fair point that
Q. You have six sacks through seven games to lead the team and rank sixth in the Big Ten. That's double the number of sacks you had last season. What's behind your increased productivity?
A. There are a lot of second- and third-effort plays going on out there, fighting through the blocks. And the coverage out back has helped me a lot; there have been a lot of coverage sacks. There's also pressure from the other guys up front who are not allowing quarterbacks to step up -- or the edge pressure from guys like Taco Charlton and Chris Wormley is not allowing the quarterbacks to roll out. It's a whole defensive line, whole defense effort. Part of my success from my sacks comes from them.
Q. Where have you stepped up your own game?
A. Mentally, the more games you play, the game slows down. You understand more, and taking coaching from Coach Mattison, Coach (Will) Carr and (defensive analyst Antonio) James, helping me with my pass rush. It's taking that coaching and putting it on the field. They've taught me how to be successful out there.
Source: Mgoblue.com, 10/26/2015, Steve Kornacki
If you are coming here looking for rants, I might have a couple but I’m remarkably, I don’t know, accepting of yesterday’s insanity. Probably one of those grief stages. So fair warning (unless you are a referee in this game – for you, I’ll make an exception).
Best: A Broken Heart Mended
I was 13 when Kordell Stewart ripped UM’s heart out. For some reason I thought I was younger, but maybe that was just because I was a late convert to UM football in that respect. I cheered on UM because they crossed the family TV screen most Saturdays, but I was a Pistons (and, honestly, an NBA) fan at my core. I went to a couple games a year, voraciously read box scores each morning during the season, and consumed as much content as possible about the NBA. If I had any football fandom in my body, it was for Barry Sanders, tragically dragging the Lions along with his brilliance under a baggy dome.
College football was just a thing that was on, the white noise machine of fall Saturdays. I cheered UM because of their ubiquity and prominence locally. I cheered because of the uniforms, the pageantry during the Tournament of Roses before the Rose Bowl, and the fact that they always seemed to win. My dad had gone to UM but never wore that connection on his sleeve, and I was still a bit too young to care about academics and job prospects, the objective metrics that led me to attend UM. Hell, I’m not even sure when we got ESPN on cable (and chances are had I stumbled upon it, it wouldn’t have been football). No, my relationship with UM football was one of convenience and detachment, where I would cheer because UM was usually winning or losing in conventional manners, and I knew enough about the sport to accept that at face value.
Until that play. I still remember sitting with my dad on the coach in the living room, just watching it unfold. My Dad assumed the game was over; it was 70+ yards to the lip of the endzone, and while Stewart had a cannon this was an era before the internet, before on-the-field Statz and talking heads, before constant replays and trips to the video archives between timeouts, so there wasn’t much in the way of foreshadowing. You knew about the Flutie Miracle, The Miracle in the Meadowlands, and The Band on the Field between Cal and Stanford, but it always felt distant and unimaginable, moments of affliction that deeply wound the participants but are mostly macabre blips in everyone else’s memory. Those plays happened to them, not us.
So it felt almost like a fait accompli that UM would win the game after Colorado’s last-gasp attempt, with (I’m guessing) most in the stands wondering if Stewart would even be able to get the ball to the endzone. It seemed impossible to contemplate anything more. And then the ball sailed from his arm like a rocket, and you could tell even the camera man was caught a bit off guard. He just kept panning, panning, panning into the endzone, and then a bunch of limbs reached out like a preacher’s chorus praising the gods of football, and the ball caromed into the waiting arms of Michael F’ing Westbrook, and then it was over.
And at that moment, even though it took a couple of more years for me to fully realize it, I became a UM football fan. You can’t have your heart broken like that, to see your guys lose a game because of celestial forces and cold physics, and not have that feeling wiggle its way into your rib cage and never leave. From that day forward, I always made sure to check the box scores every Sunday morning, to track the AP polls, to know how the Wolverines did. I started to get annoyed with the 8-4 seasons, the seemingly annual underperformance, and then the ascendant ‘97 season hooked me forever. I was in the stands when Notre Dame nearly drove the field with no timeouts in 1999, unable to catch my breath. I watched them lose to Purdue and Northwestern in heartbreaking fashion in 2000, and then 2001 with the damn Clockgate against MSU. And when I graduated and moved away, I still followed the team, yelping uncontrollably after Braylonfest, losing my mind after the New Math game, and giggling myself silly when ND left Gallon all alone in 2011. The 2006 game against OSU, Horror, everything that transpired under RR and Hoke (including the heartbreaking 2009 loss to MSU), and now this game all fell on the other side of the ledger.
I know people want to frame this as a curse, some lingering bad juju from the clusterfuck hanging over the program since Bo died, but I don’t think that’s it. Every game, both in the micro level and in the macro sense, creates fans and keeps them there. And this element of fandom is a zero-sum game; for every breathtaking win there must be a heartbreaking loss, only the names and faces change. They come about organically, and sometimes the most fertile soil is littered with shitty outcomes. But you can’t root for something and be surprised when they don’t come out on top all the time, and while I’m going to try to frame this as a sign of good things to come, of a team that is growing into something special and a future that is brighter today than it was 2 months ago, that’s not going to take the sting away, and it shouldn’t. But you don’t win all those games without a couple of tough losses, and sometimes you’ve got to wade through some foul stuff in order to come out better on the other side.
Worst: Leave Blake Alone!
Objectively, that last play was terrible. It was a series of small disasters that snowballed into an improbably loss. It was a low-ish snap that O’Neill couldn’t get ahold of, resulting in the ball being bobbled. UM, knowing his tendency to run to the right before booting the ball, shifted the shield in that direction but left nobody on the back side to handle the 4 MSU rushers from that direction. Had there even been one blocker extra on that side, I wonder if MSU is able to get to Blake quite that quickly. Once the ball was snapped, the offensive line started running down the field to cover the punt even though it didn’t appear MSU had anyone returning it, leaving even fewer players back to hold up the rush. Then, in his attempt to at least get the ball off, O’Neill kicked the ball right into the arms of the MSU defender, who then stumbled his way to the endzone. As others have noted, O’Neill probably should have fallen on the ball and just given up the field position, since MSU still would have had time for maybe 1 or 2 more plays with about half the field to go. But in the heat of the moment, it’s hard to fault a kid for trying to make a play.
Ultimately, it was the play that cost UM the win, but it wasn’t because of any single player. It was just a bit if bad luck at the worst possible time. And while the vast majority of the fanbase responded positively toward O’Neill, it must be stated again that if you think calling for a kid to be deported or kicked off the team, or sending him Twitter-muscle shade, or anything else that prompted Jim Hackett to send a formal letter to the fans and students to lay off of O’Neill, well…
Best: Rationalize away Merrill
ST3’s always-excellent column touched on some of these points, but this was a game far closer than the yardage would lead you to believe. You skim the narrative being put forth by the MSU faithful today, the argument for why MSU won wasn’t because they got the flukiest f*ing play in recent memory but because UM got incredibly lucky because the MSU offense was unstoppable and MSU’s defense was demolishing UM’s attack.
Now, MSU’s passing game was pretty solid (328 yards, 8.4 ypa, 1:0 TD:INT) in aggregate, but Cook still completed less than 50% of his passes, and 74 of those yards came on a busted play to FB Trevon Pendleton. Yes that play happened, but it was also an extreme outlier that goosed the numbers a bit. Throw that out and you have far more pedestrian numbers (254 yards, 6.9 ypa), furthered buoyed by some questionable penalties that kept MSU drives going (the 12 men on the field penalty was correct; the extremely questionable Lewis holding call where the receiver fell into the official that wiped out a pick, the targeting atrocity on Bolden, and the personal foul on Henry for tackling a player before the whistle was blown all felt like missteps) and some great catches by Burbridge. Some fans will argue that Cook was let down by his other receivers (most notably Kings) due to some drops, but that’s the equivalent of arguing “the computer is cheating” whenever your game of Madden mirrors reality a bit and mediocre WRs drop balls. To Cook’s credit, though, he made some great throws in tight windows, and while I still wouldn’t trust him to run my NFL franchise, he played well enough against UM.
By comparison, I thought Rudock had a fine game. He played the game like a QB whose team had the lead for virtually the entire game and knew that the worst thing he could do was give MSU a short field with a bad throw. He completed 60% of his throws for around 6.7 ypa and kept the sheet clean, while lofting a couple of nice balls to both Darboh and Chesson to come back to for completions. In fact, 7 of his 15 completions were for 1st downs (to Cook’s credit, he had 13 for first downs as well, but he also threw the ball 14 more times than Rudock). He continues to struggle throwing the ball deep, jarring in this game due to MSU’s poor corner play, though at some point you have to wonder if there’s a bit Luis Mendoza in his main deep threat, Chesson, who has amazing speed but just has never seemed able to harness it properly as a receiver (obviously he’s had a bit more success on returns and designed runs). But as Brian and others have said, if this is the Rudock UM gets this season, they should win every game except OSU, and until the last 10 seconds, he did more than enough to get this team the win.
MSU never established the running game (yes they had injuries to the offensive line and Jack Allen was out, but MSU has struggled all year on the ground), with the top 3 backs averaged about 2.7 ypc, which was less than the 3.5 ypc picked up by Smith and Houma, the two leading rushers for UM. For the game, UM had more and better rushes than MSU, and that includes knocking off 15 yards for O’Neill’s final punt play. Michigan scored in all 5 of their red zone trips while MSU only scored on 2 of them, missing two FGs and turning the ball over on downs. In fact, MSU failed to convert 4th downs 4 times in this game, only one of which would be considered required (the seemingly last drive on 4th and 19). Hell, dad they lost this game, people would have questioned Dantonio’s decision to call a pretty obvious fake punt that was stopped and UM turned into a TD.
As for defensive dominance by MSU, that doesn’t ring all that true either. MSU scored on 3 of their 12 drives (I’m excluding the end of the half and the last blocked return), while UM scored on 5 of their 13. UM had 3 sacks for 29 yards, matching MSU, and while UM had two less TFLs, theirs resulted in more lost yardage than those by MSU (7 to 9 TFLs, but 37 yards compared to MSU’s 23). MSU had one more QB hit, but UM had 10 (!!) pass breakups, including 6 by Lewis. The teams had basically the same 3rd-down conversion rate (MSU was 3/12, UM 4/15), and UM converted more in the 2nd half (3/10) than MSU (1/6).
The reason MSU had so many more yards compared to UM had largely to do with special teams decidedly going in UM’s favor (along with MSU’s poor conversion rate), with O’Neill averaging 44.6 yards on 7 punts, highlighted by the field-shifting 80 yarder in the first quarter, and pining MSU inside their own 20 two more times. By comparison, MSU averaged 37 yards on 5 punts, including one touchback. And as for returning said kicks, UM pantsed MSU mercilessly, with Peppers and Chesson picking up 154 yards on 7 returns while MSU snagged 54 yards on 4 returns. It all added up to UM starting on it’s own 38 while MSU had an average starting drive on their own 22 yard line. So yeah, that’s where your 150-ish difference in yardage mostly came from; UM didn’t need to go as far to score, so they didn’t.
MSU played well enough to win; UM suffered by not converting a couple more of those redzone trips into touchdowns, and that ultimately cost them at the end. But don’t for a second believe that MSU “deserved” to win this game because the people making the arguments fear basic math. It was a close game that went against UM due to the most freakish of plays possible, nothing more and nothing less.
Meh: Offensive Line Expectations Ticked Down
Yes this is MSU, and yes they again appeared to have a jump on a number of snaps (the 3 goal line runs capped off by Houma’s TD in the 3rd quarter all featured MSU players jumping the snap successfully), but I thought the offensive line did struggle at the point of attack, especially in the running game. MSU’s defensive line is the obvious strength of their unit, and it played well, consistently getting pressure and clogging up the running lanes. Thomas, who I still think is more a uniform stuffer than an elite talent, was second on the team with 7 tackles and held the edge well when UM (illogically) attacked it. I’m sure there were bad cuts by Smith that led to some stops, but like in the Utah game, you can see the deficiencies that submarine the rushing attack against elite defensive lines. Luckily, there aren’t a huge number of those lines left on the schedule, with OSU seemingly being the only sure bet to reproduce this level of disruption.
As for passing downs, it’s harder to tell because Rudock seemed willing to take a couple of sacks instead of throwing the ball downfield. Calhoun was consistently getting pressure and MSU got a couple free runs from their LBs, but it wasn’t the demolition we’ve seen in years past. Rudock appears to have all of his ribs and soul intact, which is a marked improvement for UM signal callers in this rivalry. And as noted above, the passing game was reasonably efficient even though the screen game, which might have loosened up the pressure a bit, was lacking. Overall, it felt like a decent performance by an average line but perhaps not the step forward fans had hoped for coming into the game. At the same time, it wasn’t a huge setback, it was just a reality check that this year’s rushing attack won’t approach the best units under Harbaugh’s various regimes.
Best: Jourdan MF Lewis
Nothing was more entertaining than seeing MSU fans complain about Lewis “mugging” Burbridge throughout the game on his way to 6 pass breakups and a pretty decent effort against MSU’s sole real passing threat. Lewis, of course, is just playing the same type of physical, grabby defense MSU introduced to the conference some years back, just perhaps at a better level than either Waynes or Dennard every did. Being a shutdown corner doesn’t necessarily mean that the guy you cover never catches a ball, especially when the opponent doggedly targets him because they literally had no other competent options (Burbridge was targeted 19 times in this game).
Instead, it means making it as difficult as possible for the offense to consistently complete passes to your side and limiting the damage when they do, and Lewis did that in spades. Even though Burbirdge finished with 9 catches for 132 yards, he only had 3 catches after halftime, and at least two of them were just great plays by him despite great coverage by Lewis. Lewis was also the victim of a pick play in the 2nd quarter (I believe) that Brandstatter called out immediately when it happened. Overall, he played like the All-American he’s being touted as and performed well in a tough matchup against a good receiver.
Best: Defensive Line Expectations Ticked Up
I know MSU had some injuries on the line, but I thought the defensive line, in particular Wormley and Henry, were great in this game. The front 4 recorded 3 sacks, held MSU’s rushing attack in check, got consistent pressure on Cook even when the Spartans left extra blockers in, and generally played like the dominating unit they’ve seen this whole year. They were also active in the passing lanes, with both Wormley and Henry recording pass breakups as well. I await Glasgow’s score in the UFR, but he seemed to hold up decently against a solid MSU interior, and both Jenkins-Stone and Hurst had some nice TFLs in there as well.
Will OSU give them problems? Probably, but even then I’m not sure we’re going to see Elliott plowing past them like he has against most other units. This remains a terrifyingly-good unit, and one that you hope will largely return next year to go along with the return of Mone and (fingers crossed) some high-end defensive tackle recruits. I’m certainly intrigued about next year under this coaching staff.
Best: Peppers Army Knife
Peppers was deployed everywhere possible in this game, and he excelled at all of them. He flipped the field with some great punt returns, had a great 28-yard pass/run play to set up a TD, and did well the couple of times MSU challenged him. He’s obviously still not a finished product, but the strides he’s made in these six games definitely give some credence to the “Woodson” comparisons that seemed a little far-fetched at the start of the year.
Worstest: These F*ing Guys
By the time they went to the review booth for the third time on UM’s goal line run, you could hear the announcers lose their patience (and for the record, I could understand the argument that Houma’s momentum was stopped, but he played to the whistle, which allowed him to score). And even at that point, the refs had a handful more dubious calls to make (Henry’s drive-extending PF, Jake Butt’s probably-a-catch that would have kept a late UM drive alive, Shelton’s “two guys are saying he’s out, but let’s trust the idiots in the booth” catch along the sidelines). The Bolden ejection was terrible in real-time and looked even worse on the numerous replays, as the refs initially tried to frame it as Morgan head-hunting when in fact Cook baseball slid in, then compounded the error by ignoring Conklin clearly throwing Bolden down on top of him. It was a terrible call, an inexcusable call, and yet not all that surprising given how the season has gone in terms of referee miscues.
I understand that being a referee is a thankless job; jagoffs like me freak out every time you screw up and don’t recognize when you get it right. But at the same time, you can’t make a series of illogical calls throughout a game and just chalk it up to “human error” and whatnot when you ALSO try to correct every possible call using video replay. In a game like this between two evenly-matched teams, one team losing its leading tackler due to a dubious call while the other received a fifth of their first downs by penalties is insane, especially when neither team is particularly known for being penalty-prone. And the thing is, this isn’t a Kings-Lakers situation where there might have been actual bias involved; it was just a series of terrible calls without reprieve. And as grown-ass adults who are tasked with calling a game as well as possible, this officiating crew failed, and it failed hard. It didn’t cost UM the game; that’s a fool’s argument to make, especially given how the final play turned out. But it doesn’t make the clown show we all watched any more palpable.
Best: A Week Off
On the one hand it sucks that UM is going to have to wait 2 weeks to wash the taste of this loss from their mouths, but on the other hand it should mitigate any hangover that could linger against the Gophers. UM played like the top-15 team they have shown thus far, and while they certainly shouldn’t have been in any national title talk, they looked a hell of a lot closer to MSU than they had coming into the year. That’s progress I’ll take.
I’m not sure about next week. I might do a mid-season recap, take a break, or something in between. But in a blink of an eye, there are only 5 more games left on the schedule, with the bowl game being the 6th. And I’m going to try to enjoy the last couple weeks as best as possible.
Extended preview post of why Wormley and Henry are playing the positions they are, which includes the main reason. Full article can be found here.
Recently on MGoBlog, Brian wrote a piece previewing the defense as far as his expectations. In the past couple days, he's also discussed the Defensive Line and looked at the recently released Michigan depth chart. A question keeps arising, unknowingly getting answered, and then asked again. It's a common confusion, and an understandable one when looking at nomenclature of football.
In this post, I'm going to look at Michigan's DL and why Henry is playing 5-Tech (nominally, from now on called End) and Wormley is playing 3-Tech (nominally, from now on called Tackle).
What is Michigan Running?
I agree with Brian that this is a 4-3 Under. Michigan isn't going out there with a LOLB and a ROLB, and they aren't going out there and doing a lot of two gapping (though a 4-3 under will often two-gap somewhere). It's a 4-3 Under with a standup end sometimes. Furthermore, the defense will not consistently keep two guys in two-point stances and shift the DL every which way, like Wisconsin's one-gap 3-4.
This is a 4-3 Under all the way. Let's remind everyone of the gap assignments:
And let's take a look at what a nominal 4-3 Under looks like, the one most of you are familiar with from the early Mattison years.
Here, we're going to call the Weakside DE (WDE, 7-Tech) the Buck (it's Buck because "B" stands for Backer, like how MIKE is for Middle in middle LB), to keep with Durkin's terminology. He is, in fact, more DE than LB, but he will occasionally drop (see image below). The strongside DE (SDE, 5-Tech) we will simply call the End. The 3-Tech we are going to call a DT (or tackle). The 1-Tech we will call a NT (Nose).
This is close to what Michigan is running, but not quite. Actually, the image above is closer to what Michigan will now run than what Michigan nominally ran with Mattison as the DC. Notice how Beyer (the SAM LB at the top of the screen) is in a loose position. For Michigan fans, this is similar to how Greg Robinson deployed Stevie Brown in his 4-3 Under, when Stevie Brown managed to have a very good Senior year. This is what we call a "Loose" alignment, meaning he's 5-and-5 (5 yards off the LOS, 5 yards outside the offensive EMOL). Ross, the WILL in the picture above, is also playing a Loose technique (in this case, it is to allow the dropping DE to play an inside zone or spy and to allow the WILL to play the outside Flat Zone, where there is more likely to be an immediate threat in the pass game).
With Ross, an undersized SAM LB, Michigan will continue playing more of a 4-3 Under Loose.
Many 4-3 Under teams traditionally move the FS down into the box as the 8th man and rotate the SS to the center of the field. They do this because the Buck and DT generally protect the FS from having to face any wash, something the ILBs (WILL and MIKE) are more accustomed to. It'll look like this:
But Michigan won't be doing that as much this year. Instead, the SS (who always aligns to pass strength) will be the 8th man in the box. He can be inserted like this:
But more often he will align closer to this.
This essentially makes the SAM another ILB. He's protected a bit by the End, and the defense won't get out flanked because the SS holds the edge and the SAM can work over the top to provide additional support.
Wormley and Henry Primer
As a primer, Wormley is a guy that came in as a projected SDE. He was expected to be between 270 and 300 lbs. He has good straight line speed for his size and displays excellent burst when he's comfortable with what is in front of him. Unfortunately for him (and fortunately in some ways), he's also very long and tall. With hesitation sometimes coming when he has to take blocks from different angles, he often stands up. This leads to him struggling to handle doubles.
Henry on the other hand, was always a DT. He was projected as a slashing, penetrating 3-Tech that could also slide down and play the Nose if needed. He's more of a squaty player, but has the first step to beat OL to the spot he wants. This first step quickness gives him potential to be a two-gap player, and his squaty build also gives him the stout base to prevent him from getting clobbered when he's forced to choose one of two gaps. He also stands up too high at times, but has the strength to fight back against it.
Brian previewed these guys well in the DL articles linked above, and there is video there to demonstrate these traits in these players.
So Why The Position Switch
The Double Team
As I said, it's been explained, but never really answered. But the answer is quite obvious once it's pointed out. Wormley struggles more against doubles, and the 3-tech will almost never get doubled. The 5-tech will get doubled, possibly on about half the plays, especially with the way Michigan will align.
Notice the 3-tech isn't doubled on the run his direction.
This means that the 5-tech has to hold up to double teams quite often, it also means the 3-tech can simply be let loose to be a penetrating force on the interior. If you can get that out of your 3-tech, you cut off half the field and give the Buck a lot more options as a pass rusher, because he doesn't have to be as preoccupied with the rush.
Whether the SAM is in a Loose alignment or inside, initially, the 5-tech will often get doubled against zone based rushing attacks.
Here, the 3-tech is doubled, so he has to be able to handle that a bit, but the double likely doesn't last as long as the OL tries to get out to the WILL, and it is on the backside of the play.
Against man blocking schemes, he'll get doubled on essentially every strongside run (Power O and Counter F, for example)
He has to hold up at that position for the rush defense to have success. If he doesn't hold up, he gets washed into the ILB, and large creases in the defense form, particularly when the SAM is playing in a Loose alignmnet.
Again, if you want to read about the other main advantage to Henry lining up at End rather than 3-Tech, here's a link to a full post at my blog.
Per Twitter, no Maurice Hurst, Willie Henry, Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt, Dymonte Thomas. I'll update as things become more clear. This is a little worrying:
No Jake Butt on the dress list this week. Suspended "for a violation of team expectations"— Sam Webb (@SamWebb77) November 1, 2014
The safety situation:
Jarrod Wilson and Delano Hill running at safety with the first team in skeleton drills.— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) November 1, 2014
UPDATE: Jehu is back and will be starting:
Jehu Chesson announced on the big board as the starter across from Devin Funchess today.— Ace Anbender (@AceAnbender) November 1, 2014
This summer, I found myself riding a bullet train through the French countryside on my way to Paris. I must have been the only one on the train who was wondering why it had to be traveling so fast. The reason I wanted that train to slow down was that I was reading Bo' Lasting Lessons, by Bo Schembechler and friend of the blog, John U. Bacon. Read stories about Michigan football or wander around the Louvre looking at centuries-old artistic treasures? I prefer the former.
In prior seasons, I've tried to have a recurring theme running through the diaries. The first season was based on stupid things B1G Network announcers said during games (does anyone else remember, "trash cans full of dirt?") The second season I did this, it was more of the same, but sadly, the B1G announcers didn't provide as much material. Perhaps my season 2 diaries are best characterized by having an unhealthy focus on uniformz. Last season was my own version of Memories from my Father. For this season, I picked up a few things from Bo's book and will format the diary accordingly.
But before we get to the links, (yes, I'm adding the play-by-play link because that has MOAR numbers, and if there's anything I like more than reading 43,000+ words about the upcoming season, it's numbers from actual games) let's set the scene by comparing the competitors. On one sideline, we have:
Devin and Devin
Space, bitches, space
On the other sideline, we have:
Lamb and Lamm (lambs being led to the slaughter? Yes, exactly that.)
Dada and Bobo. Say what you will about App State, their roster overflows with NOTY candidates, and I haven't even mentioned Simmsy McElfresh or Johnny Law yet. Osvaldo Sombo made a tackle. Everybody Sombo!
Trail, bitches, trail
I wore my Space t-shirt a week ago in front of my 9-year old, and realized he's not quite ready to see daddy wearing t-shirts with bad words on them. We reached a compromise. I can wear that shirt if I put masking tape over the "b-word."
* Bo treated seniors differently than the rest of the team. He gave them perks such as first class seats on flights for road games, but expected them to be leaders in return. So we'll discuss the seniors first.
* Gardner was 13 for 14 for 173 yards with 3 TDs passing and no turnovers.
* Jake Ryan's move to Mike is a work in progress, but he did have three tackles, a TFL and a QH.
* I get the feeling Frank Clark may have been trying too hard. He picked up a ridiculous penalty for jumping the shark, I mean, the shield.
* Delonte Hollowell had 1 pass break up and Ray Taylor had one tackle. The numbers weren't there, but you can't make tackles when the guys you are covering aren't targeted because they are covered well. All the DBs played really well. Jourdan Lewis was in textbook blanket coverage all afternoon.
* After not starting (lemon-time!) Desmond Morgan led the team with 6 tackles.
* Brennan Beyer had a tackle and a QH.
* Wile missed a FG from 48 yards that would have been good from 50, or 55, or 60. That kick was curving in and just needed a little more room.
* Hagerup punted once for 46 yards. I thought it had a low trajectory, possibly setting up a return, but Chesson was down there in a hurry. Chesson as a gunner is a good memory from last season.
* Joey Burzynski started. The running game really took off when Kalis replaced him. Sorry Joey, but it's true. He might be able to play B1G football at his size, but not when he's next to another smaller lineman like Miller.
* What do you call a cow with no legs? Ground beef. Yep, my son is still telling that joke. What do you call Michigan's rushing attack? Ground beef, at least for one game. Smith and Green are both listed at 220 pounds. They were running with more aggression to my eyes. Pick a hole and go, and they went.
* Green, Smith, Funchess, and Gardner were the stories of the game. Gardner and Funchess were expected. Getting 100+ yards each from Green and Smith was a nice surprise, considering we were missing Glasgow, starting Burzynski, and starting a true frosh at LT. Have we figured things out, or is Appy State that bad? Time will tell.
* Green had a long run of 62 and Smith had a long of 61. It was almost a, "whatever you can do, I can do better," type situation. Both were caught from behind. They may lack the home run speed of a Denard or Wheatley, but I'd be happy with a bunch of doubles and triples this season.
* I'll have to re-read Bo's lasting lessons to get the quote, but I remember him saying something about feeling good if the offense could score 24 points because he felt his defense wouldn't give up that many. Appy State scored two late, meaningless TDs.
* 26 players recorded defensive statistics, so pretty much everyone Brian wrote about in the season preview.
* I'm not really going out on a limb here by thinking the heroes of the defensive UFR are going to be Willie Henry Jr. and Jourdan Lewis. Each player only had 3 tackles, but Henry was such a disruptive presence on the line, and Lewis was running step-for-step with whoever he was matched up against.
* After last season, I thought I would spend some time looking at TFLs. I don't recall the exact numbers, but I think we averaged around 9 or 10 TFLs given up per game last season. In our first game of this season, against a weak Appalachian State defense that gave up 350 yards of rushing to Michigan and their questionable offensive line, we still gave up six TFLs. I'm aware that sentence makes no sense.
* Of the six TFLs, one was a sack and one was a pass to Canteen. So we really only had 4 of those awful TFLs from the running backs. Two of those were from Green and two were Hayes, and the combined yardage lost was only 6 yards.
* I like Green and Smith, but put me in the Smith camp for who should be the 1A. In addition to Green's 2 TFLs, he also had three carries that gained no yards. Smith's shortest run was for +2 yards. I just think Smith is a little more decisive at this point and is more likely to gain some positive yards. But it's still early. The nice thing is that it appears both are running like veterans and have left the tentative play typical of freshman behind them.
The Team, The Team, The Team
* Mike McCray blocked a punt that Ben Gedeon returned for a TD. If the LB depth chart proves to be too difficult to crack, perhaps Ben would make a good fullback. J/K.
* He's going to be good. He ran up on a punt and prevented App State from getting the frustrating extra yards from the roll.
* Peppers was covering a guy, and I thought, "Oh great, there's an 8 yard completion," only Peppers covered 4 yards before the receiver turned upfield and limited the play to four yards.
Beth MOwins School of JournAlism
* I Attended the Beth MOOOwins school of jOUrnalism this sUmmer. According to Beth, the key to doing play-by-play is to randomly Over-anunciate your vOwels. That's the key to doing a Beth MOwins imitAYtion. Just blAst the occAsional vOwel at mAx vOlume. Especially the O's, she loves her O's.
* What does Joey Galloway bring to the game besides extreme narcissism?
* Early in the game, Beth shared this surprising gem with us, Devin Funchess' jersey has the #1 on it, on the front AND the back. Amazing. All this time I thought players had different numbers on the front and back of their uniforms, the better to trick the opposition.
* Thanks to Beth for pointing out Michigan's famous Union Hall. Brought back a lot of memories. Good old Union Hall.
2013 will be remembered as "The Season of Infinite Pain" for me, and for many others, I suspect. High expectations have a way of making even good seasons frustrating; 2013 has been well-below "good." Not only did we fail to compete for a B1G Championship, we had our expectations boosted after a magical performance against Notre Dame, only to be crushed by consecutive weeks of struggling to beat two of the worst programs in college football.
I was going to wait until after the bowl game to write this diary, but this lull is killing me and let's face it--the BWW Bowl isn't going to change much.
This series is something of a follow-up to my diary re-ranking players based on Rivals ratings. Reading the beginning of that diary will help explain the player's rankings (as well as the Rivals ranking system). Additionally, I've added letter grades, which are explained more thoroughly at the end of the post, so that we can get down to business with the first position group in the series:
Season Grade: C+ Overall, it was a less-than-stellar year on the defensive front. My pre-season predictions said the fate of our season rested on the offensive and defensive lines, and I believe that turned out to be the case. The D-Line produced just 13.5 sacks, and only one player on the line had more than 2.5. The "right to rush four" was never earned, and the season suffered because of it.
That said, there were some positive signs. Frank Clark showed marked improvement, and Willie Henry emerged as a viable option to replace either QWash or Black in 2014. Wormley started to emerge in limited snaps, and other young guns like Ojemudia and Charlton showed flashes.
Big things were expected of Frank Clark in 2013
Season Grade: B+ To say Frank Clark made a big jump this year would be an understatement: he had 17 more tackles, 3.5 more TFLs, and 3.0 more sacks than in 2012. More importantly, he played much more consistently and held down his job as the WDE all season. He led the team in TFLs by a whopping 5.0, and many of those came against some strong opposition (2.5 vs. Iowa, 2.5 vs. MSU).
That said, the off-season hype and reports of him besting Taylor Lewan in practice pushed expectations to a probably unreasonable level, and he did not come through. I predicted that we would need at least eight sacks from Frank Clark if our defense was going to get the requisite amount of pressure on opposing passers to make 2013 a successful (B1G Champs) season. Not only did he fall far short of that number, his five sacks all came in three games: UConn, Penn State, and Indiana. In hindsight, we sure needed those sacks against UConn and PSU, but they weren't enough to win the game. His pass-rushing was pretty quiet--even though he deserved a few more QBH's, he only finished the season with seven (which led the team), and had just three in B1G play.
2014 outlook: It says here (again) that without significant production from Frank Clark (or a surprise at WDE), the whole 2014 team's ceiling is limited. It is vital for every 4-3 team to be able to produce consistent pressure from their front four, and the WDE is the guy with the best opportunities in our system. If Clark can't get to eight sacks in '14, we'll once again find ourselves in the middle-of-the-pack (#67 nationally in 2013 with 23.0 total) in sacks. That is not a good place to be.
Jibreel Black will be missed
Season Grade: B Jibreel Black is the kind of player you like more every time you see him play. I believe he was our most consistent performer on the line this year, even plugging-in at NT despite his 278 lb. frame. Black, by far, produced the most pressure from the interior of the line, and probably produced the most consistent pass-rush of anyone on the team.
Unfortunately, it wasn't good enough. He was tied for second (Cam Gordon) on the team with 7.5 TFLs and third (Chris Wormley) with 2.5 sacks. On the defensive line, only Clark and Willie Henry had more tackles. Yes, he was a productive player, but this needs to be the baseline for DTs if we are going to achieve our potential as an elite program. For Jibreel Black, I see a guy who maxed his potential and deserves to be remembered for his worthy contribution. But I also see a guy who stood out more than he should have because of pretty poor production by the D-Line as a unit.
NFL draft outlook: Black is a fringe prospect, IMO, with a minimal chance of being a FA pick-up.
Quinton Washington's 2013 was a bit of a mystery
Season Grade: C+ I call shenanigans. QWash finished the 2012 season strong--he had ten tackles in our last three games and a sack in the Outback Bowl--and appeared poised to be one of the team's most important pieces in 2013. While no confirmed injuries were reported that I am aware of, I believe there were some physcial issues that held him back this year. But that's just speculation.
What is certain is that his season was just mediocre. We needed him to eat blocks and make a few plays each game; he didn't do enough of either, registered zero TFLs on the season and just five solo stops. Expectations probably hovered around 35 tackles, 8.0 TFLs, and 3.0 sacks; he was far short of all of those marks. Sure, part of it was that we frequently had smaller DL packages out there, but if QWash had been playing up to his potential, I don't think Mattison would have kept him on the sideline. He was serviceable while he was in, but that's about the best I can say.
NFL draft outlook: Not happening. He appeared poised to be a late-round pick after last year, but a completely lackluster senior season seems to have erased that possibility.
It's remarkable that we never established a starter at SDE. Keith Heitzman was the presumed and nominal guy, but only started seven times and didn't even play in one of our games. Brennen Beyer is currently listed as the starter at SDE, and he spent most of the season playing SLB with his 250 lb. frame. It is not good that he is our best option at that position. Chris Wormely showed signs that he can play up to his lofty potential, but did not produce consistently. Matt Godin was sometimes on the field.
Willie Henry figures to start at either DT or NT in 2014. Despite playing in only nine games (and missing stat-boosters CMU and Akron) and starting just five, Henry racked-up 28 tackles and 2.5 TFLs. 13 of those tackles came in the final three games. QWash's 2013 fade gives me pause, but I will go ahead and predict a big 2014 for Henry anyway, in the 40 tackle range with about 10 TFLs. Tom Strobel (whom I wrongly predicted would have a breakout 2013) will also figure into the rotation here, and perhaps Henry Poggi and Maurice Hurst.
Beyer is the presumed starter at SDE, and, as Brian says, will likely fulfill his Roh 2.0 destiny. He will add 20-30 lbs. in the off-seasn and be solid but not spectacular, just as he has been this year. He will be reviewed again in the LB wrap-up.
Ondre Pipkins will probably be our starting NT if he can get healthy; that is a big "if" for a 300-plus pounder who's had trouble staying in shape when his legs worked properly. If it's not him, please feel free to panic as Richard Ash is currently listed as the #2 option at NT. After that? Ryan Glasgow is the only other guy with the requisite size (and the aforementioned Henry, which requires plugging someone else in at DT) to play the position. Perhaps Hurst will become a NT; Bryan Mone will be a true freshman and is likely to get some snaps.
Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton represent what I believe to be the most talented group of back-ups on the roster, and I expect both to contribute. Charlton may very well be big enough to play SDE and even DT on passing downs, and I hope we find a combination of players that can get pressure on third down without blitzing, which may put Ojemudia at the SDE.
The line will lose its interior starters in Qwash and Black, but both are replaceable. Henry is likely to be an upgrade at either position, and in the other spot...well, we may miss Jibreel Black if someone doesn't step-up. At SDE, I expect Beyer to be an upgrade over the platoon this year. Even if he's not, I'd expect Wormley to be an upgrade.
To be an elite defensive front, we need our line to produce around 20 sacks. That's 50% more than this year's group could manage. While I believe Clark will take another step forward, Beyer will be solid, and I am excited about the future for Henry and Wormley, 2015 is when Hoke's recruiting will have the D-Line up to snuff. I expect a "B/B-" season in 2014...quite a bit better than this year, but not yet elite.
- A+ Consensus All-American. One of the best players in the country regardless of position.
- A Likely Second-tem All-American/First-team All-B1G. A hugely impactful player that affects every snap for which he is on the field and is one of the better players at his position in the country.
- A- Likely All-B1G selection. A play-maker that forces other teams to adjust their gameplan.
- B+ An impact player who is a big factor in the team's success.
- B "The expectation for the position." At Michigan, this means you are doing your job well enough to get us to at least 10 wins and to challege for the B1G title.
- B- Not quite up to par. A player who may start, but an upgrade would be helpful.
- C+ Significant snaps for a C+ player will hold the team back from achieving its goals: 10 wins and a B1G championship.
- C An average college football player on an average team. Picture an average starter at Washington State.
- C- A player that is consistently unproductive and should only be on the field in an emergency situation or for garbage time.
- D+ A player whose performance hurts the team.
- D A player that should not be on the field for any reason at Michigan.
- F Pure disaster.
Please note that these grades are NOT representative of what I believe to be a player's future potential. I am not assuming anyone with a low grade will turn out to be an unproductive player at Michigan.