What are your thoughts about this week’s game?
“Well, it’s a big game, obviously. It’s the next game. It’s a very well coached, good football team. Got a big offensive line. They take pride in running the football. They’re, like I said, well coached and good running back and quarterback’s done very well, the freshman—redshirt freshman. They’ve got a number of tight ends that are all good football players, so this’ll be a big test.”
MGoQuestion: Wisconsin’s offensive style is fairly different from what you’ve faced the last few weeks. How does that impact your line rotation, if at all?
“Well, we’ll always rotate, you know, because the guys have earned the right to rotate, and we feel like they’re playing to be able to go in there. It always helps if you’re fresh. You always can benefit from what one guy tells you when he comes off, how they’re blocking you. But it is, you’re right, it is different. The fast pace of spread offense and then go from that to this style of offense is totally different.”
Your thoughts on getting Taco back and how he looked?
“It’s great to have him back. I’m very, very proud of him. I’m proud of our training staff. I mean, he worked so hard at getting back. Spent countless hours in the training room and you could see out there it was good to have him back.
“He’s had a good week of practice and he’s a senior now. He’s got things to prove and that’s what he’s working for. I was really proud of how much time and how much effort he did to get himself back. That tells you how important it is.”
How do you look at Rashan Gary as far as his progression over the first four weeks?
“He’s getting better every game. He’s getting better. He’s working really hard. And again, I mentioned this once before but one of the key things with Rashan is to have role models like Chris Wormley and Taco. He sees them do it right, and if he doesn’t—not that he doesn’t—but if he doesn’t do it he sees, okay, this is how it’s supposed to be. It’s not having to pull up a highlight tape or something like that to show him. He’s working very hard, and I’m very proud of him also because he knows how important this is for the seniors and the kids ahead of him and he’s doing everything he can to help this team.”
[After THE JUMP: Bryan Mone is practicing,Chase Winovich sneaks into the weight room, and Jourdan Lewis is Jourdan Lewis]
Wisconsin's 30-6 blowout of Michigan State was one of the more surprising results from last weekend despite UW's opening-week win over LSU, which it's safe to say has lost some of its shine. After an uninspiring win over Georgia State—which is not Georgia Southern in name or football ability—the Badgers switched quarterbacks from senior Bart Houston to redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, and the results were better than expected.
The results also weren't quite as good as the final score would have you believe. Wisconsin's drives in non-garbage time:
- 17-play, 65-yard TD drive requiring two fourth-down conversions
- six-play, 28-yard TD drive set up by an interception
- one-play, five-yard TD "drive" after MSU's punter dropped a high snap
- ten-play, 54-yard drive for a 41-yard FG
- six-play, 31-yard drive ending in a fumble on 2nd-and-ten
- seven-play, 45-yard end-of-half drive ending in a Hornibrook interception with one second left
- ten-play, 57-yard drive ending in a punt
- two three-and-outs
Both fourth-quarter drives, after UW already had a 30-6 lead, were three-and-outs. The defense added another touchdown on a fumble return. Meanwhile, one could argue their best drive of the day averaged 3.8 yards per play. Even taking out the two garbage-time drives, the Badgers only averaged 5.0 yards per play.
Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
Yes, Wisconsin rotates two fullbacks who are both quite good, which would be the most Wisconsin thing if Harbaugh hadn't come along.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Beef. Wisconsin rarely goes into shotgun or fields more than two receivers unless faced with an obvious passing down. And, again, two-fullback rotation.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? MANBALL, as you probably guessed. Paul Chryst is very much a part of the Barry Alvarez coaching tree; before a three-year stint as Pitt's head coach, he was Wisconsin's offensive coordinator from 2005-2011, and he played QB for UW in the late '80s. While Chryst has largely been an inside zone guy, he called a lot of power in this game for reasons I'll get into later.
Hurry it up or grind it out? A surprisingly quick grind? UW huddles between most snaps and don't ever try to tempo the defense, but they're an above-average 45th in adjusted pace. I'm honestly not sure how to explain that. They're a good deal slower than UCF and Colorado, and despite what David Jones would have you believe, much faster to get plays off than Penn State.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Getting a mortgage with Matt is a matter of collecting your documents, getting them uploaded to the secure server, and then checking out a set of rates while wearing whatever you want, like pants. Or... not pants.
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: Okay. Breaking things into front and cover look seems to be mostly functional. By "press" I mean that the two outside corners are in press. Usually the slots are still a number of yards off. This was a 4-2-5 package. The front is nickel over—Peppers is playing S and the line slides towards the run strength—and the cover look was press two high:
Goal line package was called 4-4 press zero:
When Michigan went to a dime package they had a couple of different approaches. This is a 3-man front like you'd see in a 3-4 with OLBs flanking it and just one ILB:
I called this front 3-3 split. They also did some wacky stuff, like putting all three DL to one side of the line:
"Heavy slide 3-3-5." Taco Charlton, the nominal nose tackle, will help tackle an outside run to the top of the field.
And as a reminder I'm lumping all fronts with a bunch of dudes at the LOS under "okie":
BTW, "half press" or "off" looks are usually zone so far.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Just 57 defensive snaps and a ton of rotation on the DL. Charlton seems all the way back and in fact took the most of any DL(39); Godin, Glasgow, Hurst, Wormley, and Gary all had around 30. Winovich got 22.
The two ILBs got every snap until the final drive; McCray was lifted a few times when Michigan went to passing down packages. Furbush debuted for the final two drives. Stribling, Hill, Peppers, Thomas, and Lewis were near-omnipresent. Clark got just 15 snaps before his exit; Kinnel got 23.
[After THE JUMP: this is turning into the usual Penn State game.]
Malcolm Hill [Mike Granse – USA Today]
Basketball season will get here sooner than you think: this is the first of 14 Big Ten team previews.
One of the Big Ten’s most historically prestigious programs has fallen on hard times as of late: Illinois has won just two NCAA Tournament games in the last ten years and haven’t had a winning record in conference play since 2010. Last season, three long-term injuries to would-be starters put the Illini in free fall – they finished with a losing record and a 12th-place finish in the Big Ten. Of their five conference wins, four came against Rutgers and Minnesota (two historically bad teams) – and two of those games were won in overtime.
John Groce, a former Thad Matta assistant, is now in his fifth season in Champaign – Illinois’s Kenpom rating has fallen every year of his tenure and they have missed three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. While last year’s spate of injuries offers an excuse – and a very good recruiting class that’s entering its senior year of high school offers hope moving forward – Groce probably needs to show marked improvement to survive at Illinois.
The return of those three injured players will help: despite Tracy Abrams’s inefficiency, he’s a decided step up from last season’s point guards; Leron Black was a touted recruit and will improve Illinois on the glass; mammoth Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne could be a double-double machine. The Illini had two main scorers after the injuries – wings Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. While Nunn was dismissed, Hill will be returning for his senior year after putting up 18.1 points per game as a junior. Black’s return will likely slide Hill (who operated mostly as a mid-range iso player a year ago) from the four to the three.
A jump into NCAA Tournament contention will require some significant changes, as Illinois was equally bad on offense and defense and finished –10 points per 100 possessions against Big Ten opponents last season. Even though any chance of success last season was effectively wiped out by those injuries, it’s debatable as to how much any of those players would have helped as the Illini lost to low-majors North Florida and Chattanooga at home even with Thorne and Black. Groce will get another go of it with a veteran-laden roster, but that roster falls towards the worse half of the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament bid would surprise.
[More on the Illini after the JUMP]
[UM Bentley Library]
It was 1986 and Michigan’s senior quarterback Jim Harbaugh was 30 minutes away from having to eat his brash prediction. That’s when Bo’s top assistant Jerry Hanlon told his troops how they’d attack the Buckeyes in the second half: MOAR tight ends. By John Kryk’s count, Michigan came out in some kind of balanced (a tight end on either side) formation just 3/38 plays in the first half, when Ohio State mostly shut down the Wolverine offense. In the second half that went to 25/38. Their plan was to see where Ohio State’s great linebacker, Chris Spielman, would line up, and go the other way. Here’s how Cam Cameron—yes the same guy who got Les Miles fired at LSU—explained their reasoning at the time in Kryk’s HTTV article:
“Real simple,” Cameron says. “We were just trying to balance up Ohio State’s defensive front. Really, it gave us a double strength formation. It gave us a strong-side running attack either right or left. Once you balance the defense, now you can run strategically away from the safety, and you just get stronger at the point of attack. They had shifted their defense to our tight end, and any time a team did that to us we were going to balance them off with two tight ends.”
The tradeoff was going with just one wide receiver, at which point either your running game is going to win its matchups or lose the game, because passing is severely nerfed. What made that a win for Michigan wasn’t this macro strategy, however, but the subtle blocking tweaks that Bo—ever the offensive line coach—and Hanlon had instilled in their linemen.
~~~~~~30 YEARS LATER~~~~~~
Penn State is, by some margin, the worst-coached team on Michigan’s schedule this year. I’m nobody’s idea of a football coach, so when I was picking up on things Michigan was doing in the middle of a series and Penn State wasn’t reacting, either I’m just guessing really luckily or it’s a REALLY bad sign for the sideline.
Wilton Speight said this in the postgame presser:
“Yeah, I think there was one drive—I think it was the third or fourth quarter—where we called the same play like eight times in a row. We would just flip it back and forth, and I started laughing looking at the play call because they’d do the same signal, same number in every time. The linemen were getting so excited because I’d call the same play. I think we were getting like nine or 10 a pop, so when that happens it’s demoralizing, probably, for a defense. I’ve never played defense, but I can imagine that would suck to go through that every single play having someone just run you over. That builds our confidence and probably makes them lose confidence.”
Calling the same play and relying on minutiae is a bit old fashioned, but not completely out of style, especially if your opponent has already thrown in the towel. This drive occurred after Penn State punted on 4th and 1 while down four scores with about a quarter and a half left to play. Michigan picked up a big chunk on their rollout draw and Speight turfed a throw to Perry when Mason Cole uncharacteristically got bowled back into the pocket. Then this sequence happened.
Bo would have loved it. And Michigan’s upcoming opponent Wisconsin would instantly recognize it. Let’s jump and see what Michigan was doing.
[After the JUMP: balanced formation and inside zone]
David and I traveled to the friendly confines of Wayne State’s Tom Adams Field last Friday to watch Orchard Lake St. Mary’s take on De La Salle. It was a beautiful game for a certain definition of the word; if you like heavy sets and spread-to-run offenses, then this was a game for you. It was also kind of ugly. Neither team had much of a passing game to speak of, and a fairly strong wind made punting an adventure, as one punt looked like it was going out of bounds before a gust sent it careening past the sidelines toward the stands. OLSM ended up eking out a 14-7 win while holding De La Salle to 63 yards passing and 81 yards rushing.
De La Salle’s offense may not have been able to get much going, but their zone read and jet sweep action made it an interesting game for linebackers. It just so happens that a linebacker is exactly who David and I were there to watch, as we wanted to get a look at how Michigan commit Josh Ross had developed halfway through his senior season.
[Video and scouting of Ross after THE JUMP]
"I've been thinking a lot about this over the last four, five, six weeks," Harbaugh said after No. 4 Michigan's win. "Because I am the football coach doesn't mean I can dictate to people what they believe. I support our guys. I think this is something, it's not going away, it's gonna keep happening."
Jim Harbaugh didn't know ahead of time about the pregame display of unity and strength by members of the football team, but hearing his postgame comments, it's clear his players have his full support. That became even more important yesterday, when racist propaganda was posted around campus, prompting a denouncement of the fliers from the University and a protest at the Fishbowl.
I know how our readers feel about getting politics mixed with their sports, so I'll keep this brief, though as Harbaugh said, this isn't something that's going away. As a human being, I was horrified to see what appeared on campus yesterday; as a Michigan grad, I could not be more proud of the actions and statements from the players, the support and response from the program, and the swift action taken by many on campus. I hope we can all agree that hate has no home at U-M. For far more nuanced thoughts on this, I strongly encourage you to read these pieces by MTV News's Jane Coaston, a Michigan grad, and SBNation's Spencer Hall.
And now, let's see that ref take a football to the face again.
[Hit THE JUMP for the Penn State game in GIFs.]
How this works again:
- Readers predict the final score of a designated game by placing a guess in the comments, preferably in the format of [M score][hyphen][Opp score], for example "41-30" or "35-31 Michigan", or "28-24 Go Blue", or "38-0 Harbaugh!" etc.
- The three guys who read this part holler at people who post in a different format
- First person (by timestamp) to post a particular score has it.
- If you got it right, I contact you for an address by your MGoBlog account email, and you give me some time to get that to you.
- If nobody got it right or I don't hear from the winner(s) we push it to next week or let it go.
Last Time: I forgot to run one for Penn State. Nobody guessed Colorado would be this good.
This Week’s Game:
Wisconsin at Michigan.
And on the Line: Milk.
Real milk, not that candy-ass white water. Thanks to BiSB for the design:
One entry per user. First user to choose a set of scores wins, determined by the timestamp of your entry (for my ease I prefer if you don't post it as a reply to another person's score--if you do it won't help or hurt you). Deadline for entries is 24 hours before the start of the game. MGoEmployees and moderators exempt from winning. The algorithm finds the winners as it chooses. The algorithm is self-correcting. The algorithm consistently runs inside zone. The algorithm is banned in Jersey. Algorithm’s sorry. Except to Scott Frost. And the NBA. And the NCAA. And Scott Frost’s mom. This is not Scott Frost’s mom. It is an algorithm.
Ben Braden and Khalid Hill
Ben, you struggled with injuries in the early going. How are you doing now and how did you feel on Saturday?
“Feeling really good. Saturday was a good feeling being able to go through a whole game. I feel solid. Yeah, it was a rough start in the beginning but the training staff’s been great and all my teammates have been really encouraging. Physically, I feel great. Nothing out of the ordinary.”
The whole team, it seemed like, gathered around Jeremy. How tough is it to see someone like that suffer a season-ending injury?
KH: “I feel like it was real tough to see Jeremy go down. He’s like my brother and to see him fall down--I’ve dealt with the same injury he has, and to be in a game in your fifth year, it’s not how you want to go out. I wanted to shed a tear with him when he was on the field and went to him and told him everything was going to be okay, if he needed me I’d be there for him.”
BB: “Yeah, being the same class as Jeremy, you see that and…I was speechless watching it because he’s worked so hard since he’s been here, and to have something like that happen, I feel for him and his family. Anything he needs, the whole team will be there for him.”
Khalid, it wasn’t this particular game but the game against Colorado, what’s your reaction when you’re going out to block on the edge and you see a defensive back turn away from you and want no part of you?
“I mean, it’s sometimes funny because they act like they want to hit me and then they run away. When you see a big guy coming, I mean, you try to get around him or attempt to run back, but it’s whatever, you know. I don’t like when they chop me, but it’s cool.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more]
The place to be. Michigan, 1948.
"Michigan is the place to be" — Life magazine, 11/8/1948 pic.twitter.com/PD3OZXAWwI
— Alejandro Zúñiga (@ByAZuniga) September 27, 2016
ALSO THE PLACE TO BE:
We're having a pre-Wisconsin event with Marlin Jackson at 1300 South Main Street. Festivities start at ten; I'll be there by noon. Proceeds benefit Jackson's excellent Fight For Life charity; you can park in the shadow of the Big House and partake for $56 or walk on over; there's a suggested donation of ten bucks. We'll have a raffle, a Q&A session with Marlin, and food provided by Tailgater Concierge and drink from Wolverine Brewing. Come on by, support a great cause, and ask Ace about Harambe!
Clark: ACL, gone. Fears confirmed, but Harbaugh did tell the assembled media they'd try to get Clark a sixth year. I'm going to be real peeved if he doesn't get one given the Ed Davis precedent.
This is a damn strong anagram team. The Hoover Street Rag has run many Michigan names through internet anagram sites and come up with some doozies. Favorites:
WILTON SPEIGHT gives you WHITEST LOPING
MIKE McCRAY gets you MY, I CRACK EM
CHRIS WORMLEY gets you CHOWS MERRILY
BEN BREDESON gets you BONES BENDER
This should be a category in not very serious game previews.
What happened in that Wisconsin-MSU game. It was a slugfest with both offenses barely cresting 300 yards. Wisconsin got the blowout because Tyler O'Conner was intercepted three times, LJ Scott fumbled for a Wisconsin scoop and score, and MSU's punter dropped a snap. In the aftermath the SB Nation MSU blog appears to have quit en masse. Gotta toughen up there, Sparty.
PFF's take on Alex Hornibrook was surprisingly negative:
Quarterback: Alex Hornibrook 57.2
This was certainly not a game that required a vintage quarterback performance to come away with the win. All the Badgers really needed were a handful of third-down conversions and Hornibrook did just that. His fumble early in the game could have been a costlier mistake although the interception before the end of the half was more of a last-ditch effort than anything else.
I thought he looked good through the first quarter and a half. I haven't seen the rest of the game yet, so maybe he fell off.
On defense, the main takeaway was that Wisconsin's linebackers kick ass. Four of their top five grades were LBs and almost all of them cracked the 80 grade that appears to be the cutoff for a really good performance. Vince Biegel had ten(!) QB hurries.
On the MSU side of things, Tyler O'Connor was horrendous (52.3 grade) and their offense failed to have anyone crack 80—Brian Allen was the only guy even close. The OL allowed presser on O'Connor on more of half their snaps, largely on failed blitz pickups. (Why, hello Mr. Peppers.) The defense was about on par with expectations except that Darian Hicks was good. They've got a guy with a big blinking THROW AT ME sign, though:
If you’re looking to point the finger at anyone on the Spartans defense, it would be safety Demetrious Cox. He allowed 7-8 targets for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Can't say I'm surprised.
Michigan has a tough assignment on offense this week, but I'd expect they hold the Badger offense in check.
A spate of injuries. Bad week for season-enders in the league. Michigan has of course lost Clark. Several other important players also went down for extended periods of time:
- Janarion Grant, also known as "the Rutgers offense" is out for the year after injuring his ankle at the tail end of a 76-yard run. Rutgers also lost DE Quanzell Lambert.
- Iowa wide receiver Matt Vandeberg, who currently has more catches than the rest of Iowa's WRs combined, injured his foot and is out 'indefinitely.' Per Tom Kakert, it's a broken foot that will end his year.
- MSU linebacker Riley Bullough kept up the family tradition by missing a game for mysterious reasons against Wisconsin. Reports have it that he was injured in practice before Notre Dame and will return sometime this season. Fellow LB Jon Reschke did something to his left leg in a non-contact situation and is out for a "significant amount of time" with what MSU is describing as an ankle sprain despite it not looking at all like an ankle sprain. Ed Davis is still being held out, probably in hopes he can get a seventh year.
- Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed the MSU game with a back issue and may or may not be back this weekend. Paul Chryst has "no idea." Ditto OL Jon Dietzen. Gaglianone's replacement, Andrew Endicott, missed an extra point but hit a 41-yard field goal. Wisconsin played much of the MSU game as if they had little confidence in him.
— Terrance Donnels (@LSUFreek) September 27, 2016
Exit Les Miles. Over the past five or six years if Les Miles's name has come up on this blog it's because I'm attempting to convince people we really did not want him to be Michigan's head coach. That doesn't mean college football isn't poorer for his absence now that he's been fired. He was perfect at LSU, where he could cause the internet to devolve into a string of exclamation points without affecting my blood pressure. Keep that dour offense and the Mardi Gras surrounding it down in the Bayou. Miles was fun, and fun in a way that it seems like only college football can support.
I recommend three eulogies. Two are essays, one from Spencer Hall...
1. Les Miles was fired from his job as LSU football coach this weekend. Getting fired four games into a season would only seem premature if time ever mattered to Miles, but it rarely did. Miles ran out of time, added time to games, forced others to work against it, and sometimes just melted the clock completely.
A one-score LSU game in the last three minutes could accelerate from full-on torpor to electric insanity, mostly because of his belief that a football game can sometimes be a little longer than 60 minutes if he needed it to be. You called people, tweeted at them, and yelled in all-caps when LSU ran shit down to the wire.
Miles at the wheel meant you were guaranteed 58 minutes of reliable, red-meat, Big Ten football. It also meant you got two minutes of off-the-rails Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride banditry that LSU might or might not survive.
...and the other from Matt Hinton:
Say this much for Les Miles’ tenure at LSU: It died as it lived, amid a fit of last-second chaos and confusion that nearly defied description.
Honestly, can you imagine a sequence that better captures the essence of a coach or team than the final, frantic seconds of the Tigers’ 18-13 loss at Auburn? Miles has made a living for years out of pulling victory from the jaws of defeat (among other orifices) in precisely the sort of fraught situation his team faced on Saturday — on fourth-down conversions and do-or-die bombs, via fake field goals and trick plays in moments no one else would have dared, under circumstances so bizarre almost no one could remember having ever seen them before.
The third is LSUfreek's timeline at this very moment.
— Terrance Donnels (@LSUFreek) September 27, 2016
Someone please hit Mack Brown with a shovel and insert Miles into his place posthaste.
Never hire an NFL coordinator. In the aftermath of the Lexit, Bill Connelly strikes upon a theme in a spate of recently-fired coaches on the successful end of the spectrum: awful coordinator hires. The beginning of the end for Les was importing Cam Cameron. Cameron was actually a successful NFL coordinator...
In 10 seasons as an NFL coordinator, Cameron's offenses had only once finished in the bottom half of the league in offensive DVOA.
...but his college offenses were 1990s-vintage NFL ones and increasingly horrendous. Mark Richt got the axe much faster after importing Brian Schottenheimer, who wasn't only an NFL coach but an NFL nepotism special. Brian Kelly isn't out at Notre Dame but his seat his quite hot after hiring Brian Van Gorder in the aftermath of Bob Diaco's departure for UConn.
What's the theme here? Don't hire an NFL coach.
Rule 1: Don’t look for NFL experience.
Of the 40 coordinators with recent top-10 offenses, only nine had any experience at the NFL level. Only four of 40 had been in the pros for more than three years. Two of these four (Pep Hamilton, Mike Bloomgren) were hired by Stanford, so I guess the corollary should be: “Don’t worry about NFL experience ... unless you’re David Shaw.”
On the defensive side, the percentages are similar. Of the 34 coordinators with recent top-10 defenses, only eight had NFL experience, and only four had more than three years in the NFL: Vance Bedford (2014 Texas, six years), Dan Quinn (2012 Florida, 10 years), Todd Grantham (2011 Georgia, 11 years), and Clancy Pendergast (2013 USC, 15 years).
I'd like to point out that when Bedford and Quinn had their top ten defenses they were working under head coaches (Charlie Strong and Will Muschamp) who were massively successful college defensive coordinators. The list of longtime NFL coaches able to do anything in college is extremely thin.
This is why I was panicked during the defensive coordinator search when Rivals kept bringing up NFL names, and super enthusiastic when Harbaugh passed up that trap for Don Brown.
Speaking of Don Brown. How's that going again?
The Michigan offense has been good enough in the early going. The Wolverines are finishing drives and converting short-yardage opportunities, controlling the ball and the field position battle despite only decent efficiency.
But the defense has been the driving force. New coordinator Don Brown's unit ranks first in havoc rate and second in Def. S&P+, and Peppers has been the catalyst for such successful aggressiveness.
I give it a thumbs up.
The Hirsch. Dan Murphy on a prime Rinaldi target:
He was a Harvard graduate with a reputation around the office as someone who set the bar high and usually managed to clear it. He was two years into a promising career, surrounded by friends and as healthy as he had been in a long time. But Hirsch woke up restless that morning.
"So I went for a walk," he says, "and I realized that I needed something else going on in my life outside of work. Work was great, but I was lacking a major goal."