The tumultuous recent years of Michigan football have spawned some truly boggling "this hasn't happened since" statistics. Most prominent was the OSU streak, of course, but this year Michigan enters a year running the same defense it did a year ago since 2007. Next year they'll have guys with a third year in a single system for the first time since 2003—remember Jim Herrmann's one-year experiment with the 3-4 in 2004. I'm just wow, man.
Even more remarkable is that if Denard Robinson remains healthy they'll get a season's worth of starting from a senior quarterback* for the first time since John Navarre 2003 almost a decade ago. If I hadn't used the Grosse Point Blank "TEN YEARS!" joke for basketball's 2009 tourney bid, I'd deploy it now. I'll still use this:
Yeah, Piven, I feel you.
If you don't remember, senior quarterbacks are good to have. They're generally efficient, even when they aren't escapees from a top-secret government experiment attempting to breed a new race of Sonic The Hedgehog soldiers. They change plays at the line and don't throw interceptions and sometimes pilot the kind of offense that can sing your baby to sleep with its metronomic precision.
Is that happening? Uh… probably not. But the Sonic thing gives you a lot of room for error.
*[Chad Henne's '07 season does not qualify, as he missed games against ND, Penn State, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (basically—he threw five passes) and was wounded most of the rest of the year, most painfully when he was throwing up Sheridan-esque moonballs en route to 68 yards passing against OSU. That space station was not fully operational until the bittersweet Citrus win over Florida.]
|QB drawin'||Hopkins floater|
|juke in out in out in .||holds up Hemingway|
|drop snap deadly||ZIPPY ARM|
|bursts outside||no pressure == good|
|patience FTW||can zip it|
|damn Lavonte David||no pressure again|
|VEER ME BABY||no pressure rollout|
|gashing Purdue||UNLEASH THE DRAGON|
|woop woop||bombs it deep to Hemingway|
|zooooooom||chuckin' it up|
|shortie vs OSU||fires deep anyway|
|seeya Shazier||deep corner|
|SCRAMBLE MORE||back foot bomb|
|you never do this||bumpy bumps|
|hate you David||Odoms back of EZ|
|WTF READS||UNLEASH THE D'OHGON|
|looks open on the corner||this is more Smith's fault|
|again misses a keep read||PLAIN IMPRESSIVE|
|pitch the ball!||sets feet on roll|
|refuses to pull||nails Dileo|
The comedown was predictable, and a little sad. Denard Robinson's electrifying 2010 season saw him garner Heisman votes and All-American nods like they were rushing yards. He shoved a rainbow down Notre Dame's throat and made them pop out of your head. He shattered records, big records, NCAA-wide records for rushing quarterbacks, and if he hadn't been saddled with the Worst Defense Ever on the other side of the ball, he might have continued doing so ad infinitum.
But he was, so he didn't. Enter Al Borges, a guy who has about as much experience with running quarterbacks as Rich Rodriguez did with intricate West Coast passing games. Enter Brady Hoke, who declared that POWER would be run powerfully. Exit the Denard-iso-based offense that disguised for Robinson's many shortcomings as a passer by getting guys flabbergastingly wide open.
Down went many of the stats. Denard's rushing yards dropped from 1702 to 1176. His yards per carry went from 6.6 to 5.3. Passing yards dropped by about 400, yards per attempt went from 8.8 to 8.4, and Denard's already high interception rate ballooned from 3.7% to 5.8%.
There wasn't much compensation in terms of keeping Denard hale. His carries scarcely dipped (256 in 2010, 221 in 2011) and he got knocked out of games against Michigan State and Illinois. It just did not work as well.
That said, the offense didn't fall off too much. Buoyed by a tough schedule, Michigan's offense didn't slide much in advanced metrics (FEI went from 2nd to 9th) and had barely budged after the regular season. They put up more points against Ohio State than any Michigan team since Fritz friggin' Crisler. They return eight or nine starters depending on how you want to configure the offense and how you feel about tagging Ricky Barnum a starter. If they can refine things…
Denard just wasn't very good at reading defenses (or wasn't allowed to be) in any phase of the game. There's no reason he would be good at the passing stuff given the Rodriguez offense. He'd stare down guys, like when Kevin Koger ended up wide open in the flat against Purdue. If he got a little pressure he'd chuck balls off his back foot, like he did three times against Northwestern.
It didn't seem like the coaches had a whole lot of faith in Denard's decision-making on the ground either. While they showed various option looks, these were basically run plays on which opponents had to respect the RB. Denard pitched once, and that was a fumble. In the Nebraska game I became increasingly more perplexed at Denard's refusal to pull the ball, eventually giving him an epic negative score for not doing zone reads at all properly. In retrospect it seems clear that those weren't reads at all if they were being so consistently missed—they were called keeps or handoffs and if the defense did something unsound, oh well. Here's a paradigmatic screenshot:
That speed option was a keep for a loss of three, and Denard's not even looking at a potential pitch.
After arghing arghing I came to this conclusion…
The one time he did pull the backside tackle blocked the end inside and nobody scraped, which makes me wonder if I am putting all of this on his shoulders when Michigan has abandoned the zone read in favor of making it look like the zone read but not actually giving Denard the option.
…and after several months remove that still seems like the most likely explanation.
Hypothesis: you choose to rep one thing hard to be an expert. Previously, it was zone stuff that forced defenses to be wrong with certain players and get players wide open. Under Borges, it was West Coast passing. The read skills atrophied to the point where they were not reliable enough to use regularly, Denard was always coming from a thousand miles behind in the air, and the results were a step back all around.
Borges hasn't turned into someone else, so the way forward is obvious… but might not be achievable.
Denard's season trajectory told a story of real progress culminating in that brilliant Ohio State performance:
So… we have a pattern now. In the beginning of the year Denard had no idea what to do with this passing offense and his lack of comfort screwed up his mechanics. As he progressed and Borges adapted to his strengths the comfort level rose and he hit a plateau of totally acceptable performances before lighting up OSU. The progress is undeniable. He'll regress a bit against VT but if he nudges his DSR above 70% it's time to quietly hope he can have a ridiculous career capping year in 2012.
The best part of going 14/17 for ten YPA? Three QB draws for 10, 10, and 16 yards. Run and tell that, homeboy. If Denard is the QB he became after the trash tornado game, look out: 59% completions, 7-4 TD-INT, 8.4 YPA against Purdue/Iowa/Illinois/Nebraska/OSU translates into… I don't even know what.
Here's his UFR chart for the year:
[Hover over column headers for explanation of abbreviation. Screens are in parens.]
[I went back and did a passing chart for the Sugar Bowl FWIW.]
After the dismal Michigan State trash-tornado-and-double-A gap game, something clicked. Or he stopped being bothered by an abscess on his elbow (or "boo boo" in Hokespeak). Either way, the uptick was dramatic.
This is hard to see in the traditional stats for two reasons: Gary Gray and weak opponents early. Denard's YPA actually dipped by a yard (Sugar Bowl included). The closer look UFR provides shows progress, and a lot of it. After racking up 17 BRs in the first seven games, Denard had just one per game in the last five before the bowl. His interception rate plummeted from an insane 7.1% to a still-very-bad 4.2%. His downfield success rate leapt up into the same approximate range he spent his sophomore year in, and he even scrambled a little against Nebraska.
The Main Thing
This is not going to be news, but my God, the interceptions. Last year when Football Study Hall took the top 100 I-A QBs by passing yardage per game and ordered them by interception rate, Denard was 84th. His 2011 number (5.8%) would have been 99th(!) on the list. Worse than Jacory Harris, BJ Daniels, Stephen Garcia, and everyone else except Boo Jackson of OHIO.
Virginia Tech is of course the great raspberry in the narrative of progress here. Since I am the worst (seriously: I apologize profusely for not doing that UFR, I really am the worst) I'm more hand-wavy than usual about what went on but I did go back and chart all of Denard's throws. I found an MSU-like game in which he responded very poorly to pressure, and since VT pressures a lot and got Michigan behind the sticks all the time, he was often put in positions to fail.
I noticed a similar trend when I went back through my Denard clips from last year. Most of the throws filed under "zippy arm" are ones in which Denard can set up in the pocket and chuck it without having to re-set his feet. Por ejemplo:
It's when he has to move around and re-set that we get most of the erratic throws, and it didn't take much for him to revert to bad habits last year, as the first half of that Northwestern game showed. He backfooted a bunch of throws that he didn't have to:
Stepping into those gets them off accurately without getting you sacked.
It's no coincidence that Denard's by-far-worst outings of the year were against the two teams that got in his face over and over. All quarterbacks see their performance decline when they get pressure; few have as an abrupt a cliff as Denard did last year.
Rodriguez's solution to this problem—if he ever had to consider it—was to make the offense so heavily run-based that passes were rarely met with heavy pressure. Straight dropbacks were rare, and defenses were hesitant to blitz in case they got a constraint play in their face or blitzed up the wrong gap. Borges probably won't and probably can't assemble an offense where the parts move just so, and anyway Denard threw a bunch of interceptions as a sophomore.
There's only one thing that can fix this, and that's Denard not deviating from his mechanics as much and knowing where to go more. At the Glazier Clinic, Al Borges talked about the "backside cuts" that are built into Michigan's passing game. Those are deep routes that are supposed to be aborted to whenever the guy away from the main thrust of the play gets one on one coverage. Borges said Denard was "very aware" of these backside cuts, "very aware," and visions of double-covered WTF bombs danced in my head.
He should be more aware of the other guys running those routes (e.g., safeties) this time around, and have better timing on some of the underneath stuff that was an issue. He will get pressure, and I don't think his issues are the kind of thing you can fix in an offseason. There was a groaningly inaccurate pass at the open scrimmage in which Denard had to move around and he made a leaping heave across the middle that was yards behind a crossing route. That's just never going to go well.
Improvement should be expected, though. Denard was still super raw a year ago, he is entering year two, and you know he worked at it all offseason. How much will be the tale of the season.
A Couple Other Things
1. FOR THE EVER-LOVING SAKE OF SNEEZY JESUS WOULD YOU JUST TAKE OFF WITH THE BALL WHEN NO ONE IS OPEN?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
Sorry. Sorry. I just don't get it, man. The ratio of ridiculous athleticism to passing skillz dictates that whenever Denard gets past read two he should be thinking about an exit strategy. But Denard all but refuses to run. He scrambled more than once in exactly one game last year, Nebraska.
It's almost as if he wants to prove he's a quarterback so badly that he refuses to use his legs when not required to. This combines with the feet-setting thing in a toxic cocktail. I'd prefer it if Denard either set up and threw without moving his feet or ran, with nothing in-between.
Survey says: unlikely.
2. Shorten the passing game.
The trend in the ND game—bombz—was one that lasted throughout the season. That trend:
Hoping for the fluke explanation, but there seems to be some merit to Door B. He's a breakdown of passes in last year's Notre Dame game:
- Hitch: 9
- Flat, seam, bubble: 6 (one waggle FB flat!)
- Deep curl, flare: 3
- Tunnel screen: 2
- Post, corner, fly: 1
- Throwaway: 1
- Run around like Tate: 2
This is a dedicated short passing game that ran a ton of curl/flat. Denard completes 60% for 1 TD and no INTs, averaging 6.1 YPA. This year we've got the eight downfield chucks, two throws behind the line (8% of attempts) instead of 11 (over 28%), and a total lack of free touchdowns in the seam or hitches to stationary targets that worked well last year when Roundtree wasn't dropping them.
Some sort of perimeter stretch would help Michigan a great deal. Those flats and quick hitches and bubbles are not only highly effective quasi-run plays but drag linebackers away from Denard in the middle of the field. Borges is still thinking like a guy who has a quarterback who happens to be the fastest kid in the country instead of a guy who has the fastest kid in the country at quarterback.
3. I-form snaps are inherently dumb with Denard.
Short yardage, whatever, fine, but any other I-form snap is burning money.
What to expect
I don't actually know, man. He's not going to do that Cade McNown thing. He should get a lot better. Extrapolate the back-half of his season out across a full year, add in a year of experience, and pray for health, and you've got a Heisman contender.
This is the worst thing I've ever said, but I don't think he'll get there. Thus the 4.5 above instead of last year's 5-plus-exclamation-point. There will be a game or two against elite defenses in which Denard's limitations are made plain, and that will keep him out of the running. His interception rate can end up halved and still be really bad. There's just too far to go in one offseason.
The projection in numbers: YPA remains static. Completion percentage jumps up a few points, scrambles are a little more common, and interceptions drop to around eight. Rushing is about the same as last year.
Devin Gardner spent last year making cameo appearances in the two-QB package Al Borges calls "deuce" but should by all rights be called "Fritz" and running the base offense when Denard was inevitably banged up. Neither of these things went that well except on that one pass in the Illinois game. Gardner rushed for 3.5 YPC even if you exclude the Michigan State game and its yakety sack, completed fewer than half his passes, missed a blitheringly wide open Hopkins against MSU and threw a fugly interception against Purdue.
Then spring practice hit and rumors leaked out that Gardner was not only playing wide receiver but playing it ridiculously well. Gardner has spent every waking moment since deflecting questions about his position; 42% of all sports content on the internet since has speculated about a potential position switch, its costs, and its benefits.
This site's been on Team WR from the beginning and became even moreso after an alarmingly poor performance in the spring game that caused me to survey the Gardner oeuvre with a suspicious eye:
In three consecutive spring games he's looked bad. You may remember Jake Ryan bursting onto the scene last year with a pick six thrown directly at his dome by Gardner. Yeah. … [The year before that] Gardner got safetied and intercepted on the same play and still probably had a better overall outing than he did yesterday.
When fall practice started up Hoke offered up the only piece of solid information he's provided in months by admitting that yes, Gardner was practicing at WR. His potential impact there will be covered in that position preview.
Gardner will have an opportunity to play at both spots. He's getting the same load of QB reps and moonlights at WR when other quarterbacks are taking snaps, and Borges pointedly defended Fritz from a reporter's question despite the thing seeming to run out of gas after the Denard end-around package was adequately scouted. He may not be the first guy off the bench if Denard needs to come off for a play, but any long-term issue will likely see Gardner ascend to the starting spot, where his performance is anyone's guess. He needs to get a lot better to be plausible; raw athletes going into their second year in the same system do that sometimes, but maybe not often when they're spending at least half their time at another position.
Redshirt freshman Russell Bellomy [recruiting profile] is the third(?) stringer and only other QB on the roster. He was clearly more effective than Gardner in the spring game, but had the luxury of going against backups and was a checkdown-heavy dink-and-dunker. He went six of nine, sure, but he averaged six yards a completion. He displays some athleticism, though not anything in the same stratosphere as either of the veterans. Tate Forcier was his YMRMFSPA; former Purdue quarterback Brandon Kirsch is also a decent comparable.
The coaches have been talking him up some. When Tom Dienhart hit up a practice he returned back with this news about Bellomy:
…the guy to watch is Russell Bellomy. Brady Hoke told me he is faster than you think. I also asked him if he’d be comfortable if Bellomy had to play, and Hoke said he would.
It's hard to tell whether Bellomy's development allows Gardner to play wide receiver or the crying need at wide receiver forces people to play up Bellomy's progress. Either way the downgrade from Denard to Bellomy would be severe. A few plays here and there for dings will be fine.
Josh Furman, designated "guy who stands there and watches kickoffs sail over his head"
The media has apparently been handed the depth chart for Alabama, as Twitter is blowing up with tidbits from the two-deep. Kyle Meinke just posted the full depth chart over at MLive; breakdown is below:
- Brady Hoke will probably address this during his presser at 12:30, but the biggest news of the day is suspended RB Fitzgerald Toussaint sitting atop the depth chart for Alabama. On the one hand, depth charts don't mean much, so he could very will still be suspended. On the other hand, if he's suspended, why start a firestorm by listing him as the starter? If Toussaint doesn't go, Thomas Rawls will be the starter.
- Along those same lines, Frank Clark surprisingly edges out Brennen Beyer for the #2 weakside DE spot behind Jibreel Black.
- Devin Gardner is listed third on the depth chart at one receiver spot (Meinke's chart doesn't differentiate between X and Y) behind Roy Roundtree and Jerald Robinson; he also appears as the backup quarterback. Jeremy Gallon earns the other starting nod ahead of Drew Dileo and Jeremy Jackson. Gardner started at X receiver in the Mott practice, so we'll see if this holds up come Saturday.
- Brandon Moore earns the top spot at tight end, backed up by walk-on Mike Kwiatkowski, then freshmen A.J. Williams and Devin Funchess.
- Starting offensive line is as expected. From left to right: Taylor Lewan, Elliott Mealer, Ricky Barnum, Patrick Omameh, Michael Schofield. True freshmen Eric Magnuson, Kyle Kalis, and Ben Braden are all listed as backups; my guess is Kalis is the first off the bench for either guard spot or right tackle. Magnuson gets the nod as the backup left tackle, and Kalis is actually third at both guard spots behind Joey Burzynski. Walk-on Eric Gunderson is the backup right tackle ahead of Braden. Please stay healthy, starting linemen.
- The defensive line is the same as what we saw at the Mott practice: Black at weakside DE, Quinton Washington at nose, Will Campbell at three-tech, Craig Roh at strongside DE. Nathan Brink is listed as the primary backup for both strongside DE and three-tech. Richard Ash is ahead of Ondre Pipkins at nose tackle for now.
- Linebackers are the same as last year. Two true freshmen earn primary backup spots: Joe Bolden at middle linebacker and James Ross on the weak side.
- No surprises in the secondary; nickel corner isn't separated into its own position, so we don't get clarity as to who would step in after Courtney Avery, though my guess is that would be Raymon Taylor.
- Perhaps the biggest surprise—save Toussaint potentially starting vs. Alabama—is Josh Furman earning the nod at kick returner. His speed is supposed to be one of his primary assets; we won't be able to see him use it much if the new kickoff rules have their expected impact. Dennis Norfleet will also return kicks, while Gallon returns to handle punt return duties.
- The only "OR" on the entire depth chart comes at punter, where Matt Wile and Will Hagerup are listed as co-starters.
UPDATE BEFORE I EVEN POST: Brady Hoke says he still hasn't made a decision regarding Toussaint and Clark.
Given the lack of "OR"s (in stark contrast to previous years, when they littered the depth chart), the heavy lean towards upperclassmen walk-ons over freshmen as backups, and Gardner's placement at receiver, this depth chart may mean absolutely nothing. I expect we'll see a very different rotation than what the above would indicate, especially at receiver, tight end, and along the offensive line.
Sometimes there's a man... I won't say a hero, 'cause what's a hero? But sometimes there's a man … and I'm talkin' about the Dude here… sometimes there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there.
-The Stranger, The Big Lebowksi
I construct the preview every year from the bones of the previous one, and when I took my first stabs at organizing what I was going to say about the secondary I ran across this, because obviously:
How long ago was that? A hundred years.
Joe Paterno was still Penn State's coach, and wonderful. JT Floyd was unable to stay within ten yards of a receiver. Michigan's football program was riven with factionalism. Craig Roh was some sort of linebacker and Kenny Demens was lining up an inch from the nose tackle. Rich Rodriguez had hired Greg Robinson, and this was Greg Robinson burning the world in response.
How long ago was this?
Bathrooms had not yet been invented. Top hats were all the rage. Punting was a good idea. Pterodactyls were the hot new species. It was a long, long time ago, October of 2010. A long time ago.
It was college, so we did ridiculous things. In my sophomore year one of those was having a fight about who the "real William Carlos Williams" was. William Carlos Williams was obviously the real William Carlos Williams but somehow Kit and Sunil contrived to have a dispute about which one of them really was the real William Carlos Williams anyway. This was settled the way these things always are: with a poetry-off.
We met with great solemnity in Ryan's dorm room. One of us had found a recipe for a drink that supposedly tasted like apple pie. I was still in the phase where changing my state of mind with alcohol was something beneath me and did not partake. I do remember there being whipped cream from a can. It was drinking in a dorm room. Of course there was whipped cream.
Embarrassingly sweet drinks were consumed as the festivities progressed until the poetry-off. Kit and Sunil would be given a topic and asked to compose a poem on that theme in the style of William Carlos Williams. The topic—revealed with the allez cuisine flourish of an Iron Chef ingredient—was red-haired women.
When the allotted minutes had passed and time was called, Kit went first. Kit had prepared. His poem was a mélange of repurposed WCW lines that he'd memorized and crammed together into a surprisingly coherent Frankenstein of a poem.
Sunil was next. He'd had far too much to drink and was showing it. Sitting on Ryan's bed slumped over, he roused himself. He looked down at what he'd written, and started.
"I love red haired bitches
they say 'whatever' and 'like'
how easily we imbibe their terminology
At this juncture Sunil toppled over backward on the bed and said no more. The panel of judges unanimously declared him the Real William Carlos Williams. Sunil celebrated by throwing up into the trash.
I think about Sunil's poem whenever someone other than Brady Hoke calls the Great Eye of Columbus "Ohio." This is all the time. Kit assembled a frankenpoem from someone's else's mouth; Sunil just said stuff. One of these things stuck. There's an "imbibe this terminology" tag on this blog.
Brady Hoke dropped the "State" from Ohio and drove the Buckeyes to distraction to the point where the program—not just the fans—celebrated the return of "that school up north" like Terrelle Pryor welcoming an auto dealer into his tattoo-artist-sponsored apartment. Hoke dropped "This is Michigan" in his introductory press conference and tacked on the "fergodsakes" that made it immortal. He called last year's outfit Team 132, and now this year's outfit is team 133 and the ridiculous recruiting class that will enroll next year is shooting #team134 hashtags back and forth across twitter.
Hoke didn't seem to mean anything by any of it. He just talked, and though he tried to press-conference it things slipped out sideways. We imbibed them.
That's marketing. The rest is just repetition.
A year ago—or a hundred, whatever, I can't tell anymore—I wrote a story about the 2011 season that focused on how it was a damn good thing that Denard and Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen and Kevin Koger were around because I'd been in the stands when they were losing to Purdue and some guy kept screaming "they don't have any HEART" and heard tale after tale of shameful behavior directed at Rich Rodriguez—if you can't recall, he was the head coach at the time—by program alums.
A year later, Brady Hoke has every last Michigan fan marching behind him, not to mention Greg Mattison and a heaping handful of the country's best high school football players. This has just happened, you know? It is of course planned and difficult and meticulousness is required, but on one level Hoke just vacuumed everyone up because he is who he is.
Last February I was in a hotel in Grand Rapids where people had gathered to talk about football. I'm in the very corner of this room and I've got longer hair than any five other people in it put together and a goatee and I look like I do, you know. Like a guy who has trouble crossing borders sometimes. I could have been wearing a sequined dress and heels and not have looked less like a football coach than I did.
Hoke is standing two feet in front of me.
I have this completely insane fear that somehow Hoke will recognize me even though he knows nothing about me. He may not even know what the internet is. But this is an insane fear, remember. I don't want to make eye contact in case he says "you're the one who wrote a post called 'Profiles In Cronyism' about me, and several other uncomplimentary things besides" and this will spur the rest of the room to toss me bodily out of this hotel. But I'm staring at him all the same.
Borges is there, too. He's talking a couple rooms down but has stopped in for a visit. In an hour I'll sneak over to his talk and listen, enraptured, for an hour as he describes Michigan's passing concepts, and feel embittered when he has to stop instead of continuing on for another four. Before he gets into it he'll tell the room that it is great working for "Brady" because he trusts you to do your job, unlike some coaches he's worked under. When he says it, it sounds like he's saying no one will ever leave him, because why would you?
Right now Borges is surveying a room packed from stem to stern for Hoke and making a self-depreciating comment about the lack of people in his much smaller room. Brady grins, and says "Nobody cares about offense, Al. Who cares about offense?" He says it again. He laughs, and is completely at ease as myself and a half-dozen other star-struck folk file this interaction away in our brains. He walks away and we fall into line behind him, like so many others.
A two-hour season preview spectacular.
ACE DUCKS AND COVERS. Defcon suicide at a high school football game.
QB, RB, WR, OL. The offense is previewed, Gardner is hyped, the OL is pumped except for the backups.
NORFLEET! Yeah, baby.
DL, LB, DB. We're super confident about the defensive line! Seriously! False. But we've got safeties and linebackers and such. [Note: there's a couple minutes of audio distortion at the end of this segment. It gets better. Skip to 54 minutes to get past it.]
HELLO JAMIE. We talk about the Big Ten (but not Indiana or Penn State).
SPORTSWRITER IT UP. We finish up with a bit of a roundtable. Which Michigan pass-catching target will break out? How ludicrous can we make Ace's prediction of Gardner's production?
The usual links:
How are the young kids doing right now on the defensive front?
“They’re a work in progress. I think the one thing with our young kids -- we’ve given them a lot of reps, but they’ve only had one week. The problem with them is having the academics that they’ve had … the two weeks of that, we really haven’t had them as long as you would have at most places. We’ve tried to accelerate our freshmen. They probably have never gone through everything like this with a coach on every step they take. We put them in situations where they’re like a starter, and say get in there with the first unit. With that comes the mistakes that you have that you don’t have if you’ve been there for a long time. We’ve tried to accelerate them and get them as fast as they can to make up for that time.”
(Click "Read more" below to, well, read more.)
The Big Ten Recruiting Rankings returns after a two-week hiatus. Outside of Penn State's class continuing to fall apart, little of note occurred since the rankings were last posted; look no further than Indiana picking up the highest-ranked recruit in that span for evidence. Changes since the last rankings:
8-5-12: Minnesota picks up Jalen Myrick.
8-6-12: Wisconsin picks up Alex James.
8-7-12: Illinois picks up Reggie Spearman. Dorian Johnson and Zach Bradshaw decommit from Penn State.
8-8-12: Nebraska picks up Zach Hannon. Indiana picks up Myles Graham.
8-9-12: Nebraska picks up Jonathan Cook. Indiana picks up Antonio Allen.
8-10-12: Illinois picks up Martize Barr. Northwestern picks up Godwin Igwebuike.
8-11-12: Penn State picks up Jordan Smith.
8-12-12: Iowa picks up Matthew VandeBerg. Indiana picks up Chase Dutra.
8-18-12: Illinois picks up Miguel Hermosillo.
8-20-12: Purdue picks up Dwayne Johnson.
8-25-12: Michigan State picks up Demetrius Cooper.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||24/7 Avg||ESPN Avg||Avg Avg^|
^The average of the average rankings of the four recruiting services (the previous four columns). The figure is calculated based on the raw numbers and then rounded, so the numbers above may not average out exactly.
NOTE: Unranked recruits are counted as two-star players.
To eliminate any confusion about how the rankings are determined (to be honest, they used to be arbitrary), team order is determined by multiplying the number of commits by star average.
On to the full data after the jump.
[The Mott practice this year was not a punting exhibition (at which my internal monologue went WOOOOOO) so there are a few things to discuss.]
The biggest takeaway. Devin Gardner took zero QB snaps and was on the first team as a WR. I think they moved him full-time. Swingin' for the fences.
Gardner didn't do anything spectacular in his limited opportunities, dropping one long ball and not quite bringing in a high hard one, but he certainly looks the part. Seeing him in 12 is still weird, and now Dileo is 9, and if I was Brady Hoke I'd be all like "you get one number and that is your number" but he might have different priorities. Maybe.
Devin Funchess. As first impressions go… wow. He is lanky and doesn't look like he'll be much use as a blocker early, but man is that guy a big target. Looks all of 6'5" and has freaky long arms. He was the only TE to get targeted in their kind-of-actually-playing segment; he caught a touchdown on a corner route (it got raked out but after the catch was secured) and was targeted on a late-release wheel route. If he can catch, he is going to crush Mandich's TE receiving record.
Not a whole lot to decide. I expected to have a blizzard of things to try and figure out but when the first team defense came out in a nickel package I was like "oh, right, they return basically everyone." Other than the line, there were zero surprises except for a couple of Mario Ojemudia WDE cameos.
On offense, it was "is Mealer starting" and "OMG Gardner"… and that was it. Consistency is good.
DL starting Washington? This is tentative, but the first DL set they ran out there was Roh-Washington-Campbell-Black. (IE: Washington at the nose, Campbell at the three-tech.) Beyer also showed up at WDE; Brink was the backup SDE.) Apparently Jerry Montgomery told someone that those guys were the starters as of this instant, but I can't find it. People are talking about it on message boards like it's a real thing, though.
Anyway: they showed the usual nickel package where they lifted the nose tackle types and moved the SAM down to DE and the heavy package where both SAM linebackers are in the game. All was as expected except for a couple snaps in a dime package that they didn't show at all last year.
[UPDATE: Ace points out that this comes from Tom Dienhart's BTN coverage.]
James Ross. Ross was your backup WLB, which isn't much of a surprise with Poole and Ringer hurt. He'll play.
Richard Ash. I kept an eye out for Ash as I'm hoping he can give Michigan some snaps as a rotation DT after he made a couple of nice plays in the spring game. He didn't get in much, if at all, but he certainly looks a lot better conditioned. He used to look like a battleship that had no chance of moving; now he looks relatively trim.
Mealer started. Your first team LG was Mealer.
Chris Wormley. Hasn't had surgery yet for whatever reason.
No Rawls. No idea why. They ran some passing stuff with Justice Hayes that seemed to work pretty well, and did the Vincent Smith throwback screen that always works.
It was good to see football. You're just sitting in the stadium and there's actual snaps being taken in front of you and your lizard brain is going FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL and you're like "I know exactly how you feel, lizard brain."
Heiko takes. Are on the board. FWIW, they ran that hook and ladder a dozen times last year. I think it's just for show.
How are you guys doin? Kinda stoic. / File
How are you feeling about things now compared to the beginning of camp?
“Better. I think we have a little bit of feel, we’re getting a little bit of rhythm on occasion, but we still need a little more practice. We’re not there, but we feel better. I mean the thing about offense and defense is once you narrow down your field of players and you start working with them rather than work with the whole team, which you’re doing kind of for two weeks, the execution gets better. I mean that’s been the case, and that’s why spring football is hard, because you never really do that, you know. In the fall you narrow down your field of players and they start doing better.”
What exactly is the criteria for being there?
“I’ll tell you after the game whether we were there or not. The reason -- and I’m not being sarcastic -- but sometimes you think you’re there and you find out whether you were or not. You can go through a very good practice where there are very few errors and then all of a sudden the pressure of the game gets to some kids, particularly the ones who have never played before that don’t have a start. You realize that you weren’t quite as prepared as you thought you were. But all you do is the best you can to get those kids in as many scenarios that will make them react well and hope like heck they do. But there is no way to really know.”
[After THE JUMP, offensive line, freshmen freshmen everywhere, and Borges comes perilously close to admitting slot backs exist]
Today's recruiting roundup features highlights and stats from DeVeon Smith and other 2013 commits, Logan Tuley-Tillman's revolutionary scholarship-earning tactic, the latest on Laquon Treadwell and Devon Allen, and more.
Presented Without Comment
Presented With Comment
The Freep's Mick McCabe released his annual list of the top 25 high school players in the state; unsurprisingly, Shane "Pearly Whites" Morris sits atop the list. Notre Dame commit Steve Elmer, Michigan commit Jourdan Lewis, and MSU commits Jon Reschke and Gerald Holmes round out the top five; other Wolverine pledges include Wyatt Shallman (#7), David Dawson (#8), Khalid Hill (#12), and C'sonte York (#14). When remembering that this list is put together not to project college success but high school ability, I don't take much issue with how the rankings shook out.
In other rankings news, Scout's Allen Trieu compiled a top 150 for the entire Midwest region, topped by (sigh) Notre Dame commit Jaylon Smith and USC commit Ty Isaac. Morris slots in at #4—interestingly one spot behind uncommitted four-star WR James Quick—and eight Michigan pledges find a place in the top 30. Seventeen Wolverines in all made the list, each falling within the top 81; if you're looking for a surprise placement, it's probably Mike McCray down at #53, which is approaching three-star territory.
[Hit THE JUMP to see DeVeon Smith and Dymonte Thomas in action, and more]
Michigan's best-in-class loyalty program has a painfully assembled acronym, which is never a good sign. The details:
The new program will award a student two loyalty points for each non-revenue sporting event they attend. Students attending revenue sports, like football, won't get two loyalty points unless they're early to games.
"In order to get full two points [at revenue sporting events] you have to at least check-in 20 minutes before game time," …
The HAIL rewards scale:
- 12 points: A Michigan shirt worth $10.
- 25 points: $5 'blue bucks' deposited directly in students' U-M account.
- 50 points: Adidas shirt and bag
- 80 points: Students get $100 in a Flagstar Bank checking account. They also get a Victors Club priority point, which can be use for priority standing when obtaining football or basketball tickets.
- 100 points: Students receive an invitation to a private athletic department event and get entered to win one of three grand prizes. One grand prize includes season tickets to football, basketball and hockey games for one student. Another grand prize is a $2,000 cash award and another is a two roundtrip airline tickets.
- The highest point earner will receive recognition during a 2013 home football game.
The article leads off with this justification of the loyalty program…
Wolverine fans, remember Rocket Man? Or the card trick at Michigan Stadium last year?
If you do, you probably remember that Rocket Man was flying toward a near-empty student section and the northwest section of the stadium was sparsely populated during the card trick.
Those pre-gaming students aren't exactly reliable at showing up on time.
…that everyone associated with the program except the missing students is on-board with. But then it says "that's probably about to change." I'm not sure the proposed rewards are sufficient for that statement to be made, but CEO's New Clothes and all that.
the proposed solution: free pencil sharpeners
For students who only attend football games—the vast majority since there are approximately 10x more football season ticket holders than basketball or hockey—there are two groups the loyalty program divides you into:
- 20 minutes early for every game: free shirt
- Late for at least one game: no free shirt
Instead of using ticket scans they're making you check in with an app or register at a booth, dropping some number of free shirt people into the no free shirt group because they can't be bothered.
Q: If you were a drunken, 20-minutes-late stumbler last year, is the prospect of not getting yet another yellow shirt going to turn you into R. Lee Ermey?
A: I am so wasted.
The other bits might help flesh out the sparse end of the Yost student section, but to get to the first actual prize (100 bucks, Victors club point) on the list you need to attend 40 events. If you're going to revenue games you have this available:
- Six football games
- 21 hockey games
- 17 basketball games (based on last year's schedule)
Getting to football 20 minutes early is right and just and gets you in to see the band. Getting to hockey or basketball 20 minutes early allows you to hear Nickelback at loud volumes. How many kids are…
- going to be season ticket holders to all three sports AND devote over eight hours of their time to sitting in the stands before revenue sports other than football
- OR be season ticket holders in two sports and attend thirteen to sixteen non-revenue events
- AND remember to check in every time
- AND not be Lloyd Brady or in the vicinity of Lloyd Brady, i.e., the exact kind of people you do not need to reach?
I'm guessing the number there is exactly zero.
A student loyalty program should be based on ticket scans and determine priority for next year's seating and and bowl/NCAA lotteries plus involve a number of Victors Club points worthwhile enough to pursue. Those who can't show up on time at all should not get tickets that could go to better-paying and plain better fans. The above plan is a nice bonus for kids who are already fanatics but completely fails to address the major issue.
PROTIP for student mgoblog readers: location spoofer. Wave to me from the field, plz.