to play football, not to play trumpet
If They Could Say It is my attempt to give the real answers people would give if it wouldn't cause a media sh;tstorm. Typically, I'll have the Head Coach and Coordinators answer questions, and may also include other coaches, players, or personnel.
How did you feel about the team's performance tonight?
I hate losing. We should have won this game. We're far from perfect, but we had our opportunities, and we blew it.
What opportunities did you miss?
Did you watch? It's real obvious. We missed wide open TD passes. We can't do that. We dropped a couple easy catches. We threw a pick-6 in a key moment. We missed a couple of holes in the running game. We didn't even keep our onside kick in play.
Talk about the interception for a TD.
Just a bad, bad read. The play is a fade-out combo where the outside receivers run fades and the slots run quick outs. Butt runs a hitch. Grant Perry was the least open of the five options. Now, the thing that will take some time, is that we should have recognized pre-snap that Ty Isaac had a 15-yard cushion and just thrown a screen to him. But that takes time and practice...we're not there yet.
What were the good things?
There were actually a lot of good things. In the second half, even with some obvious short yardage runs that we blew, we improved our yard per carry by 1.5. The receivers were getting some separation and we were hitting some passes. Jake Butt was always open and had an amazing game. Peppers annihilated a few plays. And, while his screw-ups probably cost us the game, Rudock made several plays that also kept us in it.
How did you feel about the run-blocking?
How do you feel when some one punches you in the groin? It sucked. The first half was terrible. We played soft and tentative. Came out in the second half and played better, but we have a long way to go.
What about the fourth-and-short play?
Lots of people are piling on Kalis for missing a block on his pull, but Braden's execution was just as bad or worse. He allowed himself to give up almost two yards and gave an easy angle for the pursuit. Actually, he was our worst lineman today, and probably our worst offensive player.
Are there any plays you'd call differently?
First, Jim calls the plays. Here's the thing: we had more than our fair share of chances to make big plays, and we blew it. Two wide open TDs, a few running lanes that could have been huge gains, and a few dropped passes that could have changed things. We could easily have had over 400 yards and 30 points in this game. Have to make those plays to be a great team.
What were the positives you saw?
Jake Butt is probably the best TE in the nation. That TD catch is one of the best plays I've ever seen. I mean, the defender has his had on the ball, Jake is at the peak of his jump, and he still manages to pull it in, no question. That's even a catch by the weird NFL standards. And the pass pro. If we can protect that well all season, we'll be in good shape and we'll hit some of those bombs.
What does the OL have to do to improve?
Simple: not play softer than a pair of Twin City socks. We had the right mentality in the second half. We'll get better, or you'll see new guys on the field.
What happened on the Utah TD drives?
What happened? We had a couple bad series. Missed some reads, played out of our gaps, and let their QB walk into the endzone. But you know what? College kids are often going to have a couple bad series in a game. We'll get better. This was our first action with live bullets in our defense.
Who looked good?
The DL was pretty strong. There was no space for one of the best RBs in the country to run between the tackles. Wormley and Henry really did their jobs.
Who didn't look as good?
Brian obviously jinxed the LBs. Morgan didn't have his best day, and Bolden couldn't make tackles even though he was in the right spots. Ross might see more PT, especially against spread teams. Stribling was meh. Peppers woke up in the second half.
The most exciting part of the game was having Harbaugh home
As spring games go, that was the most exciting one we've seen in years...but only because we haven't actually seen a spring game in years. The 7-0 win for the Blue team featured lots of good defensive plays and some pretty disconcerting offense. It seems the rich (defense) has gotten richer while the poor (offense) has only received a modest raise. But there is still time...
"If They Could Say It" is my attempt to give the honest answers coaches (and others) won't/can't give during their press conferences. The idea is to answer the way I believe the individual would if s/he could answer honestly without any repercussions or media frenzy. This is my attempt at the Spring Game edition, and I'll answer some questions for the HC and the coordinators. When appropriate, I'll use actual questions asked at press conferences (those will be in bold italics; my made-up questions are in standard italics).
Your general takeaways from today? What did you like, what maybe obviously needs work still?
My general takeaway is that our offense is bad and our defense is good. Sure, the defense should be ahead at this point, but I did not see enough guys willing to do whatever it takes to win on offense. We have a long way to go.
I liked the inside pressure from the defensive line, the linebacker play, the safeties, and the cornerbacks who are actually listed as CBs on the roster. Dennis Norfleet may have just lost his job as a CB.
And finally, your phrasing really sucked there. "What maybe obviously needs work?" That's a stupid fucking question. And I think I've pretty much answered it anyway--there are probably only four positions on offense that are set in stone, and that's not a good thing.
What did you see out of your quarterbacks today? What did you like from them?
I saw two guys prove that they are who we thought they were. Shane has an amazing arm and is finally developing some touch, but he doesn't go through his reads and always trusts his arm to make the primary throw. He's got a pretty good deep ball--his fades get there pretty quickly and in the right spot--and some good chemistry with Darboh. Some of those slants he threw were Brett Favre speed throws...not sure if that's a good thing. Physically, he's ready to go be our starting QB, and we can win with him. Mentally, I'm not sure he's ready to go through progressions and know how to throw the ball so our guys can catch it.
Malzone has "it," but hasn't developed enough to be physically ready to start. He reads the game, goes through progressions, and knows how to win. His throws are still just a little bit off and he didn't challenge the defense deep. But he was hurried quite a bit and he is still in the thick of the race. We'll just have to see if he can make the throws this fall.
I wish Speight had been healthy. This QB race is wide open. Rudock will definitely challenge. By next year, we'll have lots of good options.
You yourself noted that you played with mixed offensive lines today. How much would you say the running game has come along since maybe day one of spring practice to now?
Not enough. Were you watching? It's not good enough. The blocking is still inconsistent and the RBs aren't always finding the holes. De'Veon Smith has demonstrated that he's the best back we've got that's healthy right now. His vision, balance, and power really showed today. We mostly limited Derrick Green to outside runs where he doesn't have to work as hard find the crease. Ty's been looking good, but wasn't able to go today. Shallman is an H-back playing RB. But the bottom line is that if we don't get better blocking from our first team OL, it's going to be a long season. I'm disappointed that only Cole and Glasgow have locked down starting roles. The other three spots are up for grabs, though Kalis is probably close.
Are you guys trying to come up with, even within the coaches, some kind of two-deep so that you go into the summer with some idea and then they can fight again in the fall, or are you just not even going to look at that again until the fall? You talked about the starting five on the line. Do you have an idea who those are? Can you share?
Did you see a published depth chart? We obviously have one. If I wanted you to know that information, don't you think I would have given it to you? Stop asking the same fucking question different ways as if that's going to get me to answer it.
The only guys that have locked-down starting spots on offense are Mason Cole, Graham Glasgow (assuming he's not in jail), Amara Darboh, and Jake Butt. Kalis and Smith are close, and Chesson is right there too. But it's disappointing that so few players have separated themselves, and that showed on the field today.
Your team lost today. What positives do you take away from this game?
That I'm a better football coach than I am a general manager. Yeah, the Maize team lost, but the defense sure kicked the offense's ass today.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of your defense?
Our DTs kick ass. We have several good players there, and not enough good players on the outside at DE. Glasgow, Hurst, Mone, Henry, and Wormley are all making plays. Injuries aren't helping, but we need more production from our DEs.
The LBs are pretty damn good. Bolden is everywhere, and Morgan isn't far behind. Gedeon will make an impact. Ross and McCray will add even more once they're back.
The starting CBs look pretty good--Lewis is a future NFL player and Countess has improved. We need more depth there--Norfleet isn't going to cut it. At safety, we are surprinsingly loaded. Wilson and Peppers are the clear starters, but Hill, Clark, and Thomas are impact players. We may have to find ways to get more of them on the field.
Coach, how di-
WOOOOOOOO!!!! FUCK YEAH!!! BLUE TEAM, BABY!!! SUCK IT, DURKY-DURK!!!
Coach Durkin mentioned that the defense is way ahead of the offense....
Well, duh. Did you see what I inherited? Do you have any idea how poorly coached this offense has been? We are un-learning bad habits and trying to replace them with good ones. That takes time, especially on the offensive line.
Who are the guys that stand out right now on offense?
Coach Harbaugh already answered this, but I'll add to it. Darboh is a very good WR, and he'll start for us. Chesson will likely start too, because he knows how to play the game and is a good blocker. We need Canteen, Cole, Norfleet, and Ways to step-up. Jake Butt's going to have a big year in this offense. De'Veon Smith showed why recruting rankings aren't always right--he's way ahead of Green. We still need more production, and hopefully Isaac can help us there. On the O-Line, only Cole and Glasgow have really grabbed the job by the balls. Kalis is close. We need Magnuson, Braden, LTT, Dawson, and JBB to step up. Kerridge is clearly our best FB. There are five or six starting jobs wide open, and that's not a good thing right now. On defense, they've got the opposite problem at DT, LB, and S--too many good players to start them all.
What are you going to do to improve between now and the fall?
The most important thing is that we're going to smash each other on the O-Line until we play like fucking men. But we really need time to develop--the offensive side of the ball on this team has not been well-taught, and we are obviously behind the defense.
Does that mean you think Coach Durkin is a better coach?
Shut the fuck up. Did you see who won today? BLUE TEEEEAAAAMMMM BABY!!!
The look of a man who knows something you don't
One of the worst things about freedom of speech is spin. The media is so focused on a game of "gotcha" that anyone with a remotely public profile has to be careful about how honest they are. It has created a world where back-door dealings are the ONLY way to conduct any business that is even remotely interesting to the public. You can say anything in the world, and get in trouble.
So I have decided to start a regular feature here on MGoBlog called "If They Could Say It." The idea is that I will say what I believe the public figures would say--through their voices--if they could be honest without penalty. It will be irregular during the off-season, but closer to weekly during the season.
I am not a reporter. I don't have sources. I will base these statement purely off of what happens and my interpretation of personalities and events. I will use supporting information, statistics, and quotes, but the ultimate result is just my guess at what these people would say, if they could say it.
The first episode is a belated look back at the CC...
Seems like a good place to start
During a coaching search, nobody tells the whole truth. Nick Saban repeatedly denied he was interested in the Alabama job just days before he took it. But what's clear in this case is that Michigan never seemed to get serious about a Plan B, because they knew they didn't need one. I believe Hackett was working with Harbaugh's back channel by the time he took the podium to give his now famous "swim lanes" speech.
Furthermore, Harbaugh did NOT take the contract he certainly could have gotten. While his pay is high, he could have gotten Nick Saban money. He turned that down, and I think he would say, "Because I don't want to be the highest paid coach in college football until I've proven I'm the best coach in college football." But this is more evidence that Harbaugh wasn't spending December trying to get himself a deal, but rather negotiating the details of the deal.
"Although we never really needed a back-up, we had several candidates in line, including Doug Marrone. But we also had a guy whom we knew would accept the job if it was offered to him: Dan Mullen."
Jim Hackett is intelligent, organized, and methodical. Even though he knew before he even started the search that he was likely to get Harbaugh, he was working on back-up plans. The Cutcliffe call controversy is some evidence that Michigan was, in fact, asking who might be interested in being a candidate. But having a short list would not have been good enough for Hackett, who knew there was a chance, however small, that he might not get Harbaugh when December 30th finally arrived. With a search lasting that long, he would have needed a surefire candidate ready to take the job if offered, and I believe that was Dan Mullen. Why? While Marrone and likely several other NFL types might have been called first, they would have had to accept the job immediately--a sticky situation if you're in the playoffs or if you just want some time to kick the tires at Michigan. Mullen has a proven track record, knows the area, and would have created some immediate buzz as the Bo to Urban's Woody. Brian agrees.
2011 was magical, but the delay in instituting "his" offense likely hurt Brady Hoke
Sometimes a good coach doesn’t work out because the pieces don’t fit. There is little doubt that the transition to a spread offense was tougher than even Rich Rod himself could have predicted. And while bringing power offense to Michigan in 2011 would have meant sacrificing the talents of Denard Robinson (who likely would have transferred if asked to play RB) and our only bowl win since 2007, I wonder if it would have been better for Hoke (not for us as fans)? If Brady Hoke had gone 5-7 in his first year with a new offense, is it plausible that the 2014 version would have looked much better?
I am NOT making the case that Brady Hoke should have been retained. I am pointing out a fact in college football: Change is hard.
Brian wrote an impassioned case for Dan Mullen yesterday, whom I believe would be a very good hire for Michigan. There is, however, a big risk: the transition to Mullen’s offense takes too long and the impatient fanbase forces another coaching change.
What I wanted to do was to breakdown every player on our offense’s two-deep and to what system/style I believe they are best suited. Keep mind that every program mixes elements of different systems, but the most successful outfits have an established identity with corresponding constraints that can maximize their personnel. Part I is a brief breakdown of the systems, part II will explore which players fit each style.
Power football says, "I am going to punch you in the face," then does it
Power Running: The hallmark of any “power” running team is using an extra blocker at the point of attack to open lanes for the ball-carrier. In today’s college football, that almost always means using pulling offensive linemen, since fullbacks are less and less common. Motioning TEs and H-Backs are also used. Power can favor both power and speed backs, and makes the reads for the ball-carrier simpler. Increasingly, however, these schemes are mixed with zone blocking. Examples: Stanford and Wisconsin
Zone concepts threaten multiple gaps on every play
Zone Running: Simple to explain, hard to master. Just the block the guy in your zone, and, if that defender is secured, move to the next one. The zone system is popular because of its versatility: nearly every play gives the ball-carrier at least two choices (and a cut-back) and forces defenses to play very controlled, or risk giving-up a big play. The drawback is that a good guess by a defensive coordinator or player can blow-up a play, since the O-Line is moving laterally off the snap. Many offenses focus on either inside zone or outside zone. Examples: Alabama and Iowa
Spread-to-Run can be smashmouth and fullbackian
Spread-to-Run: Spread offenses all have one thing in common: their intent to force the defense to “declare” itself pre-snap. A spread-to-run team utilizes a mobile QB to add an extra blocker for the defense to deal with, and then tilts the math further in its favor by optioning off defenders. While the O-Line predominantly uses zone blocking in most schemes, there are lots of programs (Auburn, Miss. State) that incorporate power and lead concepts as well. The passing game is set-up by the run, and usually involves simple plays and patterns that allow the QB to make his decision pre-snap, or set-up the defense with play action. Examples: Auburn and Ohio State
160 feet never looked so wide
Spread-to-Pass: Bias alert! This is my favorite college offense. The wide hash marks of the college field force a defense to show its hand pre-snap. A QB in the shotgun can see the whole field, and, by using receivers spread to the sidelines (or close) can determine with a high rate of success what type of defense (man, zone, help over the top) he is looking at. Of course, having a mobile QB certainly helps add another element to this offense, but its primary function is to open the field for easy yards and chunk plays with those pre-snap reads that often come from the sidelines. Examples: Baylor and Notre Dame
Most "pro-style" college offenses are actually hybrids
Pro-style: This scheme mimics the multiple formations and concepts used in the NFL. There is a lot of under center work for the QB, and route combinations (triangle, high-low, smash, levels, etc.) set-up challenging scenarios for the defense to read-and-react to quickly by threatening multiple layers of the defense and forcing uncomfortable match-ups. When run correctly, I believe these are the most difficult offenses to defend. The trouble is, they’re awfully hard to run correctly. QBs are required to make multiple reads on each pass play and routes must be run with extreme precision. Pro style offenses can use the pass to set-up the run, or vice versa. It’s getting increasingly difficult to find a pure pro-style offense in the college game. Examples: LSU and Michigan State
The truth is that all offenses use some combination of these concepts, but, again, most build off of a single style and related constraint plays. Establishing that identity early in a coach’s tenure is vital, because repetition is a player’s best friend. Next week I'll match each player on our offensive two-deep with a system that I believe fits him best.
On a week with no news (other than bad news), I thought I'd share some of the interesting numbers about Michigan and B1G football that have caught my eye.
Devin Gardner before he was 98, which now feels like his age and his number
- 12...or is it? I'm not sure if Brady Hoke was still counting Frank Clark as a senior or not when he mentioned the "12" seniors we'll be honoring this week, but there are only 11 on the roster, and that includes Desmond Morgan. If there were actually 12, it would be the same number of seniors we had on the roster in RR's final season (2010).
- Eight. The number of seniors on the depth chart, including the kicker and punter. Of course, that doesn't count Clark.
- Four. There are four seniors on the defensive depth chart, with Beyer, Ryan, and Taylor as starters and Hollowell as a back-up.
- One. There is only one senior starting on offense (Gardner), and only one other senior on the offensive depth chart (Burzynski).
TFLs were the trademark offensive play in 2013
- 4.51. Michigan's YPC is a full 1.23 yards better than 2013's pathetic 3.28 per carry mark. That's good for 57th in the country, compared to 115th in the country last year.
- 3.23. Against Minnesota, Michigan's YPP (yds/play). It's the worst of the season so far, although 3.26 against MSU is awfully close. Last year, U-M was under 3 YPP three times--Iowa, MSU, and Nebraska, with a low of 2.77 vs. Iowa.
- 113. At 8.96 TFLs allowed per game, Michigan's total of 113 for the 2013 season was the worst (125th) in college football. This year's current total is 54, which is 54th in the country.
- 5.28. Michigan's 5.28 YPP (85th) on the season is worse than 2013's 5.44, 2012's 6.07, and 2011's 6.23. That's an easy (and awful) trendline to draw in your head.
- 117. Michigan's rank in YPG this year. We are also 112th in scoring offense, one spot better than Northwestern. We were 46th in scoring offense in 2013, 57th in 2012, and 26th in 2011. We are just barely over 20 PPG this year. Melvin Gordon averages 15 PPG by himself.
- 114. Michigan's rank in passing YPG. We finished 2013 at 51. Shockingly, there are three teams in the B1G with lower ranks (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana) and two of those teams have better records than Michigan. The B1G has six teams ranked 94th or lower in passing YPG.
- 4. The B1G has four teams (OSU, MSU, Wisc, Neb) ranked in the top 15 in scoring offense this year, more than any other conference.
This guy still has four years of eligibility
- 36. According to Rivals, the number of four and five star players Michigan has recruited since 2012. ALL of those players are still on the roster, and all had offers from top-tier programs.
- 13. The number of returning scholarship OL in 2015, 16 total.
- 6. The number of four-star (Rivals) players who committed in 2011. Two are starters (Beyer and Taylor)--the same number who are no longer with the team (Barnett, Bryant).
- 3. In what should be the class's RS SR year, only three commits from the 2010 class remain on the team.
Please come home. Or send your brother.
Embracing Mark Dantonio for an extended congratulatory message, I have little doubt that Coach Hoke whispered something graceful, complimentary, and kind. I also think he said something else.
Few things make Mark Dantonio smile. He is the grumpy cat. But beating Michigan has always been one of them. That's why it was surprising to see Dantonio look so distraught after today's win. The interviewer had to ask him if he was happy, and, finally, Dantonio smiled. He was so aware of his unusually grumpy (even for him) face that he said, "It may not look it, but I'm happy."
I believe Coach Dantonio--who has proven himself to be one of the nation's best college football coaches--was actually sad. Not about beating Michigan (he'll always relish that) but about the final postgame handshake with a man he wants to hate but simply can not.
"Real recognize Real"
I believe Brady Hoke is a great man. Despite not being able to produce a coherent offense in four seasons at Michigan--even with an MNC-winning OC--he has still continued to reel-in top talent on both sides of the ball. This, in my opinion, is almost wholly attributable to his genuine love for the young men he coaches. He cares about them as people, not just as football players. He is concerned about their character, not just their statistics. When Jabrill Peppers committed to U-M, he said, "Real recognize real," referring to the sincerity of the coaching staff. I unreservedly agree completely with John Beilein: Brady Hoke is the type of man I would want to coach my son.
The Shane Morris concussion issue did not make me doubt Brady's concern for his players' well-being. It wasn't a coach who didn't care about a player's health; it was just another symptom of a coach who couldn't manage the myriad details involved with running the winningest program in college football. If Brady knew there was any real possibility of Shane being seriously injured by playing, he would not have played him. That wasn't the problem. The problem was he didn't know; he wasn't aware, and that problem has extended to field on too many occasions.
Brady's last UTL was a win
It's a small miracle that this team continues to play as hard as it does. The defense, once again, played with heart and character against an extremely efficient MSU offense. Their never-say-die attitude lasted well into the fourth quarter. The whole team fought tooth-and-nail to squeak out a win against a below-average Penn State team. I believe this Michigan team, like all teams, reflects the attitude of their leader: high-character, high-motor, high-intensity...and imprecise. Over and over today small things made big differences: passes just a bit off, receivers dropping the on-target efforts, runs just a bit too impatient, a quarterback feeling pressure when there was none, a tackle just missed. These are not new problems. It's not youth, it's imprecision, and it has plagued our team (and especially our offense) since Hoke's arrival. And these small things have added-up to big numbers in the loss column. And so Hoke must go, and I am calling for his replacement as loudly as anyone.
But let's never forget that this man's character was enough to inspire Greg Mattison to come back to Michigan from the Ravens. This man was charismatic enough to lure Doug Nussmeier to Michigan. This man is genuine enough to pull-in the highest average recruiting class in the country, even though he can't win at Michigan. Let's always remember that while Coach Hoke did not cut it on the scoreboard, that his integrity is an example of what a Michigan Man should be.
Denard Robinson's mythical talent, combined with freakish turnover luck, was enough to propel MIchigan to an 11-2 season and a Sugar Bowl victory. And let's give credit where credit is due: Hoke and Mattison field competent defenses, and, with more time and a developing team, I think Brady could probably keep Michigan in bowl games for the foreseeable future (after this year). But that's not good enough. That's NOT Michigan.
Chris Spielman--somewhat surprisingly--said it well: "I believe Brady Hoke is a good man and a good football coach...but the results aren't good enough." And I believe that part of Brady's message to Mark Dantonio tonight wasn't just congratulating him; it wasn't just genuine admiration of how well Dantonio runs a team (in almost the exact way Hoke would like to run his team); it wasn't just well-wishes for the rest of the season. It was good-bye.
I think Brady Hoke knows his time is up. I think he told Dantonio as much tonight after the game. And I believe that Brady Hoke is such a good man that even Mark Dantonio, who hates all things Michigan with an immeasurable, dyed-in-the-wool passion, was nearly brought to tears by a Michigan Man's farewell.
I'm excited about the possibility of a Harbaugh, or even someone not quite as perfect. I'm eager for a coach that is demanding, detail-oriented, and relentless in his pursuit of victory. And while I'm quite certain we can and must find a more capable coach to lead our program, I'm just as sure we won't find a better man than Brady Hoke.
I wish him and Laura all the best.