to play football, not to play trumpet
ryan van bergen
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.]
Slidin' in your DMs like... Via Ace:
Oh, no reason. Wolverine Historian with a two-part Harbaugh tribute:
Hire this man. I would seriously give Ryan Van Bergen a job in the athletic department today:
"In my opinion, and this is going to upset some people, there have been times last three, four years, the environment has been almost toxic with the negativity surrounding the program," Van Bergen said.
"Everything about Michigan poises it for success. The things that obviously are contributing to our recent misfortunes have nothing to do with if we're able to recruit and our facilities. There is blame to be shared among everybody — players, coaching, administration and fans. Everybody who supports the Michigan program needs to evaluate how they're doing it. If they're being negative about it, change that."
Van Bergen has credibility as a guy who's been under all three of the recent regimes, was willing to tell it how it was when Hoke was there, had a superior senior year under Hoke, and will be honest about the issues facing the program even if they're inconvenient.
One less way we can differentiate ourselves from Ohio. This is potentially lame:
Michigan student-athletes at public universities would not be allowed to unionize under state collective bargaining laws if a bill introduced Tuesday in the Michigan House of Representatives becomes law.
House Bill 6074 would require all student-athletes be classified as “students” and keep them from becoming employees of universities. Because the student-athletes could not be classified as public employees, they would not be entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under state law.
I'm not sure if that's the way the law-type thing works. Seems like work is work and a legislature can't wave a wand and declare it not so, but I'm just a common sense type guy, not a law-talkin' one. The guy who sponsored this legislation has the usual mish-mash of non-sequiturs—most college athletes don't go pro in their chosen sport—and false dichotomies—is college about getting an education or making money—in its defense, and I dislike him.
Well, yeah. Fred Jackson in the aftermath:
"I expected a decision to be made today, but I didn't know which way it was going, one way or the other, I had no idea," Jackson said reporters. "I didn't really expect it. I know we didn't play as well as people would like to see us play. I also understand that it's all about winning and losing.
"We didn't win enough games."
Ah, Fred. In four sentences he says 1) he had no idea, 2) he didn't expect it, and 3) they didn't win enough games. Truly a closing statement worthy of a man with sixteen different beverages on his desk, telling you that every back he ever coached was Adrian Peterson on top of a surly dinosaur.
Engineers in the marching band, you say? I am subscribing to your newsletter.
Nooooooo. David Jones has an entertaining article on the enormous, ridiculous Land Grant trophy, which is just getting to the age where its ridiculousness is a real asset instead of a detriment. Jones details its origin story…
When Hoffman picked up the shiny new Land Grant Trophy from a local Lansing sporting goods shop in 1993, he realized it wasn't quite what he'd pictured:
"I thought, 'My God, that's big.' I'll take the blame for it being so big and heavy," said Hoffman when reached on Tuesday in Cleveland where he's in semi-retirement.
The shop owner, whose name escapes Hoffman 21 years later, had taken all of the specifications and come up with something like a paneled rec room from the 1970s with knickknacks and photos attached to it – a Nittany Lion figurine mailed by Thalman, a Sparty gladiator statuette, a generic gold football player tacked on top, photos of Old Main and MSU's counterpart building – all built into a boxy wooden structure. And it had these decks and levels built onto it, like a committee kept deciding to add more stuff.
…and then suggests the thing might not be long for this world:
Alas, I come to you today with a heavy heart. Because I've been informed by powers greater than I that the end may be near for the LGT. For many of us, we'll feel as if an old friend is moving away. A particularly ugly old friend. It's going to be like comedians saying goodbye to Dan Quayle.
But Penn State officials have, as officials like to say today, "reached out" to Michigan State officials about the future viability of the LGT, "moving forward." When you have a traveling trophy, it's probably best that it can be transported in something other than the bed of a semi-tractor trailer.
To which I say fie. The Land Grant trophy may be the ugly duckling of the trophy world, but it has a charm the "Freedom Trophy" lacks. Keep it.
I know problems. You have problems. Interesting Tim Kawakami article on the dysfunction in the 49ers front office, which is far from all Harbaugh:
York doesn’t like talking to the local media (but Harbaugh’s camp is sure York loves secretly talking to the national media and I can’t disagree with Harbaugh’s camp on that).
Baalke despises almost all media–Baalke really doesn’t like most people, period. He’s a pure scout, cold, clipped, anti-social and often angry.
That works tremendously in the film room or out on the road scouting (Baalke probably is on the road more than any GM in the NFL), but maybe not so well when personalities and philosophies have to be managed.
Oh, and you might’ve heard that Harbaugh is volatile and occasionally crazed. That Harbaugh actually likes it better when things are rattled and people are on edge, all the better to find out what his associates are made of.
Well, Harbaugh has found out exactly what York and Baalke are made of. And they’ve made their decision on him.
Good luck with that, guys.
Etc.: Player react twitter roundup. Almost all about how Hoke was a great dude without any shots at the decision or fanbase. Timely M Heritage article about dudes against football back in the day. Orson goes to Tallahassee. At least Hoke recruited really well. Tinder trolling is now a thing.
[Ed-H: Bump. There, I did it. No more Urban Meyer.]
I got a little busy at work during the winter, and then recruiting magic was happening, and then I figured it was too late for this post. But finally I got a day off, and it's raining, and I've had these screencaps online for 6 months, and I've got literally nothing better to do for a few hours on this sunday. So here is the Nebraska game wrap (with pics!)
That was kind of unexpected. AND AWESOME! It was without a doubt our best game of the year. Heck it was our best game IN YEARS. It was maybe the best team performance since the 1997 PSU game, although I'm probably forgetting some good ones in between.
During the game, I remember thinking the score was pretty close and anything could happen until the turnovers made it a laugher. But after watching it a few times since then, we really did dominate in all phases of the game.
By the end of the 3rd, the stat sheet was pretty one-sided. They really only had 2 great plays all game. (Two plays that I highlighted in the preview post.... so maybe I'm not completely stupid. Still, I did rag on MSU's O-line which gelled pretty strongly by mid-season. ooops.)
Defending the option
Like most of the Michigan fan base, I have huge man crush on Mattison. The things he and his staff are doing, and the performances they're getting from our players are out of this world. I would love to just sit at his feet, follow him around, and absorb as much football knowledge as possible.
If you've accomplished as much as this man, people won't make a big deal out of you using your moobs to signal the playcall. (This GA knowns that peripheral vision is sometimes a weird thing.)
Defending the option is so simple, yet so hard. You need your players to know their assignments and play with decisiveness.Here is Jake Ryan demonstrating the textbook definition of "forcing the pitch".
Nebraska has this play blocked pretty much as you would draw it up. Ryan is the 'optioned' man who is unblocked. Martinez doesn't see the whole open up on the backside, but he's running to where the play is called. He's supposed to read Ryan and "make him wrong".
Jake's first step is lateral as if he's going to squeeze the zone on the slot receiver. But when he sees the option motion coming towards him, he cuts upfield with authority. Martinez reads him correctly, and it looks like this should be a decent gain for the Huskers.
Meanwhile, Mike Martin has beaten his block and is pursuing to stop cutbacks, and the secondary is coming up in run support.
Ryan's change of direction is so fast that Martinez can't get a good pitch off with his left hand. Burkhead managed to fall on the loose ball, but if he hadn't we had two guys coming up quickly and there would have been no way for Martinez to get it with his face planted in the ground. The moral of the story is that one way to defend the option is to make those options keep the ball and get killed, or pitch the ball and get killed.
Another way to stop the option is to get an unexpected defender free. Nebraska comes out in a 4-wide set to try to get a good personnel matchup. But we just stay in our base 4-3 so it doesn't matter when the TE comes down to the line of scrimmage.
Mike Martin explodes through the line and forces the pitch FROM THE BACK SIDE. That's impressive.
Meanwhile, Kovacs is up in run support and all over his assignment as you would expect from a player of his intelligence. He reacts so quickly that the blocker whiffs on him. And the pursuit isn't giving Burkhead anywhere to go.
Getting a 5 yard TFL on first down against your opponent's bread and butter play ... that's a good a thing.
Getting off blocks
One of the stark differences between last year's defense and .... uh ... others... was how well they were getting off blocks and getting to the ball. I don't want to disparage former defensive coaches...BUT the improvement was remarkable.
We're in our zone blitz package with Martin dropping and Demens rushing. Demens gets doubled. That's a pretty big weight disadvantage for him.
So he squares up and gets some arm's length separation from the defenders, one of whom starts looking for someone else to block.
Martinez decides the coverage is too good and thinks he can squirt through that passing lane. But both Demens and Ryan see it, react to it, and clamp down on that hole.
Ryan slaps the ball out. Check out how far away from the ball Van Bergen is. But he's got his head up, he's disengaged from his blocker, and he's pursuing the ball.
One funny bounce later and it's in RVB's hands. Brian keeps saying that fumble recoveries are just luck and 50-50 propositions. I would disagree and say the fumble recovery percentage is more of a function of the number of each team's players near the ball when the fumble happens. In this case, we were a little lucky because Nebraska had more guys near the ball. But if RVB isn't hustling and getting off his blocker, our chances of getting that ball go from slim to none. So yes, luck plays a part, but I don't believe it's JUST luck or that it will always regress to the mean..
And lets not forget the good hustle and technique which caused the fumble in the first place. Strip that ball!
(The other 85% after the jump)
Hey, kids. Ace is off for the next week and I return to recruiting roundup duties.
Poggi: I don't care that it's not pronounced like that, I'll get nostalgic for slammers anyway
I never played pogs so I may be off on the lingo. Anyway.
Anyway… MD DT Henry Poggi jumped on a Michigan offer recently, sending the usual folks to scouts to tell us what we've won. Mike Farrell makes it sound like we've won Ryan Van Bergen 2.0($):
There's not an ounce of baby fat left on him, and he's got a frame to hold 285 pounds without losing a step. The player Gilman assistant Henry Russell once said played with a "ridiculous" motor never came off the field between tight end and defensive tackle, but he never slowed down, either, "a tribute to his character." …
"Henry is athletic and quick, but he's very technically sound, too. He does a really good job with his arms and gets off the snap, doesn't lose balance. If you try to cut him or go low in traffic, he's very good at keeping his feet."
RVB barely came off the field in his last three years and always—always—kept his feet. Poggi is a bit shorter and may be more of a quick-twitch guy; otherwise that's a tight comparison.
I hear your Opening has an… opening
Nike's high-falutin' big time big timer camp with the artsy name continues to issue invitations to Michigan recruits. IL OL Kyle Bosch is the eighth Michigan commit to get a trip to Oregon paid for, joining Logan Tuley-Tillman, Shane Morris, David Dawson, Jourdan Lewis, Mike McCray, Taco Charlton, and Jake Butt. Serious targets Laquon Treadwell, Leon McQuay III, and Joe Mathis (hey, top three at this instant) are also scheduled to attend. That is a lot of names I would normally bold if they weren't crammed together so tightly.
I'll be most interested in how McCray, Butt, and LTT show up. By this point we know what Morris and Dawson and Lewis and Charlton are (probably) going to do; the previous three haven't been making as much noise on the camp scene or, in LTT's case, are working their way back into healthy shape.
Joe Mathis knows how to plan a visit
Tim Sullivan catches up with CA DE Joe Mathis, who backs off his stated top three of Washington, Nebraska, and Michigan a little bit in favor of a broader top ten, declares he'll officially visit Hawaii—a team not in his top ten—and says Michigan sees the 6'3", 245 pound end as (surprise!) a Baltimore Raven($):
"When they've talked to me, they want me to play like a Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens," he said. "That's kind of the defensive player they'd want me to be at Michigan, a standup defensive end."
That would make him a WDE, which is plausible. He also mentions probable officials to Arizona State and Michigan. If those come off like that you might begin to feel cautiously good about landing Mathis—an official to sort of stated leader but not other sort of stated leaders would seem to bode well. Except this is one of those shapeshifting recruits, so… yeah. In an article just a day later($), Mathis says he'll visit Michigan and Washington officially but isn't sure about going back to Nebraska because he was there for four days and thus risks death by boredom if he ever returns*. In an article a day after that one($), Mathis says he is "definitely" visiting Michigan for the OSU game—which is in Columbus—and may go to LSU for their game against Alabama.
Next week: Mathis declares Miami his leader and that he is a peanut butterfly.
*[this may not be an exact quote]
2014 Caremeter: incrementing
The pool of 2014 players who are not random names to be googled if they become relevant at a future date incremented by one after the Sound Mind, Sound Body camp when Cass Tech CB/WR Damon Webb picked up a Michigan offer. He joins DE Malik McDowell as an in-state kid with an offer widely regarded to be a Michigan lean; add in Todd Howard protégé Parrker Westphal—still not a typo—and those are your contenders for first 2014 commit. Ace covered Webb's impressive performance at the SMSB camp yesterday…
Webb turned heads a couple weeks ago when he blanketed Laquon Treadwell at the IMG 7-on-7 and he built on that with an MVP-worthy performance yesterday. Despite being a year younger, Webb has more bulk on his 5'11" frame than his teammate Jourdan Lewis, and like Lewis he's an outstanding athlete.
Also like Lewis, Webb can play either wide receiver or cornerback at the next level, though his size suggests that corner is his optimal position. He was fantastic playing corner in the one-on-one drills, staying step-for-step with Lewis—though Jourdan managed to bring in a diving catch—and 2013 Notre Dame commit James Onwualu, who was torching the less-heralded prospects. Webb faced Onwualu three times, and aside from slipping on a hitch route, he came out on top.
…and someone asked Allen Trieu for a instate top ten($) on the Scout message board that featured Webb #3 behind McDowell and Grand Rapids dual-sport star Drake Harris, who will play wideout if he picks football for college. Those three players were a cut above a trailing group of nine including all three Cass linebackers and yet another Bullough from Traverse City who will be an early commit to Michigan State. This one's named Byron.
Webb looks like he'll extend Cass Tech's streak of sending a corner recruit to a BCS school to a remarkable six straight years. They're even growing them a little bigger these days.
As for where Webb might end up…
“It would play a factor,” he explained. “I’d be comfortable there. I’d know that. And that’s a main factor - feeling comfortable.”
“I’m looking for comfortablity in a college and I would like my parents to come see me and play. That’s a big factor too. If I’m comfortable there, and then the education – if they have my major and what I plan to study.”
…Michigan's in decent shape.
As for McDowell, Matt Pargoff caught up with him. He's playing it cool these days:
“I went for the spring game … Michigan was real fun. All the coaches had their attention on me. I got to talk to all the coaches besides Brady Hoke. He was stuck talking to reporters.
“It was real fun. The crowd was real hyped. It wasn’t as big as a normal Big House game, but it was still fun.”
He says a decision won't come until he's in the midst of his senior year. I bet that timeline changes.
Elsewhere in 2014 recruits to maybe care about some, early five-star OL Damian Prince tells 247 he's "really interested($)" in Michigan and Tremendous catches up with FL OL Mason Cole, who claims offers from M, OSU, and Florida amongst others. Cole moved from Chicago when he was eight and still has a ton of family in the area; he's also planning a visit in early August. He'll be one to keep an eye on.
Other SMSB Takes
You've read Ace's take on things from the camp unless you're a bad person. Others are also saying things about activities. 247's Clint Brewster($) on Shane Morris's showing:
Morris dropped-jaws with his impeccable footwork and ultra-quick release. Morris is so smooth and sound in his mechanics and can effortlessly fire the ball down field with just a quick flick of his wrist. Morris has also bulked up to over 200 pounds of solid muscle. The future couldn’t look any brighter for Michigan with Morris under center.
I'll take it. The rest of the article continues in that vein about Michigan recruits, though, so you may want to take that with a grain of salt.
Maize and Blue News has takes on the relevant folks in attendance, and the evaluations are on the more credible end of things. Pargoff's take on LTT:
OL Logan Tuley-Tillman – Peoria (Ill.)
Tuley-Tillman noted that he has lost a fair amount of weight recently, but still has some pounds to drop. The latter part of that statement was evident, though the improved conditioning appeared to help his game. He wasn’t as impressive as Dawson, but had a solid showing overall. There were some good reps and some not so good ones.
The biggest area for improvement right now remains conditioning. He has the feet and the athleticism to play at the Big Ten level, but he still needs to drop some fat and replace it with muscle.
Webb, Dawson, York, and Morris also feature.
Josh Helmholdt also breaks down the OL and DL. David Dawson:
Dawson only attended the first day of the camp, but was the standout of the offensive line group as he has been at several of the recent camps he has attended in the last few months. Physically, Dawson is starting to develop his upper body, which was an area that was lacking earlier in his career. His strength, as a result, has also improved and he is unbeatable once he locks on to defenders. Dawson always brings a passion to compete and shows good leadership skills as well.
Malik McDowell, meanwhile, arrived at the camp looking "noticeably thicker" and is now a strapping 280 pounds. LTT "did a good job handling a very capable group of speed rushers and was much lighter on his feet than his last performance."
Allen Trieu's defensive recap says McDowell was possibly the best player there despite being a rising junior($) and has the usual level of praise for Jourdan Lewis:
Michigan commit Jourdan Lewis again locked up nearly everyone he went up against. He has great feet, change of direction and excellent ball skills. His long arms allow him to play a little bigger than his listed size too.
OH WR Jaron Dukes is committed to Michigan, and Michigan is committed to him. This is news because one of the Ohio State insiders ("Nevadabuck," if you follow things closely enough to have heard of random internet insiders with occasionally-accurate information and a massively inflated view of themselves) claimed that Michigan was dropping the kid. A flurry of worried phone calls later and there's the usual array of clearing-the-air-type articles($).
Nothing to see here, etc. Michigan loves them some oversized WRs with large catching radii, and Dukes is that in spades.
CA WR Darren Carrington, a new offeree from Hoke's old stomping grounds in San Diego, is tentatively planning on camping($). 2014 IL LB Clifton Garrett plans a visit to Michigan($) for the BBQ. GRIII's younger brother, 2014 IN LB Gelen Robinson, will attend Michigan's camp($). Here's an article on… guh… a class of 2015 QB from Canada. Already 6'5", though. 2014 OH QB DeShone Kizer on a recent Illinois offer($): ""Being from Ohio, I really don't know a lot about Illinois yet." Ouch.
Two OL Michigan would normally be in on but for having all the OL already: Cass Tech OL Dennis Finley has just blown up, getting offers from Wisconsin, MSU, and OSU after his SMSB showing, and Eleven Warriors talks with OH OL Matt Miller, the younger brother of center heir apparent Jack Miller, after his appearance at OSU's camp.
Good lord, this was brutal. Hockey had a pretty clear cutoff that sat nicely at five, and getting to five in basketball was a stretch. I left Steve Breaston, Leon Hall, Allan Branch, and Zoltan Mesko out here. Jebus.
PROS: Tough-talking no-neck was a four year starter at center perfectly suited for Michigan's zone running game; won the Rimington as a senior. Hilarious interview with absolutely no regard for cliché. High fantangibles rating. At times seemed to be the difference between doom and success in the Michigan ground game. Broke something serious in his foot in the Sugar Bowl, watched Rocko Khoury make some panic snaps on Michigan's first series, and played the rest of the game seriously damaged.
Experienced both coaching changes and was one of the seniors Who Stayed™. A huge factor in the locker room uniting behind Hoke.
CONS: Had some injury problems. Inexplicably had his snap count jumped against MSU and only MSU for like three straight years.
PROS: Four-year contributor and three-year starter who always teetered on the edge of being great. Finally accelerated down the senior-year stretch into a dominant nose tackle. During this period forced a pitch on a Nebraska speed option.
This is about all you need to know. You could not block him. Michigan's insanely good third/fourth and short defense started with him (and ended with Kovacs).
But wait, there's more: with Michigan's already-thin defensive line depth shattered by injury before the Sugar Bowl, Martin and Van Bergen faced off with future first-round pick David Wilson in a game where getting a stop meant you got four snaps before you were back on the field. They singlehandedly kept Michigan in the game despite dying halfway through the second quarter. A performance that should pass into legend the same way Hunwick's North Dakota game will.
Also a member of Those Who Stayed™. Along with Molk and Van Bergen, Martin got the Full Andy Dufresne from his time at Michigan.
CONS: Seemingly endorses "In The Big House." Not as highly regarded by the NFL as a few other guys on this list.
Ryan Van Bergen
PROS: Third and final member of Those Who Stayed™ on the list. Also a four-year contributor and longtime starter, underrated because of his lack of playmaking but still the TFL leader on last year's team. The other guy holding Michigan's defensive line together through sheer force of will in the Sugar Bowl. Virtually impossible to knock down. Screwed up a check in the 2009 Indiana game, leading to an 85-yard touchdown, then singlehandedly annihilated the next IU drive, giving Michigan a chance to pull it out.
CONS: Probably the least-great player on this list. Here as a tribute to Michigan's phoenix act in 2011. Not enticing to NFL. Still… look at that. This is not a list of the best players ever, so…
PROS: The best player on an awful Michigan defense and awful Michigan teams. Did not get the Full Andy Dufresne since his career ended halfway through the sewage tube. Still bore all of this with a Denard-like beatific smile. Just killed people, all the time.
NFL did really like him, drafting him in the top half of the first round.
CONS: Unfortunately his impact was limited because the team around him was terrible.
PROS: Sideline-to-sideline missile was cerebral to the point of near-genius. Always there. Always. Made a habit out of juking(!) offensive linemen in zone schemes, making them think the play was going one way, then exploding into the ballcarrier when this was not the case. Junior year was tremendously underrated thanks to chaos around him; was major lynchpin and possibly the best player on Michigan's monster 2006 defense. Yes, I mean that seriously.
Early and still prime example of the usefulness of UFRing makes him near to my heart; not sure if you care. Validated all praise from Michigan fans by instantly becoming NFL tackling machine upon entry to the league.
Kind of looks like Worf.
CONS: Lacks iconic wow play. Others started longer than he did.
PROS: Emphatically does not have David Harris's problem since he was the target on two of the most iconic plays of the aughts: Oh, Wide Open and Lloyd Carr's Last Second. An electric playmaker the rest of the time, a guy who wasn't the biggest but was the fastest and hardest to keep track of. Had that brilliant slow-up-to-stall-the-DB-then-extend-for-the-TD move down pat. More of a technician than given credit for. Whenever I think of Manningham, I think of that Citrus Bowl when DeBord said "screw it, spread time" and Holly Rowe reporting that Florida deathbacker Brandon Spikes was chasing Manningham all over the field on his incessant end-arounds, saying "damn, boy, you good."
Did the worm after the 2007 Penn State win.
CONS: Got suspended for the weed, something that took some doing in the mid-aughts. Widely regarded as kind of maybe not the nicest guy to ever make it through the program.
PROS: Amongst the nicest guys to ever make it through the program. Skillet-sized hands are made of industrial-strength adhesive. An elite-level possession receiver who was everyone's safety blanket. Targeted all the time and made all the catches. Probably the most common ex-player to be referenced in "You May Remember Me From Such Players As," to the point where I actively try to avoid it now.
That about sums it up.
CONS: Did drop that one pass once, you know, that one. Never a huge deep threat.
PROS: Four year starter with great backstory and running style burned into your brain. No speed at all but capable of juking in a phone booth and grinding out two, three, four yards after contact. Got a standing ovation for a particular eight yard run against Penn State once. Came out of a tiny school in upstate New York with outlandish rushing stats and a youtube clip in which he jukes every player on the opposing team twice.
Never, ever fumbled except twice inside the five against Florida in his last game. Pretty much the only thing standing between Michigan and a yards per carry under three during his time at Michigan.
CONS: Injury prone. Started this incredibly annoying "little brother" business. Spice added by mouth often backfired; went 0-fer against OSU.
PROS: Kills people. Brandon Graham was Woodley 2.0, a devastating defensive end who could not be blocked one-on-one. Has enormous Wolverine tattoo on arm. Finished off the Oh Wide Open game with the Yakety-sax-capping scoop and score. Fighting with David Harris and Allan Branch for title of best player on 2006 defense.
CONS: OSU 0-fer does not quite apply but really kind of does since he did not contribute much in 2003. That's about it. Kind of think maybe Graham was better since he had way less help and still produced.
PROS: Is he a man or a block-long wall? Only his mother knows, and these days she's not even sure. Four-year starter who rolled off the NFL left tackle prototype line and let exactly zero guys not roid-raging get to the quarterback when he was on the field. The first overall pick his draft year, all-American everywhere, etc, etc, etc, you get the idea.
CONS: Fantangibles low. Another Michigan great who had to suffer through the indignity of 0-fer OSU. Hurt most of the 2005 season. Not sure what I'd write about him.
Vastly underrated; properly rated
Previously: The Offense
My look back at Brian's epic 2011 football preview continues with the defense. This one got a lot more interesting than the offense, because despite all the warm fuzzies we felt from the GERG-to-Greg transition*, expecting a jump from the #110 total defense to #17 would have been outrageous. As in get-this-man-a-straitjacket outrageous.
Thankfully, the performance of the defense exceeded all reasonable expectations, and even most of the unreasonable ones. Let's peep last year's predictions, shall we?
*Not to mention the Tony-Gibson-to-Anyone-But-Tony-Gibson transition.
The move to three-tech won't be an issue [for Ryan Van Bergen]. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.
RVB actually ended up at strongside DE, which probably helped him lead the team with 12.5 TFLs. He ended up earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from both the coaches and media and graduating as one of the most beloved Wolverines in recent memory.
Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.
Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.
A year after inexplicably having to move past not just Obi Ezeh, but converted fullback Mark Moundros, on the depth chart at middle linebacker despite subsequently making it painfully obvious that he should've been the starter all along, Demens had his breakout season. He led the team with 94 tackles—second was Jordan Kovacs at 75—and saw his TFLs jump to a respectable five. Like Van Bergen, Demens was an all-conference honorable mention.
Even so, [Kovacs's] season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.
He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.
This may still be underselling Kovacs, who took to competent coaching even better than expected and became the team's rock in the secondary, covering for his athletic limitations with usually-impeccable positioning. No, he's not Reggie Nelson, but I don't think you can find a remotely rational Michigan fan who harbors even the tiniest bit of ill will towards Kovacs. Michigan's shocking lack of big plays allowed—both against the pass and the run—can largely be attributed to his play; despite missing a game, Kovacs led the team with 51 solo tackles. He also notched 8 TFLs. All hail Kovacs.
I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.
This time around, the optimism regarding the free safety position was justified. Thomas Gordon had his share of struggles, especially late in the season, but for the most part he was quite competent. Around here, safety competence is a luxury on par with consistent placekicking.
Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.
Michigan finished with 2.3 sacks per game. That put them at... 29th. Tip o' the cap.
Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.
Brian's continued insistence that turnover luck would someday go Michigan's way finally paid off; the Wolverines forced 29 turnovers. It also helped that this defense actually tackled people.
EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL
YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW RIGHT THIS WOULD BE.
Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.
No full credit simply because Mike Jones was projected as the starter at WLB, a fact I had completely forgotten about until I looked back at the preview. Morgan ended up playing in 12 games, starting seven (the first being in week two against ND), and finished fifth on the team in tackles.
If [J.T. Floyd] gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.
This wasn't really a prediction, but... yeah. Tony Gibson minus all of the points.
Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.)
Points for mentioning Countess as the most likely freshman to see the field. No points for giving him one sentence when he took over the starting job by midseason, especially considering the Christian caveat. As you'll see, the hype that should've surrounded Countess went—justifiably, in the preseason—to Courtney Avery.
Not So Much
Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11. Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.
I hate that I have to put this prediction in this category, but here it is. While Martin was the best player on the defense, his numbers were hampered by having to play the nose; he finished with six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Despite the lack of statistical production, Martin's efforts were recognized with second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also forced a pitch on a speed option. See you on Sundays, MM.
"Experience" was why [Will Heininger] got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.
The biggest swing-and-a-miss on the list. Heininger swapped spots with RVB and started all 12 regular-season games at five-tech DT before missing the Sugar Bowl with a foot injury. He exceeded all expectations of a walk-on raised in the shadow of the Big House, proving he could hold his own against Big Ten competition and be a positive force on the interior. After the season, Brian ranked him as the third most siginificant departure on the defense, behind only Martin and Van Bergen. While part of that is due to the remaining depth along the defensive line, I don't think anyone thought Heininger's absence would be felt in such a way.
Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.
If you're saying "who?" you're probably not alone (though you read this blog, so you probably aren't saying "who?"). Walk-on Nathan Brink was penciled in as the starting SDE at one point in the fall, earning much preseason praise for his unlikely rise up the depth chart. After garnering all that hype, however, he made almost no impact, recording just one tackle while barely seeing the field. He's a prime example of why you must take all offseason practice hype with a grain of salt, especially when said hype involves previously-unknown walk-ons.
We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.
Playing his third position in three seasons, Roh didn't quite go bonkers, tallying four sacks and eight TFLs. Roh's play still markedly improved from his previous two seasons, but he still hasn't lived up to the sky-high recruiting hype. Much of the blame for that can fall upon the shoulders of Greg Robinson and Co., and we'll see if one last position switch, this time to SDE, finally results in Roh producing double-digit sacks.
In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.
Ryan became a pleasant early-season surprise when he started against Western Michigan and made his presence felt by batting an Alex Carder pass that Brandon Herron would intercept and return 94 yards to the house. While certainly more of an asset against the pass than the run—his balls-to-the-wall approach was great on blitzes, but not always sound when keeping contain—Ryan proved that he was by far the best option on the strong side. Just one year later, all-conference honors are very much in play.
Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.
Troy Woolfolk's return from the exploding ankle of doom wasn't as triumphant as we all hoped. While he started ten games—six at corner and four at safety—Woolfolk never looked fully comfortable on the field and was supplanted at each position by a younger player (Countess at corner, Gordon at safety). It would be quite a surprise to see him taken in this week's NFL draft.
Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.
After showing much promise as a true freshman, Avery was the obvious candidate to grow into a big-time role as the team's top corner of the present and future. Instead, he started the first two games, then ceded that role to J.T. Floyd, Woolfolk, and eventually Countess. Avery was a solid nickel corner, and should reprise that role in 2012, but his progression wasn't as great as expected.
Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.
Nein. Despite Michigan's impressive rise in team sacks, they were spread pretty evenly across both the D-line and the back seven thanks to Mattison's blitz-happy approach. Ryan Van Bergen paced the team with 5.5, with Jordan Kovacs actually tying Roh for second with four.
Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.
I know Brian has no complaints about being so hilariously wrong on this one. As noted above, the Wolverines finished 17th in yardage allowed, and they also shot up to sixth (faints) in points allowed. Football Outsiders's FEI metric ranked them as the #16 defense in the country. Despite watching every second of the 2011 season (usually twice), I still have a hard time not believing I'm the victim of an elaborate hoax or a drug experiment gone horribly awry. If you see me waking up in a gutter and GERG is still the defensive coordinator, please do me a favor and run me over with an SUV. Make sure to double-tap, please.