH BROTHERGOOD FROM PEA TO SHINGLING PEA.
MCDONAUGH: Inspiring stuff from Ann Arbor. Michigan has six yards of offense at the half. We'll be back after this commercial break.
SCENE. This may have been drug-induced.
Anyway. They'd probably just put Gardner in and hope they hadn't stunted his development to the point where he'd be totally useless. Things would go poorly.
Could you blame them that much, though? If Hoke reaches for the brass ring next fall and it blows up in his face because Denard goes down and the guy who was supposed to be his backup is at wideout, I probably wouldn't even be mad. It would suck, but I want a guy who will swing for the fences.
While the coaches are going out of their way to make it sound like that is not in the cards, sometimes the relationship between reality and what coaches have to say to not have horrible things happen is great. If Devin wants to be the #2 QB going into fall Michigan would be foolish not to downplay the WR stuff until he's on campus in the fall. Once he's there, then talk to him about moonlighting while still being the #2.
Gun to the head, I think he does see a lot of time at WR in fall camp. He'll still practice most of the #2 QB snaps but also taking a share of snaps at WR when Denard is out there. They'll teach him one of the four spots—probably Hemingway's—and use him in certain three and four wide receiver packages for 15-20 snaps a game. If he proves to be a top-flight guy quickly Michigan might not have much choice about using him more in tight games, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
If Denard goes down for any length of time, it'll be Devin.
Meanwhile there are 20 or 21 other positions Michigan has to fill…
All Eyes(z) On Campbell
"It just means I can't slip at all, because I got 120 eyes on me now," Campbell said of leading the team on the field.
Well… there's no denying he looked a lot better.
Like, a lot. Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.
You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.
Mattison and Hoke hated it, though, hated everything. I am factoring in further improvement as this line Heningers themselves into ship shape by fall. Enough to survive a 'Bama onslaught? Probably not, but they'll be okay afterwards.
Other DL Items
Roh and Black each showed some pass-rush ability from their spots and neither got ostentatiously rammed into the endzone on a big run play. The going was tough for the offense. With four-ish starters back from an OL that paved the way for Michigan running backs—IE, no Denard—to average 5.7 YPA last year, I'll place that in the good column. The extremely tenuous good column.
One nice thing the moves do is it allows Mattison to play a ton of games with his line. Black and Roh can both function as outside DEs just fine, so Mattison can call plays where the line slants and stunts such that one of those guys ends up playing a WDE-ish slot whenever he wants. What Michigan lacks in bulk they'll have to make up for with quickness and the element of surprise; Mattison will have some chess pieces to do that with next year. Note that the touch sack on the Gardner waggle came from the containing… Black. Usually your three-technique is not the guy asked to do that.
The depth here was also encouraging. Richard Ash made a couple nice plays, which I was not expecting. One was an excellent string-out on a stretch play that forced the tailback to awkwardly cut behind him. I was beyond not expecting that. I don't think John Gasaway will get on me if I say I was shocked. Yeah. Later he showed up two yards in the backfield directly in the path of an iso; he got blocked from the side but the bounce he forced saw Marvin Robinson chop poor Vincent Smith down for a one-yard loss.
Redshirt freshman Keith Heitzman also was a standout on the second units, though his inability to flow down the line at the proper angle was the main issue on Rawls's fourth-and-short touchdown. He got into the backfield plenty. Once you've got a guy who can get there it's not that hard to get him to take the right angle against air.
Toussaint clubberates Morgan, via the Wolverine
None serious. Desmond Morgan took a cut block from Fitzgerald Toussaint and limped his way to the sidelines for the day; a source indicates that is not serious and shouldn't affect him at all. Jerald Robinson also had a minor boo boo that should not affect him.
The only player to miss the game was backup SDE Nate Brink, and that injury was no surprise since it happened before the Sugar Bowl. Barring a non-contact injury, Michigan should hit fall camp with everyone on the roster ready to go. Everyone save Brink, the suspended Josh Furman, and the mysteriously absent-but-returned now Tamani Carter got a full spring session in.
So they've got that going for them. That's a lot better than last year when five or six important players, including Toussaint and Lewan, were sidelined.
The Burzynski Start
World, meet Joey Burzynski, the redshirt sophomore walk-on who started at left guard in the spring game. That's not a huge surprise since a lot of shadowy spring practice reports praised him as a potential contributor and he had seen some time with the ones in the King of Tight Frames' highlight videos throughout the spring. His start may not mean anything more than Michigan wanted a decent right tackle (Elliott Mealer) on the second unit to give Bellomy a little time, but the guy started the spring game and must be considered an obvious member of the two-deep.
This is a development that strikes me as concerning. Redshirt freshman Chris Bryant has been getting a lot of shadow praise for a year now and he doesn't seem to be anywhere close to finding a starting job. Not only is he behind Mealer on most days when Mealer is a guard, he's behind Burzynski. Decrement your Bryant excitement meters.
No offense to Burzynski, but until proven otherwise the assumption here is that the spot featuring a walk-on is going to be a problem. Even if it's not that's a spot that will be subject to fierce competition in fall.
Q: does Michigan have enough faith in one of its incoming freshman tackles to move Kalis from primary tackle backup—this site's assumed role for him as a freshman—to left guard competitor? A: Dunno. I do know they like Ben Braden a lot, like far more than the recruiting sites did. Whether he's got the polish to be that third tackle or not I don't know. I would look at insta-move of Kalis inside as a good sign as far as Magnuson and Braden go. That'll be something to watch for in the spring.
Thomas Rawls: Ramming Speed
We got a few carries from Toussaint to remind us that yes, Virginia, Michigan has a true feature back again. The headliner amongst the backups was sophomore Thomas Rawls, who showed a knack in short-yardage ramming and the sort of spread-oriented north-south RAGE runs that Brandon Minor used to specialize in.
It was the short yardage that was most impressive. Michigan's OL was rarely getting Rawls the holes they intended to get him. I'll leave the debate about whether that was Mattison's DL being better than expected or the OL worse for people who enjoy debating impossibilities; what was certainly impressive is that when that happened to Rawls he downshifted behind wherever the intended hole was supposed to be and burst into the next one over—closer to the middle of the field. He lowered his head, knocked guys back, and showed enough presence of mind to reach the ball across the goal line when he was suspended near it. Your short-yardage back: check.
Rawls also displayed that north-south bowling ball mentality on a couple of belly plays from the gun on which flailing arm tackles failed to bring him down and he fell forward after contact. He's got enough of a package to also provide breathers for Toussaint when he wants out. He'll get 5-10 carries a game this year and fill a role. Not sure if he'll ever reach feature back status with two more years of Toussaint and the Isaac(?)/Smith cavalry coming in next season, but he doesn't have to to be a good idea.
Vincent Smith: Did I Do Something Wrong?
Dear Tiny Jesus,
It's me, Vincent. All praise to your save percentage. Could you make sure the spring game is the last time I ever run an iso play from under center? I never go anywhere and it hurts a lot when six 300 pound defensive tackles fling me into the natatorium.
Congratulations on your call-up with the Blue Jackets.
Tiny Bros Before Other Bros,
(Smith will be the third down back again and will level some dudes way bigger than he is to open up third down conversions. The power of Rawls hopefully compels Michigan not to run Smith out of the I any more.)
Spring game disclaimers apply, but where were Jerald Robinson and Roy Roundtree? They were out there. They were not targeted frequently. IIRC Roundtree got a hitch from Robinson on the first drive and then was not gone to again. Robinson featured from time to time but never as a downfield receiver, always as a checkdown option and usually a checkdown option being given a crappy pass.
The only receiver to make an impact was Gallon. I'd prefer Michigan's main target to be a big dude with a bigger catching radius, no offense Denard.
Secondary Status Quo
After a series of video clips heavily featuring comer Terrence Talbott with the ones instead of JT Floyd it was Floyd who got the start Saturday. He played well, making quick tackles on the short stuff. Later he broke up a slant on a goal-line situation only to get a horsecrap PI call (BOOO PRETEND REF, BOOO). While Talbott got some run, I don't think Floyd's job is under serious threat. Especially after Mattison gushed about him at that Glazier clinic some months ago.
As a unit the secondary was excellent. Countess got a pick and there were very few downfield completions. A skinny post from Gardner to Gallon stands out as the only one of note. Default note about how that makes the WRs look bad goes here; comparison to Michigan defenses pre-Mattison also does. To virtually skunk an offense in 60 plays is quality. With Talbott emerging Michigan seems to go four-deep at corner, maybe five or six depending on how ready Hollowell and Taylor are. The comparison to the Never Forget days is wondrous.
If the depth isn't quite as good at safety at least Jarrod Wilson and Marvin Robinson seemed on top of things… most of the time. Wilson was the guy Rawls made most of his highlights against. If either starter goes down there will be some hairy moments. One of the two should be able to replace 80% of Kovacs next year.
Robinson is out of the doghouse and to see him play well was good because I'd gotten some practice buzz that indicated he was out of shape. He's obviously not; he seems tuned in. Michigan will need him. Even if Furman's stuff was as minor as his lawyer suggests he'll be behind this fall. If it's not as minor he might not be available for a while.
Do Not Be Alarmed, Rich Rodriguez Is Still In Arizona
Formations and such: Michigan still can't run out of the I worth a lick, which is fine by me. I suppose we have to downshift into that stuff eventually, but I'd rather it be clear as day that the way to go is shotgun just to prevent any further Iowa-like misunderstandings of where Michigan's capabilities lie.
Aside from that the most interesting aspect of the day's formations was the most common set: two backs, three WRs, shotgun. That was the meat and bones of the spread and shred in its Slaton/White/Schmitt heyday and Michigan has a pretty good replica of that in Toussaint/Robinson/Hopkins, albeit without the spread-oriented OC and the lethality of the spread in the early aughts as allies.
This says what everyone expects about the TEs—yuck—and suggests that if Michigan can't block 'em they're going to spread 'em. If it's going to work they are going to have to make that gray area defender pay for cheating. We'll see.
Brandin Hawthorne: Mauler of Walk-ons
The most interesting thing that happened after Jack Kennedy entered, signaling the end of serious attention from most folk, was Brandin Hawthorne going ham. He shot a gap for a backfield TFL reminiscent of his slice into the Irish backfield late in that game, then intercepted a TE-bound ball on the next play.
He made a few other tackles here and there and looked… really good.
Now, we've seen him on the field and there's only one way Hawthorne making contact with a Big Ten blocker ends. That would be "poorly," and that would be why Desmond Morgan took his job last year and won't give it back this year.
I'm just saying, though. Just sayin' that when Michigan goes to a nickel package on a passing down I think having Hawthorne in there as a blitzer and cover guy instead of Morgan would behoove Michigan. Morgan's a little ponderous on his pass drops, and if it's a passing down Hawthorne's limitations against rushes aren't relevant. Just sayin'. Throwin' it out there.
You, athletic department intern who has to read these things: don't say you got it from me. Ask Mattison to repeat that thing he was saying a couple months ago about using Hawthorne as a nickel WLB and how smart that seemed even before he was killing walk-ons in the spring game. Yeah.
- Bellomy ran a QB power from the gun, so it's still there and it might stick around for a while. Bellomy did decently with it.
- There were also a few inverted veers, none of which went for a ton of yards. Gardner did impressively juke himself into a crease outside on one; he was blown dead before he could test it.
- Kaleb Ringer had an impressive track-and-tackle on Hayes in the open field off a dumpoff. Next play he whiffed a tackle on Toussaint (I think it was him).
- Jeremy Jackson's lack of separation from Blake Countess was… not surprising.
- Demens blanketed a Brandon Moore TE out that Gardner shouldn't have thrown but did; he made a nice play on the ball. His coverage is an underrated aspect of his game.
- Antonio Poole only popped up on my radar when he lost leverage on a Gardner scramble late.
Weather could have been worse. This is what Indiana was facing down for their now-cancelled spring game:
Tre Roberson put the One Ring into the fires of Mount Press Box and things returned to normal.
Random picture on the twitter:
Tuley-Tillman, Bosch… OH GOD WHAT DID THEY DO TO DENARD BREATHE BREATHEEEE
LaQuon Treadwell with Morris and Bosch:
Alumni game recap at AA.com.
Bullets and whatnot from:
Also AA.com has an article on Burzynski.