SPONSOR NOTES: I was struck when we were hanging out at the Bo Store that it was very cool that some of our main sponsors were very much like us: small businesses in the Michigan community run by guys who are just dudes, you know? I like to think that UGP and Homesure are the MGoBlogs of their respective fields: small, detailed, involved, pantsless.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Illinois loaded the box the entire game, usually in an over front
They played with one safety exclusively and had 8 or 9 in the box depending on whether M was in a big formation or not.
Michigan didn't have anything too weird except a slightly modified T:
This was one play only. Oh, right, and TRAIN.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Starting line of Braden-Bredeson-Cole-Kalis-Magnuson went most of the way, getting 66 snaps each. The backup line now reads JBB-Runyan-Kugler-Onwenu-Dawson, FWIW. Ulizio got bumped by JBB, must be primarily a tackle.
Butt got the most snaps of any skill player with 56, and Asiasi wasn't far behind with 41. Wheatley had his most extended playing time in a while with 31 snaps; Bunting returned on a single snap. With Perry out the main beneficiary was Kekoa Crawford, who had 35 snaps; Chesson had 33 and Darboh 44. McDoom had his usual deployment.
Poggi and Hill again split snaps about down the middle.
[After THE JUMP: a diversity of items.]
Jim said it was Wilton’s best game last week. After watching film, would you agree with that?
“Yeah. He was like 70% completion, made good decisions all the way across the board, was very accurate. A couple throws or a couple plays probably could have even taken back and gotten some more completions out of it. As we were looking at it, felt like there was some opportunity to even be a little bit better than that; couple more touchdowns. Excited about how he’s progressed and how he played in this game.”
What has helped Wilton really develop his consistency this season?
“He’s a consistent person, and I think it really starts from off the field and moves into the field or onto the field. He’s a guy that really does everything you want him to do. He wakes up about the same time every day. He says he goes to bed about the same time every day. He has a very consistent schedule in what he does. He’s told me weekends haven’t really changed his schedule anymore. He’s kind of programmed his body and himself really starting throughout training camp to be kind of what time he woke up in training camp is still what time he wakes up now. Just lives a very clean, consistent life, and because of that I think it’s parlayed into his football.”
Wilton talked a lot yesterday about avoiding aiming the ball. For us non-quarterbacks out here, what is the difference between aiming the ball and just letting it go, and how can you tell when that’s happening?
“It’s just like baseball. Sometimes you feel like when you’re thinking too much or you’re trying to put it in a certain spot, when you’re thinking and not following through it’s different than, hey, I’m just going to go out there and rip it, so to speak. I’m gonna go out there and I’m confident I can make that throw, I’m confident with where I’m going with the ball, I’m confident I can kind of just be free. And when you aim it is sometimes when you start overthinking, and I think that’s probably what he was thinking about, that it’s more of should I take a little bit off of this or not follow through as much as opposed to just going out there and playing.”
[After THE JUMP: impressions of State’s defense, making adjustments on the fly, and whether the staff scripts plays]
10/22/2016 – Michigan 41, Illinois 8 – 7-0, 4-0 Big Ten
viscera cleanup crews are on overtime [Eric Upchurch]
Dear reader, it turns out there is a downside to Michigan hog-walloping every team they play. You see, when every game resembles Brock Lesnar versus a toddler the emotional import is rather muted. Michigan was always going to put it on Illinois and their third-string quarterback. They scored four straight touchdowns to open the game and cruised home; I spent three quarters of the game wincing when Michigan players required attention from the medical staff, very much ready to hit the fast-forward button.
This is a difficult column-writing environment. Sometimes you get a gift like Jabrill Peppers annihilating some poor staffer on the sideline. Sometimes there's a 41-8 game that doesn't even cover the spread and Peppers has the temerity to fair catch punts in the third quarter as Michigan Stadium groans because we haven't seen nearly enough comical explosions to sate our greedy little hearts.
So I must confess, dear reader, that I do not have a grand overarching theme to offer you. We're past the point when we can say "boy, it is nice to blow out a team you are supposed to blow out"; I already wrote that one. I already wrote the one about how this looks like a historically good defense. I already wrote the one that looked back at the Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon mess, which was two years ago and feels like two hundred. I already wrote the one about how Michigan broke the opposition's spirit, and the one about how we're crabby crabs looking for any flaw because of the roadblock at the end of the season. I submit to you that I have mined all available angles when Michigan lives up to expectations, especially when those expectations are of the steamroller-versus-bag-of-Cheetos variety.
So here we are, looking at each other, waiting for me to say something.
this column must wait [Bryan Fuller]
There is a column I have yet to write, but cannot write yet: Wilton Speight as Jake Rudock. Like Rudock, Speight scuffled through much of the first half of the season. Like Rudock, Speight had a eye-catching game featuring many daggers against a bad defense. I want to point at Rudock's exponential improvement and say yes that for Speight right now we all saw it, but one game against Illinois is insufficient evidence. One game against Michigan State, a team currently ranked worse than EMU by various fancy stats, is also probably insufficient evidence.
But two weeks is better than one, and three better still, and I was struck by Speight's comments after the game on what he did on the bye week:
“I watched all of the six games, every snap, and just took a lot of notes on what glaringly needed to be better and also little things. So being able to throw with guys like Grant [Perry], Jehu [Chesson], in our time off—you know, we didn’t have the couple hour practice with pads on and everything but we were still able to go out there like we did this summer and throw certain routes. I just wanted to focus on—I can make every throw, in my opinion, but sometimes I was short on passes or when a guy was open I’d miss him. That’s what I wanted to focus on the second half of the season was eliminating that.”
Speight is a guy who almost transferred because he thought Harbaugh would go with a guy he recruited, but stuck it out; he beat out everyone's fave-rave this offseason, and he's held the job without challenge since. Because he works. They all work—this offseason saw a spate of hilarious articles about the QBs trying to slip in work with the WRs without the other guy knowing. Speight works like the rest of Michigan works.
And maybe he is getting there. You can see the war between Jim Harbaugh and Al Borges in his performances: early on, Speight was creepily accurate. Then he got annihilated by Chidobe Awuzie and regressed to old habits. This happened to Devin Gardner early on, as well. He'd start out throwing it like his coaches wanted him to and regress to a high-school pushing motion once he started thinking about guys trying to hit him. Speight was rattled against CU and seemed to have lost the refinements from the offseason; given an opportunity on the bye week he set to regaining them.
So far, so good. More important than the performance against Illinois is the reaction when the coaching staff is jetting around the country trying to lock up recruits. When the cat's away, the mice watch film and run routes.
A more extensive selection at MGoVideo.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Wilton Speight opened with his traditional terrible first pass. I grumbled to my wife. He was lights out after that, averaging 11 yards an attempt. His performance was even more impressive than the numbers since he suffered a couple drops and Amara Darboh was interfered with on a bomb to the endzone that was dead on. Speight didn't benefit from anything super-long, either. Michigan's longest completion was 33 yards. This is a version of Speight you can win many things with.
#2 Karan Higdon had a 45-yard touchdown late on which he burst past a guy with an angle and then cut back to get the last ten, carrying a DB into the endzone. Consider that even before that he'd gained 61 yards on 7 carries. He slalomed through various blockers and opponents on a trap play on which it looked like the hole wasn't exactly where it was supposed to be and generally looked fast, powerful, and way better than Mike Weber.
#3 Ben Braden had a shockingly smooth transition to left tackle. He led the way on various offset draws and his pass protection was close to impeccable against some tough customers (when they're rushing, at least). The one sack he was charged with was PA on which he didn't have a traditional pass drop; I thought that was more on Speight than Braden. If he can maintain this level of performance Michigan's Newsome issue seems far less daunting.
Honorable mention: The entire defense. They spent so little time on the field and split what stats were available that no individual was able to do as much as the various offensive players. They remain rather good.
7: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers)
6: Wilton Speight (#1 UCF, #1 Illinois)
5: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW).
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers).
2.5: Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU, #2 Illinois).
2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers).
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW), Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers), Ben Braden (#3 Illinois).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
This is kind of a dumb best thing ever, but TRAIN.
It was more hearing the stadium respond to TRAIN than the actual three-yard touchdown. The vibe around the program now is so fun, and TRAIN is a part of this.
Honorable mention: Most of the rest of the game.
Hawaii: Laughter-inducing Peppers punt return.
UCF: Speight opens his Rex Grossman account.
Colorado: Peppers cashes it in.
PSU: Wormley's sack establishes a theme.
UW: Darboh puts Michigan ahead for good.
Rutgers: Peppers presses "on".
Illinois: TRAIN 2.0.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
This week's worst thing ever.
Michigan gives up a touchdown on a downfield prayer that Delano Hill misreads.
Honorable mention: Two other big plays by Illinois, many worrying injury moments. .
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.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured.
Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man.
Illinois: They scored a what now? On Michigan? A touchdown?
[After THE JUMP: eh, the usual]
Dymonte Thomas, De’Veon Smith, Wilton Speight
Wilton, a little bit sloppy there in the second half, would you say, and were you a little bit disappointed with that? Not you, but the team.
“Yeah, it starts with me, but yeah, it’s obviously something we need to look at on film and figure out how to not come out with a three-and-out or a turnover here and there and not give the opponent any sense of life. We’ll learn from that and build on that.”
Dymonte, what was going through your mind as you had that interception at the end of the first half?
“First thing that went through my mind is it’s about time. I knew that my teammates—every day they make fun of me: ‘Dymonte, you can’t catch. You don’t have no hands.’ So, after I caught that interception they all said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna let you breathe. I’m gonna let you go. About time you caught it.’ It’s an exciting feeling. I was pretty happy, pretty pumped.”
Dymonte, your team held Illinois without a passing yard in the first half. What was key in doing that, especially against an inexperienced quarterback.
“We just knew we had to bring pressure. He was getting the ball out pretty quick, pretty fast, and we knew that. We just had to tighten up on our coverage and we knew some of the things, their tendencies, on third down they were going to do, short-yardage game. We just made sure that we kept that in perspective and played tight defense and allowed our defensive linemen and linebackers to blitz and create opportunities for us.”
Wilton, I know some of you guys had time off last week, but for you specifically, was there one thing you tried to work on last week or that you wanted to get better at going into the second half here?
“Yeah. So, I watched all of the six games, every snap, and just took a lot of notes on what glaringly needed to be better and also little things. So being able to throw with guys like Grant [Perry], Jehu [Chesson], in our time off—you know, we didn’t have the couple hour practice with pads on and everything but we were still able to go out there like we did this summer and throw certain routes. I just wanted to focus on—I can make every throw, in my opinion, but sometimes I was short on passes or when a guy was open I’d miss him. That’s what I wanted to focus on the second half of the season was eliminating that.”
[More after THE JUMP]
News bullets and other items:
Chris Evans blacked out when he was hit, which Harbaugh noted the doctors said is sometimes better for the brain in the long run, and was feeling better by halftime
Grant Perry and a few others didn’t play because of disciplinary issues
De’Veon Smith got more first-half carries than they planned; the staff liked what they saw and called the same play for him a few times
First half, you’re up huge, did you guys take your foot off the gas or was it something Illinois did to not quite rack it up like you have been?
“Yeah, first of all, I just think our team really played well today. The execution was outstanding both offensively, defensively, special teams. We were just executing well. I was really, really impressed. Those first three drives of the game, and then the entire game-- I thought Wilton Speight might have had one of the best games of his career.
“It was pretty windy out there. It was pretty tough to throw the ball whether we were going into the wind, with the wind, he was throwing the intermediate deep stuff—the 30-yard throws, the 35-yard, 40-yard throws, just on the money—it was impressive. Sometimes it’s never as good as you think until you look at the tape, but I have a feeling that was the best he’s played.”
Hank Aaron was the honorary captain today. What was that like, having him around the team and yourself?
“It was outstanding, Trevor. He’s just such a great man, such a gentleman. His granddaughter, as you know, goes to Michigan, and we’ve become friends through her. I was getting textes last night, I was at a high school game and some of the guys on the team were texting me how great Hank Aaron was. He talked to the team last night. Just A+. Can’t have it better. Got a nice autographed picture that he was gracious enough to sign so I’m gonna hang that in my office. Just being around—you know when you’re around greatness, and he’s one of the all-time greats. Really honored to share a sideline with Hank Aaron today.”
The two Bens on the left side, is that something you worked on during the bye week and you liked what you saw?
“Yeah, we’ve—Ben’s not just in the improvement week. We’ve seen what he can do at left tackle. We’ve seen that over the last 23 months. He’s a very versatile player. Felt like that was our best combination, Ben Braden and Ben Bredeson. Ben Bredeson’s a very ascending player. Thought he had a heck of a good game today. Really, everybody on the offensive line played extremely well today. It was impressive the way they executed.”
[After THE JUMP: the only time Woody Hayes, Malcolm X, and Michael Douglas as D-Fens have been mentioned in the same breath]
Karan Higdon rushed for 106 yards on eight carries. [Bryan Fuller]
We're running out of nitpicks.
Michigan dominated another overmatched foe, outgaining Illinois 561-172, and in the aftermath there was very little to complain about.
Even the Rutgers game featured a slow start from the offense. That did not happen today, as Jim Harbaugh utilized a dizzying array of formations, personnel, and misdirection to conduct a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Jake Butt finished it off with a screamingly open three-yard touchdown out of the now-legendary "Train" pre-snap look.
Wilton Speight had been a culprit in those previous slow starts, and generally shaky over the last few weeks. Today, he was as sharp as he's been all year, connecting on 16-of-23 passes for 253 yards. He was responsible for the first two touchdowns, the short toss to Butt and a play-action strike to Tyrone Wheatley Jr. from 21 yards out. Neither was his best throw of the day; that would be a 30-yard post route to Amara Darboh he fit between multiple defenders. His numbers could've been even better if a couple close-call deep balls had been hauled in.
"I think Wilton Speight may have had one of his best games of the year," said Jim Harbaugh. "Whether we were going into the wind, with the wind. He was throwing that intermediate, deep stuff—those 30-, 40-yard throws—just on the money."
Speight mentioned that he'd spent the bye week poring over film from the first six games in order to correct mistakes. The hard work showed in his play.
Michigan had a surprise reshuffling of the offensive line, replacing Juwann Bushell-Beatty at left tackle with Ben Braden and moving Ben Bredeson into the lineup at left guard. While Braden got beat for a sack—on a play in which Speight was partially culpable for holding onto the ball too long—the pass protection was generally good, and the run game flourished.
Even with ample garbage-time totes by walk-ons, Michigan averaged five yards per non-sack carry. Karan Higdon led the way with 106 yards on only eight carries, including a weaving 45-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to cap the day's scoring.
"His acceleration, his vision, everything is improving," Harbaugh said. "When he gets to the second level he's got a really good gear to him."
Michigan only had one sack but Jeff George Jr. was under siege. [Eric Upchurch]
Facing third-string walk-on Jeff George Jr., the defense was nearly as dominant as they were against Rutgers. George went 0-for-7 in the first half with an interception when Dymonte Thomas jumped a screen pass one play after Michigan's first failed offensive drive.
"It's about time," Thomas said. This was his first career interception, and apparently the rest of the defense had been rather critical of his hands.
Malik Turner accounted for 86 yards and a touchdown on two catches, both after the game was well in hand. Those two plays accounted for precisely half of the Illini yardage. Turner capitalized on a mismatch with Ben Gedeon on the first. On the touchdown, Delano Hill misplayed a hopeful heave by George to allow Turner to come down with it.
Even the game's most disappointing drives had positive outcomes. Illinois's first big play, a 45-yard run by Ke'Shawn Vaughn out of the wildcat, ended when Jabrill Peppers sprinted him down from the opposite side of the field. The drive ended with a punt four plays later. On the other side, Michigan had two drives stall in Illinois territory in the third quarter; Kenny Allen salvaged both with 23- and 27-yard field goals, a welcome sight given his recent struggles.
The most significant concerns were injury-related. Chris Evans took a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked him unconscious on his only carry. Harbaugh said after the game that Evans had recovered relatively well by the time he saw him at halftime, but that's obviously something to monitor heading into next week. Khalid Hill went to the locker room after the third quarter and did not return; there wasn't an update on him after the game. Grant Perry sat out the game with what Harbaugh admitted, after some prying, was a disciplinary issue.
Well, there was one other concern. At the end of his presser, Harbaugh asked whether anyone had seen a replay of the late review—on which Harbaugh challenged the spot on a third-down catch with two minutes left, up 41-8. He was outwardly perplexed as to how the officials could get that call wrong. Michigan, of course, managed to overcome this tragic miscarriage of justice by converting the fourth down on a Bobby Henderson dive, then kneeling out the clock.
Now they're on to Michigan State. It's time to right some more wrongs.
"No question about it," Harbaugh said, responding to a question about whether they'd move on quickly to the MSU game. "Big game. Championship game for our team. We celebrate all wins, but we'll get on pretty quickly to our next opponent."