this may be of some local interest
10/31/2015 – Michigan 29, Minnesota 26 – 6-2, 3-1 Big Ten
ONE. We've got a radio show now so I've been listening to sports talk radio even when Sam and Ira aren't on. I do it to compare and maybe get better and maybe draw confidence from the fact that a lot of sports talk radio is outrageously bad. The parts that aren't are often outrageously robotic. WTKA has a bunch of NFL stuff now that they switched to CBS, and it's on when I go to and from our podcast on Sunday; sometimes I catch it on a Thursday.
Tom Brady was on. Jim Gray actually asked him a lot of pointed questions about the upcoming game against the Colts and whether he had a desire to rain unholy fire upon those bastards. Brady responded with the passion of an accountant. I would chalk this up to Brady's flat affect, but I've seen player after player descend into this anodyne non-existence. This is a a league that spent most of the offseason discussing the Ideal Gas Law, after all—even if they didn't know they were doing so. It's just a thing. Colleges teach it but it doesn't take all the way. The NFL perfects it, along with the slant.
TWO. Minnesota has not been good for literally 50 years. Their blips to the positive aren't even Illinois blips. Every decade Illinois will show up in a BCS-level game; the Minnesota coach with the best winning percentage since 1944 is one Glen Mason, who the Gophers fired so they could hire Tim Brewster.
THREE. In 2005 I was pretty mad after a weird game where the Michigan Stadium scoreboards fritzed out and Jim Herrmann called a blitz on which Prescott Burgess, a 230-pound linebacker, was tasked with two-gapping a 270-pound monster TE. When I get mad I tend to be mad about everything, but when Lawrence Maroney rushed out to midfield and planted the biggest damn Minnesota flag in existence I was just like "yeah, go ahead, you earned that."
Sixty-plus Gopher players stormed across that field to reclaim the Jug without considering decorum, sanity, or sportsmanship. Michigan had just lost a game mostly because they called a blitz so telegraphed that a petrified backup QB could check them into a 50-yard run and I had enough non-hate in my heart to genuinely enjoy the fervor with which the Gophers reclaimed Fielding Yost's 30-cent chunk of crockery.
FOUR. Last year the Little Brown Jug went on a tour of the state of Minnesota.
This was a good idea.
FIVE. Jerry Kill retired last week because he could no longer control the seizures his cancer had bestowed upon him. Jerry Kill talks like a NASCAR driver. He comes by his coachspeak honestly, and when Tracy Claeys was again thrust into a role he probably never thought he'd be in—Kill tends to buy and hold assistants until the end of time—he sounded 100% like Jerry Kill.
It was awkward. It was stilted. It was genuine as hell. He told his kids not to play with emotion because emotion evaporates but to play with passion because passion sticks and I was just like YOU MAY BE SAYING THIS LIKE TOM BRADY SAYS THINGS BUT I KNOW THAT FEEL.
SIX. Junior Hemingway, just shouting and weeping after the Sugar Bowl.
SEVEN. Jerry Kill.
EIGHT. Michigan won a football game that often doubled as an exercise in hilarious improbability. Michigan gave up a 52-yard touchdown after Jeremy Clark executed the platonic ideal of coverage against a corner route. With 19 seconds left in a football game, Minnesota spent 17 seconds on a series of elaborate motions on first and goal from the half-yard line.
Football is weird and terrible and sometimes it gets you to within a half-yard of a cathartic, wonderful victory and then says "nah." Sometimes when you're 2-and-a-billion after always being good your walk-on QB dials up a bunch of incredible throws and you go grab the Little Brown Jug with a newfound respect for its importance. Football, above all, is cruel.
NINE. If you are a Minnesota fan on a bitter Monday indeed, here is the equivalent of Lawrence Maroney planting a flag. It is Jon Falk, the recently retired and legendary Michigan equipment manager, welcoming his favorite 30-cent crockery back home.
It hurts, but that means something. That is a thing that is real. It is a reflection of Jerry Kill killing himself to be in this game and dying because he has to leave it.
TEN. I've always hated THIS IS MICHIGAN a bit because it reminds me of going to Penn State in 2006 and having their chintzy-ass scoreboards proclaim WE'RE PENN STATE… AND THEY'RE NOT. It's not necessarily as bad, but sometimes it tends to AND THEY'RE NOT. I'm not a huge fan of Michigan's excellently-executed James Earl Jones intro video this year because it claims a bunch of things that should be gestured at instead.
Michigan's great. I love Michigan. I love it all, though. I've been to Georgia and Auburn and Penn State and Ohio State and Minnesota and the feeling of college football is something else. Minnesota hasn't done anything Colin Cowherd would note for 50 years. You could maybe compare them to the Lions, who no one should ever be a fan of.
Except no. Tell me that doesn't matter. Tell me This Is Minnesota doesn't mean anything. We took the Jug and we mostly earned it and that matters to me. It matters to Jabrill Peppers and Jon Falk and Jim Harbaugh and Greg Dooley. It matters because it's college fucking football, and Minnesota means something.
To Michigan, it means the Jug. They got it back on Saturday by the skin of their teeth, and for a program that's had a bit of a rough go of late they'll take it any way they can get it.
Column inspired by Dr. Sap digging up a post-game Bo speech after the 1987 Jug game:
A half hour version that must be most of the game from WD:
Parking God has a more reasonable length reel:
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jabrill Peppers had a 40 yard KO return, a 40 yard punt return, two PBUs, a near pick-six, a rushing touchdown, a reverse set up by everyone fretting about Peppers, a pass interference call drawn—Peppers played nearly 100 snaps and was instrumental in all three phases of the game.
#2 Maurice Hurst didn't actually pop up in the box score much but he was frequently in Leidner's grill; on the final stand he blew up the pass protection on the first play and was one of a few different Wolverines whipping their dudes up front. Actually in the box score: he had a critical TFL that forced Minnesota to kick a short field goal.
#3 Drake Johnson didn't get many carries but was by far the most effective runner Michigan had; other guys had lanes but didn't take advantage of them. Hoping to see more of him going forward.
Honorable mention: Chesson and Darboh both had nice days. Glasgow again contributed to mostly good run defense.
9: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern, #1 MSU), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern, #2 MSU, #1 Minnesota)
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State)
4: Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland, #2 Minnesota)
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), Willie Henry(#3 Utah, #3 MSU).
1: AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Jake Rudock(#3 Northwestern), Drake Johnson(#3 Minnesota)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Form a f-ing wall.
— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) November 1, 2015
Honorable mention: Speight throws the go-ahead touchdown and then converts for two; Peppers has the ball in his hands.
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.
MSU: the bit where they won until they didn't.
Minnesota: form a f-ing wall.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Channing Stribling gets beat over the top for what seems like the game-winning touchdown, until it was not.
Honorable mention: Mitch Leidner hurling the ball downfield on throws that are very bad ideas only for those to be complete anyway. Rudock underthrows another deep ball by 20 yards.
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
Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't.
[After THE JUMP: fluky fluky fluky.]
News bullets and other items:
- Shane Morris is the backup quarterback. Speight took the one end-of-game snap because Harbaugh didn’t want to put Morris, a junior who’s played his first two years, in for that.
- Harbaugh wants further explanation on the roughing the kicker call. He thought the punter had established himself as a runner.
- Harbaugh called the snap over the OSU’s punter’s head a play that goes your team’s way once in a half a century.
- Rudock drew praise for his coolness under pressure, but Harbaugh didn’t like the fumble or interception, particularly because he felt Rudock locked on his receiver on the pick.
- The same play was intercepted in practice, so Harbaugh took the blame and said he’s kicking himself for calling it in the game.
- Wormley, Charlton, Smith, Bunting, and the secondary were singled out for their strong play.
- Hackett gave Harbaugh the maize watch he’s been wearing since Harbagh’s introductory presser.
Is there a game ball that went out to DeVeon or the defense? They both played well. Can you comment on that?
"Yeah, I sure can. We haven't given out any game balls yet. We'll do that Monday, but the defense – I'd say DJ Durkin and his staff did a tremendous job preparing the players. Went 3 1/2 quarters without points and tremendous on sudden change, we turned the ball over on our end of the field and coming away with getting a turnover, Joe Bolden plucks one out of the air. I thought that was a huge play in the game.
“There was- one other one was Jake Butt plucking a ball out of the air at the 10 yard line to open up the second half when we fumbled down there deep in our own end zone – end.
“So, great team win. Very pleased. I thought this was won with the week of practice. We had a tremendous practice on Monday, especially Wednesday, and especially Thursday. Everybody contributed. The look team, the scout team, was- had its best week. Guys really challenging made those practices extremely good. But yeah, there was a lot of credit to give out to a lot of people because there was a great team win, but we're going to move on from this one with humble hearts because there's a lot of work to do."
Obviously a turning point in the game – it was still close at 10 to 7 – but the punt that was blocked…or is supposed to be blocked where there was the disputed call, how huge was that given that you disputed the call on the roughing?
"Oh, the roughing? I need an explanation on that one. Their punter caught it behind the guard, bobbled it, looks to me like he took right-left-right-left and punted it. The way I understand the rule is that if he establishes himself as a runner he's afforded the same protection a quarterback is when he is running outside of the pocket, which is if a guy takes two steps, the quarterback, [and] launches into him after he throws the ball then that would be a penalty, but that was a punt-hit. I just need a better explanation as to why that was a penalty, But maybe I stand to be corrected.
“But yeah, the game was tight. It was still in doubt and then we got the very fortuitous play for us, which was them snapping the ball over the punter’s head. I mean, that happens once in a half a century for your team. So that was a heckuva good break for us, but we'll take it. But I thought it was a good, competitive game. I thought our guys got the running game established. We tackled well. Got some pressure on the quarterback; thought that was the difference between the first quarter and a long drive they made and some other drives that they had. Wormley got a big sack that backed them up to the 2 yard line and then we got good field position. Jabrilll did another fine job fielding punts and making cool-handed decisions and we were able to turn that drive into a score and put points on the board. So,…good. Just think we've got a – it's only the second game. It's a long season and we all have a lot of work to do, so that's what we're focused on."
[The rest after THE JUMP]
to be the man you gotta recruit the man
It's a new era in all possible ways at quarterback. Michigan has exhausted their supply of raw passers with thrilling athleticism; they have also cast aside the previous coaching staff in favor of one in which the head coach is also the QB coach. He is one of the best in the country. Possibly the best.
In Harbaugh's tenure as a coach he…
- 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,
- made Alex Smith look like a legit NFL QB just long enough for him to sign what some regard as the worst contract in the NFL, and
- 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.
That is strike after strike after strike in not only player development but also talent identification. The contrast between Harbaugh and Al Borges*, who has still never seen a quarterback he recruited start as an upperclassman, could not be greater.
So when Harbaugh saw the state of the most important position in football at Michigan, it's no surprise that he reacted like Kirby. Harbaugh imported a grad transfer (Jake Rudock), a regular transfer (John O'Korn), a second quarterback recruit in 2015, and two recruits in 2016.
Only one of those guys is relevant to this preview: the graduate.
*[Doug Nussmeier has a good track record but only had a year in which it was difficult to make an impact. The only QB on the roster he is responsible for bringing in is freshman Alex Malzone.]
HE CAME FROM DEEPEST IOWA IN SEARCH OF RECEIVERS AND LOVE
Rudock was kind of a big deal at media day [Bryan Fuller]
JAKE RUDOCK will find at least one as long as he keeps his interception rate where it was last year.
Michigan's previous quarterback, Devin Gardner, turned into a turnover piñata sometime after his soul left his body for the third time. While it's hard to blame him much when his career seems like the kind of experiment that ends in a war crimes trial, the sheer quantity of errors he dished out over the course of last season will make a boring quarterback seem like a godsend.
Rudock is just what the doctor ordered in that department. Of the 100 quarterbacks with the most attempts last year, Rudock was 11th in interception rate. 1.4% of his passes got picked off last year. Gardner was dead last, with a rate almost quadruple Rudock's.
There is a cost associated with that, as any Iowa fan still capable of speech will tell you. This is it:
That is Jake Rudock's reputation: a boring boring boring game manager who idolized Brian Griese and dry toast growing up.
[After THE JUMP: Are Iowa fans wrong? Does Rudock have upside? Whither Morris?]
Tips? Hesitant about getting bombed on the message board? Email me.
The Harbaugh era seems considerably less paranoid than the previous regime. Practice reports are coming in from a lot more sources than they used to; no doubt this is partially because excitement sees a lot more people on the sideline. I do hear that they're less concerned about "X looks good, tempo is fast" reports getting out.
Tempo is fast, by the way. Harbaugh has brought a high-rep style to practices in an effort to get everything he can out of every countable hour. It is not exactly Oregon hyper-speed where all coaching is done after, in film. It's a lot closer to that than the Hoke-era practices were. A recruit's parent took in a practice and posted about it to a Facebook group, and his impressions match some others I've been sent:
1. Tempo of practice and the philosophy. Very different from last year. 2 sets of scrimmages per field. A play is being ran an avg of 25 to 35 secs. If they went two groups, they would alternate but each group ran a play every 25secs. So ... Coaches saw 2 plays every 30 secs. Ton of reps. Very different from last year. Coaches are coaching very quick between plays. Emphasis on getting the reps in during practice and correcting mistakes in film. Practice was very similar to how Saban runs his practices.
2. There really is competition at EVERYTHING. I saw several of these "competitions." A couple examples ... QBs did a "fastest release/ball speed" comp. On command, they had to throw a bullet pass 20yds. Malzone looked good. Several races took place today as well but most know about those.
Those were vintage 1990s; these are a lot closer to modern speeds. Michigan is running multiple reps at a time on opposite ends of the field with first and second teams.
(Aside: I can't help but draw a line between Hoke's deliberate practice pace and his program's inability to operate at any other speed.)
Practices have also been extremely long. How one practice can be longer than another when NCAA maximums are mandated for everyone is unclear; possible that Hoke was spending some of his countable hours in other ways? That seems highly improbable, but so do Michigan's results the past couple years.
Harbaugh bein' Harbaugh
When practice was over Harbaugh brought the team around him and awarded the day to the defense. As a reward he told them they had to run while the offense watched because “here, the winners are the ones that earn the opportunity to get better.”
Quarterback Battle Royale
Whether it's the WWE kind or the Quentin-Tarantino-porn that is way better than the Hunger Games, what Michigan has on its hands qualifies as such. Jedd Fisch was carefully neutral during his press conference yesterday, as coaches are. He asserted that everyone was even and getting even reps, as coaches do.
But allow your author to read into things some. Fisch on Malzone:
"He's got a lot going on. But he's handled it unbelievably well. He's unbelievable in terms of his ability to not let things bother him. To be consistent and play the game. If a play doesn't go right, he's right back in there for the next one. A short-term memory is phenomenal for a quarterback."
Wilton is a very large man, he's a big guy (at 6-foot-6). He can see everything. He's a pretty good athlete and he throws the ball well. He doesn't seem to have had a ton of experience.
"Shane has a very strong arm, as everybody knows, he spins it well and he just has to understand that, really, that's not the most important thing. If you have a really strong arm, then you have a really strong arm. That's what you have. Now, it's a matter of 'what can you do with it?' How do you utilize it? His skill set and his arm strength are tremendous and he's very comfortable. It's fun to watch him in the huddle, he has a really good command of what we're asking him to do."
The tweets that captured small sections of the fuller quotes came off more negative towards Morris, highlighting "unbelievable" for Malzone and "throw it at the person" for Morris. It was more neutral than that. Via Maize and Blue News:
Even so, the overall vibe from that presser seemed to confirm reports floating around at Scout, Rivals, and in my inbox: there's considerable debate about who looks better between Malzone and Speight… and there ends the debate. Scout's observers tend to like Malzone. Rivals's like Speight. Malzone is reportedly adjusting to the size of the players in front of him; Speight doesn't have that issue and is a year ahead of Malzone in terms of college prep.
Early days obviously, but it feels like the QB race is two horses with Morris lagging behind. Gentry and maybe Rudock are yet to enter.
Tailback Battle Royale
See above in re: term. Tyrone Wheatley has a lot of options here and is doing a lot of correcting in drills. Will be interesting to see if there's a performance differential there. The latest practice video from the department features Wheatley heavily if you'd like to hear him talk some.
Most of these guys look like they've looked. Johnson's out; Smith may be a hair faster; it's tough to tell if Green's vision problems are any better in this context. (Most people observing practice do so from the sideline, where holes are not always visible.)
There is the new guy, of course. Ty Isaac is "huge" and "could be a linebacker." He injured a finger somewhat badly in one practice but shrugged it off to continue with drills. This undoubtedly earned him some Harbaugh toughness brownie points. (He did sit out some on subsequent days.)
Chase Winovich is at least practicing there…
Rt when you see it pic.twitter.com/1FfBEqacoI
— Chase Winovich (@CCWino58) March 11, 2015
…and while Harbaugh seemed pretty dismissive about supposed position moves earlier this spring, they are looking at him there. When I fretted that this didn't make a lot of sense given the seeming surplus at H-back, Ace reminded me that Harbaugh switched guys around like mad at Stanford. Doug Baldwin played both ways; Owen Marecic played both ways. Harbaugh loves to experiment, and when he finds a Football Player that guy tends to Play A Lot Of Football. Possibly the same dynamic here.
Because man does Michigan need something above and beyond Butt/Bunting/Hill/Shallman/Houma? And Pallante? And apparently Henry Poggi?
Is it possible Winovich is getting a legit look at tailback? I doubt it but it's not like Michigan's not looking for options there.
It seems clear that Michigan has a relatively set front seven with a lot of depth at three-tech and some at linebacker. So they're taking the opportunity to test out anyone who may be an effective manballer.
FWIW, Ian Bunting looks promising but could still use some more weight on his frame if he's going to be a true dual-threat at the TE spot. When asked to catch the ball he looks "terrific," with the kind of wingspan that will remind you of Funchess "plus a couple inches." Hands are reputed to be excellent. Sam cited him as a potential breakout player.
Sione Houma has been held out with an injury, FWIW.
Receiver Battle… somewhat Royale
Drake Harris exists! He is full go in practice after like two straight years of hamstring doom. Reports alternate between impressive play and extreme skinniness. I believe both; this year will likely be a learning/glaring at hamstring owlishly/getting bigger campaign for him. 247:
There's no doubt about one thing: Harris is going to have to gain some weight in the next six months if he wants to see the field this season. However, the early impressions of him are twofold. One, he's finally 100% healthy and is a full-go at wide receiver. Two, he's been very impressive off the edge and has been a favorite target for a couple of the quarterbacks in early drills.
Harris was kind of a big deal before his leg acted up on him, remember. He was a top-50 prospect who Michigan had to fend off Alabama for after a 2,000 yard junior season.
Other reports are so scattered it's tough to draw conclusions from them. There are a lot of receivers, there are a lot of reps, an observer can easily sink into confirmation bias. At various time's I've heard good things about Ways, Chesson, Norfleet, and Bunting. Darboh's been absent so far and Canteen may still be too small to get off jams; I wouldn't read a whole lot into the former since Darboh is a known quantity.
OL Somewhat Settled(?) Royale
There's significant rotation along the offensive line, as you might expect. Other than the returning starters the biggest threats for playing time are Patrick Kugler, David Dawson, and Logan Tuley-Tillman. Miller and Braden are the returning starters under the most threat.
It is impossible to tell anything about these guys yet, as this is the point in the year when they're at the greatest disadvantage. Having eight real options is excellent, at least.
Chris Fox is still injured. You may remember that he came in after suffering a severe knee injury in his senior year of high school, ballooned up into the 350 range, and hasn't been talked about much subsequently. At least early this spring he was still on crutches. We are rapidly approaching the point where a medical scholarship is the most likely outcome.
“Everybody good? Yeah? Great. Who’s kicking us off?”
I’ll kick you off. It’s only been a couple of days but what have you seen out of your quarterbacks so far?
“Uh, well, right now we’re seeing progress. That’s, I think, the first thing we’re looking for is how they’ve picked up what we’ve asked them to do. We’ve seen them now- this is what, practice four? But it’s been 16 hours on the field so we’ve had a lot of repetitions and we’ve been able to do a ton of drill work with them and been able to watch them kind of pick up the system the best they can at this point. I think there’s some really good progress in terms of command at the line of scrimmage. I think there’s good progress in terms of understanding the offense. Now it’s a matter of slowing the game down for them, and that’s what our next step is.”
How do you slow it down?
“I would say that slowing it down comes from knowledge, number one. Number two, it comes from experience, and then three, it comes from some form of comfort level. Right now their knowledge in terms of what we’re asking them to do is still growing and it’s kind of not where we want it to be yet in terms of you’d love to always fast forward the process but right now the process is what it is. In terms of experience they have none in the system and the really don’t have much college football playing experience, but with us they’ve had four days of experience. And finally, as we continue to go through this process and give them opportunities I think we’ll see them continue to develop every day and that will slow the game down for them.”
You mentioned progress. How long of a road do they have to get where you want them to go?
“I think that we’re certainly in a situation where we don’t play for a while, so that’s good. We’ve got 11 more practices, so that’s really good, and then we’ve got a big summer where they can really grind themselves. I’m a huge believer in that philosophy of players coaching players. I think that it’s huge during this time of the summer when we’re not with them that they can really take what we’ve kind of coached them on and then help each other and really continue to develop one another. And then finally we have training camp and we have all of camp to get ready for opening day. So they’ve got some time and we’re going to use all of it, every second we can, to try and help them improve and be comfortable and then be able to go out there and put us in the best possible position to succeed.”
What are the differences you see in the three scholarship guys?
“Well, they certainly do have different skill sets. Wilton is a very large man He’s a big guy and he can see everything. He’s a pretty good athlete. Throws the ball well. He doesn’t seem to have had a ton of experience. I know Shane probably took more reps last year, I would guess, because he was probably the 2. I know he went in one game, two games, whatever and then played the year before also so he’s probably had some more practice reps than Wilt has but Wilt makes a lot of nice throws and is a good sized kid.
“Shane has a very strong arm, which everybody knows. He spins it well. He just has to understand that’s really not the most important thing. If you have a really strong arm you have a really strong arm. That’s what you have. So now it’s a matter of what can you do with it? How do you utilize it? So his skill set, you know, his arm strength is tremendous and he has really good- he’s very comfortable as a quarterback, so that’s fun to watch him in the huddle. He has really good command of what we’re asking him to do and Alex- Alex should be a senior in high school right now.
“I know my senior spring I wasn’t in college, so I know that he’s got a lot going on and he has handled it unbelievably well. He is like- he’s unbelievable in terms of his ability to not let things bother him, to be consistent, and to jump right back in and play the game. If a play doesn’t go right he’s right back in [and] ready for the next one. Short-term memory is phenomenal for a quarterback.”
[After THE JUMP: more honesty]