9/17/2016 – Michigan 45, Colorado 28 – 3-0
linebacker on fire [Patrick Barron]
Let's say you're on the sideline of a football game. You've got a job to do, and you're doing it. This job involves looking at things other than the field, so you rely on your colleagues to let you know when the action threatens to spill over into your area of the sideline.
This is a fine system. You've honed it over the years. People move at a certain speed, you see, and when you hear "heads up" you get your head up, evaluate the situation, and avoid the brunt of the contact. Tried, and true, this system. Damn near infallible, in fact. At no point have you looked winged death straight in the facemask.
Then, this Saturday. Just after your team has taken a very unexpected second-half lead, the system kicks in. "Heads up." Head goes up. This is a process, though, and as you are in the midst of this process your brain starts signaling to you that something is wrong. The tone of voice, maybe? An ominous breeze? What's that thing with the sirens going by? Doppler effect? Whatever it is, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up straight. The process is complete now. Your head is up.
The system has failed.
The system was designed with certain tolerances and Jabrill Peppers has just blown through all of them. You are now staring winged death straight in the facemask. What a terrible time for it to be, now. Before is good. Later is good, assuming that there will in fact be a later. Now… now is bad. You spin the fight or flight wheel and land on "soil yourself."
And who can blame you, really?
Sphincters are also designed with certain tolerances. In your own way you've just blown through as many of them as Jabrill Peppers has in the realm of physics. So you've got that going for you.
There is a certain kind of person—usually a rival fan with a brain that could be cooled down to meat-locker temperatures without any discernible ill effect—who spent most of the offseason bleating about excessive hype for Jabrill Peppers. Peppers didn't have a bunch of shiny counting stats, you see, and therefore he was worse than other people who did.
This argument, already dead in the water to any slightly objective person with eyes, is now beyond repair. Peppers has a decent season's worth of linebacker stats three games in: 9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three QB hurries, and a forced fumble. He leads Michigan with 28 tackles, 19 of them solo. He's got 173 punt return yards—an average of 22 yards a pop!—and has just started contributing on offense.
Linear extrapolation of these numbers gets to territory so uncharted that Captain Janeway and her crew of morons show up to survey it. We probably shouldn't do that. Spicy stats will get rarer as the competition level increases… insofar as it does. Rutgers is still on the schedule, after all. Maryland—which just went to double OT with Central Florida—is also on the docket. Penn State and Wisconsin have offensive lines that are, uh, in flux. Peppers might not might meet significantly more resistance except in a few games.
So screw it! Linear extrapolation: 112 tackles, 38 for loss, 10 sacks, a thousand return yards and however many touchdowns, and whatever he chips in on offense. Ahahahahahaha.
PICTURED: THE BIG TEN CONFERENCE
This was a concerning game for several reasons, not least of them the fact that a middling-at-best Pac-12 school was driving to go up 28-7 in front of a shocked Michigan Stadium. Post Traumatic Hoke Disorder was in full effect amongst the 110,000 gathered. Personally, I was not having a real good time. I went into emotional shutoff mode, as is my wont, and contemplated how I was going to break it to MGoBlog readers that I was moving to Bolivia, as is also my wont.
Peppers didn't rescue that himself. I had a fist pump after Rashan Gary came around the corner and a ragged exhalation when Amara Darboh dismissed a couple tacklers to turn a tunnel screen into a touchdown. Michigan's rebound from a game they certainly lose in the previous regime was a collective effort. That collective effort was mostly accepted on mute.
The one guy who pierced right through that attempted stoicism was Peppers. Because BANG he's thumping some dude in the backfield and BANG he's just slashed upfield through the first wave of punt defenders and BANG he has sacked the quarterback before he's even finished his drop. Even when you're trying not to feel anything in case the feelings are horrible, it's impossible to see Peppers and not think OH HELL YES SOMETHING 'BOUT TO BE ON FIRE I CAN'T FEEL MY FAAAACE LET'S GO PUNCH A LEOPARD WOO.
Offense or defense, doesn't matter. He's the best lion. He sinks his meaty claws into anyone with the temerity to test his edge. He's the best gazelle. He slashes through a line of claws without ill effect. He is sui generis, the scourge of sphincters, and someone put him in a winged helmet to rouse the inert from their stupors and send them to their local superstores in search of an axe appropriate for crazed berserking. Check.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jabrill Peppers is an easy selection after 3.5 TFLs, a sack, two rushes for 24 yards, a kickoff return to the Colorado 45, and four punt returns averaging 25 yards a pop including the game-sealing touchdown. Peppers has been everything he's been hyped up to be so far this year. The busted coverage is a demerit, and this is still an easy pick.
#2 Jake Butt was the one consistently positive target in Michigan's passing game, with seven catches for 87 yards; I also caught a couple of positive run-blocking events on Michigan's big plays.
#3 Ben Gedeon had 12 tackles, a critical sack early in the game, and was a major component of Michigan's interior run defense. Pop pass issues may have been on him and McCray but asking LBs to respond to RPOs like that is asking for trouble; I'm assuming those are on the safeties.
Honorable mention: Khalid Hill would have made it if I wasn't pretty sure he got Speight killed on the sack/strip. Rashan Gary, Chris Wormley, and Ryan Glasgow were key components of a stout interior run defense.
5: Jabrill Peppers((T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF).
2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3, Colorado).
0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Peppers finally gets his return touchdown and seals the game.
Honorable mention: Matching 45 yard touchdowns down the edge by De'Veon Smith and Amara Darboh; various other Peppers things.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
A blown protection gets Wilton Speight blindsided for a 14-0 Colorado lead and a first quarter of deep panic.
Honorable mention: A blown coverage results in a long post touchdown to open things up for CU; Colorado strikes back at the beginning of the first half with a 70-yard bomb.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
[After THE JUMP: SPEIGHTDOWN, also bad thing discussion]
Getting any sleep?
“The usual in-season sleep, right?”
How much is that?
“Oh…we get a good amount of sleep. Enough to be full-go the next day. Who’s starting us off today?”
What were your thoughts of Wilton in the first game?
“I was real happy with the way he played. I don’t think you could have asked for too much better. We missed three throws out of the 13 we attempted. One of them was I think a jump ball or up for grabs for Amara, which he probably underthrew just a little bit, and then one of them was-kind of got turned around on a flat route that he threw. And then the first play of the game, which he rushed and Jake really didn’t run a great route. Ball never should have been thrown at that point in time, but other than that made all the right decisions.
“Threw some beautiful balls. Hit, I think, 11 different receivers or something to that effect. Played smart, played good. You know, that a tough deal [when] your first throw is an interception and then the next time you throw you’re on the minus-seven yard line or whatever it was. Threw that slant and did a great job.”
He made a point of saying how much Jim almost laughed off the first one, said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it.’ How do coaches make the decision between hard coaching and just giving a guy confidence there?
“What I was always—kind of the school that I was from was you coach them as hard as you want on Sunday-Friday, and then on Saturday, I mean, you’ve got to be their advocate on gameday because they’re the only ones that are really going through the war on that gameday situation. To second guess and to question things on gameday, to be overly critical on gameday, I don’t know where the value is.
“Sunday we go into the film review or Monday and look through it and make all the corrections necessary. Our job at that point in time is really to support them and try to give them the best chance to succeed.”
What are the things that set him apart and how hard a decision was that?
“It’s a decision that went down to the end. The way I described it to the quarterbacks was Wilton kind of had the pole position after spring. He kind of had a little bit of an edge, and the race started and the green flag was waved and people were trying to pass people but he just kind of never got passed. He never got passed. He just continued to play better. And Coach Harbaugh always says iron sharpens iron. I think what happened was as John and Shane started playing better so did Wilton, and it was just one of those deals where nobody lost the job. Wilton just, going into the opening day, won the job.”
Grant Perry said Wilton really prepared for this job, studied film, and kind of slipped himself under Jake Rudock’s wing. How did that preparation give Wilton an edge in that competition?
“I think they all did that, to be honest. I mean, John lived with Jake all last year, so John knew exactly how Jake prepared. Shane is constantly up here. You can always see Shane watching film and studying. Wilton has a quiet way about himself. Doesn’t really go out on the forefront and tell you what he does, but he worked very hard at it.
“He’s very prepared. I think that has a lot to do with it. You obviously want to show up and be ready to execute and be ready to understand the plays that are being called and call them fast, get out of the huddle quick and let everybody know that you know the offense.”
[After THE JUMP: the mentality of and expectations for every backup QB, team speed, upgraded weapons, and Speight’s development]
IT JUST SO HAPPENS THAT YOUR QUARTERBACK HERE IS ONLY MOSTLY DEAD
The Law of Harbaugh: it doesn't matter who your QB is [Bryan Fuller]
Midway through last season this space was openly wondering if Jake Rudock had some sort of disease that prevented him from doing quarterback good. Many theories were theorized. Eastern Shriveled Limb. Leaf's Palsy. The Harrington Syndrome. Akili's Aphid Aphasia. Whatever it was, it warn't good. Headstones were prepared. Ornamental flowers were arranged. Tuxes were rented. Boyz II Men was booked to sing "End Of The Road."
Then Jake Rudock erupted flaming from his own corpse. Pro Football Focus's #150 quarterback out of 159 qualifiers through week nine put the sword to a series of pass defenses ranging from comical (Indiana) to Nazgul in helmets (OSU, Florida), pulled his team's ass out of the fire repeatedly, finished as the second most efficient quarterback in the Big Ten, and got drafted. By the time the smoke cleared last year's Rudock MGo-prediction had gone from a millstone I'd wear around my neck until the end of time to dead on, as it were:
Rudock starts the whole year and turns in a season like last year at Iowa except more efficient: 60% completions, 8 YPA, excellent TD/INT.
64%, 7.8 YPA, 20-9 TD/INT. Rack it? Is that what we say? Someone with a moist goatee tell me the etiquette here.
Anyway. Rudock's surge from Iowa leftovers to sixth-round pick now goes on the Harbaugh quarterback tote board:
- helped Rich Gannon(!) win the 2002 NFL MVP award,
- developed non-scholarship San Diego's Josh Johnson into a third-place finisher for the Walter Payton, the I-AA Heisman, and the first draft pick in school history,
- recruited and developed Andrew Luck,
- salvaged Alex Smith's NFL career and got him a huge contract despite the fact that he simultaneously...
- advocated for, drafted, and developed Colin Kaepernick into a legit starting NFL QB when few thought he could make the transition from the Nevada pistol, and
- molded would-be Iowa backup Jake Rudock into a sixth-round draft pick.
The only point in Harbaugh's coaching career that he didn't have a quarterback somewhere between good and great was his first two years at a 1-11 Stanford program that had been driven off several increasingly tall cliffs before his arrival. And one of those guys beat USC at the height of its Pete Carroll power.
On one level, "who is the starting quarterback?" is the single most critical question about the 2016 Michigan Wolverines. On another level, eh, it'll be fine.
[After THE JUMP: people on this year's roster!]
Mailbag: Unbalanced Classes, Hockey vs Basketball, Further Hockey Expansion, Defensive Coach Turnover
If you're doing a mailbag any time soon, a potential question: does all the defensive coaching turnover dampen your expectations for the defense? Having three new coaches, including a new DC, has to impose some kind of transition cost, right? It would be frustrating to have what might be an excellent defense undermined by coaching changes.
On the whole, no. For one, while Chris Partridge is a new coach he's replacing John Baxter, who did not work with last year's D. There are only two guys being replaced. Losing Greg Jackson is a blow, as by all reports the players loved him. The secondary's performance last year was a major step forward from everybody—even Peppers, who we had not really seen before, developed over the course of the season. It's likely that Jackson is very good at his job, and you always hate to lose a guy like that after just one year.
I have zero concerns about replacing DJ Durkin with Don Brown. Durkin's defense last year was very good until it collapsed late, and while part of that was on Glasgow's injury it was very frustrating watching Michigan play a spread option team with a safety lined up 18 yards off the LOS. You can't do that when the opposition has an 11-on-11 run game, and Michigan found that out the hard way. Since that was a thing that even a blogger was warning about…
So it's up to Michigan: ride with what got you here and try to hold up, or go to more of a zone based look in an attempt to replicate what just happened [against MSU]. The bet here is that Michigan enters with the latter in their pocket but tries to go toe to toe, combating zone with the addition of a safety to the end of the LOS and the corresponding blitz.
…and Michigan emphatically had nothing in their back pocket in the second half, I'm happy to see Durkin at Maryland. He could be a great coach, sure. He could be a guy who hung on to Will Muschamp's coattails and got exposed by Urban Meyer.
Meanwhile Brown has an excellent track record:
Bolded years are Don Brown; others are there for comparison. YPP is raw yards per play. FEI and S&P+ are advanced metrics that attempt to take schedule strength and various other factors into account.
It is possible that there's a settling-in period where Brown's D isn't as effective. The data don't show anything conclusive about that, with Maryland and UConn both getting significantly better in advanced metrics in year one despite a drop in yards per play. Meanwhile last year Michigan's defense was very good despite being in its first year of a new system.
Michigan can't get significantly better in advanced metrics and should expect a backslide just from regression to the mean, so I won't be judging Brown on how he does relative to last year's D… except against Ohio State. The absolute best news of the offseason to me is that Don Brown spent his time at Michigan's coaching clinic ranting about run defense…
Coach Brown believes that it all starts with run defense, “Check our record, 4 out of the last 5 years, nobody runs the ball. I don’t give a crap what I have to do, we’re going to stop the run.” Don Brown’s defenses finished #2 in 2011 (UCONN), #3 in 2012 (UCONN), #2 in 2014 (Boston College) and #1 in 2015 (Boston College) in run defense.
…and detailing the varied and intricate responses he's developed to zone read including inverted veer or "power read," as coaches seem to be calling it.
The result of last year's Game (and the one before that, and the one before that, and the one before that) cried out for a defensive coordinator who is awesome at stopping a power spread attack. Don Brown looks like the ideal candidate. I was getting pretty nervous for a couple weeks there when Rivals kept bringing up NFL guys—exactly the wrong kind of candidate for the biggest game on the schedule—and couldn't be happier with the way things worked out.
I'll be keeping a wary eye on the developments in the secondary but at least Brian Smith is a DB by trade and a DB coach until he was shoehorned in at linebacker a year ago; this isn't going back to Roy Manning, lifetime LB, as a CB coach. As far as the DC trade goes, I give it an A++++++.
[After THE JUMP: Jim Delany and the satellite camps, college hockey realignment stuff, hockey and basketball expectations.]
First, a little feelingsball
Spring games are notorious for being a little data amidst an ocean of noise, so as always take everything here with a grain of salt. And this section isn't even a concrete observation about a player, so doubly so here. But… my favorite thing that happened on Friday wasn't a play.
It was the aftermath of the two-point conversion, when the white team poured onto the field like they'd just won the Super Bowl and blue team coach Chris Partridge roared off the sideline to have a Harbaugh-level conniption fit at the ref.
A couple other coaches reacted similarly, if not as dramatically, as Partridge; the white team organized at midfield for a photo. Wyatt Shallman headbanged like there was no tomorrow. Drake Johnson collapsed in a heap.
Drake Johnson collapses on the field after his team gets stopped on a potential game-winning 2-pt. conversion. pic.twitter.com/Beyur1LaIW
— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) April 4, 2016
I tweeted to Ace that he should title the recap "Controversial finish mars Spring Game ending,"* because that was funny. It's only funny because it's kind of true.
This is a different thing now. Last year's team was good but it was still caught between being a program that apologizes for a tent stake and a program whose DGAF levels are off the charts. Judging from the reactions of everyone involved on both sides, the all-competition-all-the-time ethos has sunk in. That more than anything else makes me anticipate the upcoming season.
This concludes your feelingsball portion of the program.
*[He did not, and I was all like ಠ_ಠ.]
[After THE JUMP: position by position breakdowns of what we learned on offense]
Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis, Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
— ap (@plurjuice) March 26, 2016
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]