"I love it that Ivy League coaches are coming to our camp and Big Ten coaches are coming to our camp. South Florida is coming. We've got about 70 schools that are coming to our camp."
Site note: UFRs will be Wednesday/Thursday going forward; every year I suggest they will be Tuesday/Wednesday and am forcibly disabused of this idea the firs week. Also, I miss Joel A. Morgan’s cartoons and am accepting submissions for random inclusion into UFR. It’s like the New Yorker: you submit stuff and sometimes I post it when it strikes my fancy. Except I don’t pay you.
O Do Not Forsake Me. Jerry Green is officially one thousand years old:
Michigan opened its celebrated anti-tradition era with its heavily publicized modern-style offense looking as though it were conducting a fire drill.
By that, I mean helter-skelter, willy-nilly and putt-putt!
Glabdanged frozzmatozz put that in your pipe and smoke it boy howdy I got an Indian nickel lets get a phosphate at the druggist this qualifies as a sentence in a major newspaper these days.
Later, Green uses “newfangled” without a hint of irony:
So what's different, other than this newfangled offense that made Rodriguez such a coveted football coach?
Well, it's now tradition-be-damned at Michigan!
I didn’t even know you could do that. I also didn’t know you could use exclamation points helter-skelter, willy-nilly, and putt-putt!
Green is a weird mix of Grandpa Simpson and T. Herman Zweibel; the above-linked column is a must-read if only for its antiquated strangeness. I mean:
On the sideline, Threet and David Cone and then the replaced Sheridan wigwagged the signals to the quarterback of the moment. Assistant coaches in headsets, connected by wire to play-callers up above, translated the plays into the code for the semaphore artists.
These things are newfangled: wigwagging(?), connecting things to other things by telegraph, and signaling plays into the sideline. Also newfangled: the horseless carriage, fire, and the atmosphere. Don’t get proper views of the night sky anymore with all that nitrogen in the way back in my day we had proper views and also we were prokaryotes someone bring me my cranberry juice.
Green circa 2.5 billion years ago
The invaluable Smart Football might be posting at a more regular rate, and lets hope so, because…
When Rodriguez got to Tulane with Tommy Bowden they threw the ball over the place, but (a) it was in Conference USA, (b) they were excellent at the 3-step passing game, but defenses are better at defending against those passes now than they were a decade ago, and (c) his downfield passing game left something to be desired. And in the years since, it's not that Rodriguez is at heart a running guy, it's just that was what worked and it masked some of the passing game deficiencies. When I study the route combinations, they do not appear to be designed conceptually, and instead are a kind of grab-bag of a few routes here or there. You don't see his schemes organized of horizontal, vertical, and triangle stretches.
…this is about the most interesting thing anyone’s said about him since he was hired at Michigan.
Now, Rodriguez's saving grace is I've seen him in action, and he's an excellent fundamentals coach and is a great teacher. And I think he understands all these things - I mean the guy did exploit the zone-read spread stuff before anyone else - but hasn't had the chance to reexamine his offense with such a critical eye. This season, to be successful, I believe he will have to.
Being successful this season will rest less on the pass routes and more on reducing the overall Yakety Sax vibe, IMO, but down the road this will be something to look out for. Click the link for what Smart Football means by “conceptual” pass routes.
This worked out. The “Victors Walk” was a neat addition to a football Saturday:
A ton of schools do this for good reason; glad to see we’re amongst them. I hope the former letterwinners are included in the walk when Michigan does the thing where they bring back a bunch of old dudes for the Tunnel Of History.
Perception is a weird thing. Dr. Saturday, nee SMQ, on the defense:
If there's anything good to take away for the Wolverines, it's that the defense, overall, lived up to its hype. Brian Johnson shredded it for 260 yards and a couple touchdowns in the first half -- he only topped 260 yards in an entire game once in '07 -- but if you were too distracted by the offensive horrifics on the other side to notice, the Utes' second half production amounted to two first downs and six total yards. If not for the towering leg of Kicking-and-Punting Messiah Louis Sakoda, who hammered home the eventual winning margin on a 54-yarder after the Utes went three-and-out from the Michigan 40, it would have been a shut out. It was dominating, anyway, and there's some promise in that. Just some, though, not enough to raise expectations beyond the Champs Sports Bowl.
I don’t see how you can just dismiss the shredding handed out, as it’s clear evidence of a glaring weakness in the linebacker corps and something between inexperience and Cato June at safety. The overall performance graded out to “slightly disappointing,” as you’d hope Michigan scoring 23 points would be enough for victory. It would have been if not for that little kicker guy, but only just.
The second half was very encouraging and it’s better to have Michigan suddenly get its act together late—hopefully that straight 4-3 we saw against the spread is permanently junked—than come out storming and fall apart; I am still a bit leery of the unit. Notre Dame will be interesting.
Meanwhile, an even more mystifying reaction: “Michigan needs to get creative”:
As the fans howled, Odoms gained three yards. No cloud of dust could be spotted from the press box, but it might as well have been there.
As far as creativity went, the first play was about as good as it got for Michigan on Saturday. So were the results.
To call the Wolverines' offense vanilla would be an insult to the term. Rodriguez came to Michigan as an offensive innovator, but his playbook might as well as been a pamphlet against Utah.
?!?!?!? Martavious Odoms is a tiny freshman slot receiver who received a shovel pass counter on the first play of the game. About the only thing that could have been less Lloyd Carr would have been a double-reverse trick pass. And I submit there’s a limited amount of creativity you can install into a gameplan when you have no quarterbacks who have ever taken a college snap, one returning OL starter, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions. Rodriguez was busy getting them to run the right way and was only 90% successful at that. And there was a fair bit of creativity: the attempts to get Utah leaping offsides, the option here and there, the shocking lack of bubble screens
Etc.: Braves & Birds weighs in; Varsity Blue breaks the numbers down a bit; the WLA is cranky at you, not the team; Carty is like the only guy who doesn’t have a “Don’t leap to conclusions BUT” paragraph; MVictors has the circle of death, plus a picture of a dejected Scott Shafer
Update 9/1: Linked to articles on MI WR Dion Sims, NJ DE Anthony LaLota, CA QB Tate Forcier (second), FL LB Brandin Hawthorne, SC DE Chris Bonds, FL CB Mywan Jackson, SC DE Sam Montgomery, AZ DE Craig Roh, CA OL Michael Philipp, TN CB Marsalis Teague, MI WR Cameron Gordon, video of OH RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, picture I am going to use whenever MI DT Will Campbell is mentioned. Moved FL LB Brandin Hawthorne and FL RB Vincent Smith to committed. Moved CA QB Tate Forcier to committed. Some links from Varsity Blue.
Do we really have an offer out to this guy?
Editorial Opinion: Recruiting board lives here. I’ll cover the commitments in separate googlestalking posts over the next few days. As far as the guys who are uncommitted or already in the fold…
This is the most important thing you’ll see in this post:
That’s wholly shirtless DT commit Will Campbell dressed up like Thor. I wish I could say this was some sort of surprise, but prep photographers get super bored from time to time and take the opportunity to make athletic guys who get all the girls dress up like goofs.
Meanwhile, my optimism re: MA OL Brennan Williams was ill-founded as he’s dropped M and plans to stay on the east coast—Varsity Blue wins this round. That’s a damaging blow for Michigan’s hopes for another high profile offensive lineman in the class; at the moment there is no one on the board that seems particularly likely to end up at Michigan. Michigan’s not graduating any OL this year and just took six, so the need is not critical; another decent prospect would be nice.
Elsewhere, there’s been some movement on the defensive ends we all crave. CA DE Craig Roh made an official visit for the Utah game and now Scout has an article indicating in the header that his decision will be coming shortly($). He likes Barwis, as all defensive ends should:
"He's out-of-this-world good," Roh said of Michigan's new conditioning guru. "He was the most impressive strength and conditioning coach I've seen. He's very outside the box. They don't just do ordinary lifting, and that really impressed me."
Roh explained the strength gains of one of Michigan's defensive ends.
"He weighed like 280 and benched like 300," Roh said. "(Barwis) stripped him down to 240 and built him up back to 270. Then he could bench 400 or something like that. That was just in five months! If you make those kinds of gains you are obviously doing something right."
Roh’s taken a second visit and is now accelerating his timetable, which either indicates 1) Michigan is it or 2) Michigan was the only school that might hypothetically snatch him from USC’s clutches and they didn’t quite get it done. They’re definitely in his top two. The premium sites have differing levels of optimism here; we’ll see.
Meanwhile, NJ DE Anthony LaLota was impressed by his visit and has decided to push out his commitment timeline until he takes in some official visits. Previously, he was planning to commit immediately after his unofficial to Michigan. Thoughts on his trip:
"It's a great place," he said of Ann Arbor. "The Big House is great and the atmosphere there is a lot of fun. I also love their tradition and history of winning.
"They are known for winning and I think they'll be great under coach Rich Rodriguez," LaLota said. "He's been a very successful coach and did great at West Virginia and I think he'll continue at Michigan. I don't think they'll have a bad season."
LaLota also plays on the offensive line, but says the Wolverines and others are recruiting him for defensive end. "They said that I need to come prepared because there's a good chance I could play early there," he said. "I really like how they always seem to prepare their players well for the next level."
Elsewhere in that article he has nice things to say about Rutgers and Notre Dame; Boston College, Michigan, Notre Dame, and Penn State are noted as the best campuses he’s been to; previous Virginia was thought to be in strong position for him. Add it up and LaLota’s future destination remains extremely murky.
SC DE Sam Montgomery is close to narrowing down his favorites and Michigan didn’t get a mention in the Kornblut article detailing his process. But hey, he likes Yankee talkin’:
I like to keep you guys guessing," he said. He did say that he is getting a better idea of where he plans to take his official visits and that South Carolinians may be pleased with his choices. This summer, Montgomery visited UNC and NC State. He liked both schools. "North Carolina is a great school. They really impressed me. They have a great atmosphere and I fell in love with John Blake." He also spoke highly of NC State. "I liked their coaches and their accents. They talk like people from up north. They acted like really want to win." Sam says he still wants to visit LSU and Miami but has not decided if these will be official or unofficial visits.
Paging Scott Shafer’s Midwestern brogue on line one. Montgomery’s previously claimed Michigan was an official visit on the docket. Optimism here is low; he appears ticketed for somewhere closer to home even with the weird affection for northern non-accents.
Fellow SC DE Chris Bonds has Michigan in his top six along with USC, the other USC, ND, Alabama, and Tennessee and looks upon Michigan junior Adam Patterson as something of a role model:
Bonds remembers watching Patterson choose Michigan over South Carolina in January 2006.
“Adam, he was a cool dude,” Bonds said. “I was a young guy. He was an old guy. Good role model. Adam would always tell me, ‘Just don’t let it get to you. No matter where you go, if it’s here or its Alaska or Hawaii, just don’t let it get to you.’ “
That list looks set up for a full slate of official visits plus some unofficial ones to the local school; Bonds has yet to tip his hand about where he’s leaning. He’s also got former teammates at Notre Dame and South Carolina.
Meanwhile, FL CB Mywan Jackson seemed on the verge of a commitment before a visit to Auburn with teammates gave him pause. He now plans a full slate of official visits; Michigan appears to be the team to beat:
Jackson took unofficial visits to all of his finalists except Illinois and South Carolina this summer. His trip to Michigan is the one that stood out. Jackson described the school as being "a wonderful place."
A versatile talent, Jackson (6-foot, 178 pounds) said Auburn and Michigan have told him they would give him a shot to play quarterback. His other finalists have him projected to play cornerback. Either scenario is fine with Jackson.
"I'd give (QB) up," he said. "I just want to get on the field."
UNC and Louisville are the other two finalists along with M, Auburn, Illinois, and the Other USC.
Video! Plenty of highlights from the first week of high school action. Liberty crushed Niles behind impressive performances from Fitzgerald Toussaint and Isaiah Bell:
FL WR Jeremy Gallon went flapjack nuts against a Seabreeze team that was 12-1 last year and features Michigan safety prospect Jonathan Scott, though Scott didn’t play, running for 304 yards and four touchdowns in Apopka’s blowout opening night win. (Video.)
There’s also this fluffy bit on GA LB Devekeyan “DeDe” Lattimore:
I think Michigan will fade for Lattimore, as they already have 3 or 4 linebacker commits in the class with the recent addition of Brandin Hawthorne and the potential moves of either or both of their safety commits.
Etc.: Michigan and MI LB/WR Cameron Gordon appear to have little mutual interest. MI TE Dion Sims is still leaning towards college basketball; he just tore his ACL and is done for the year.
Awesome. This is exactly what the team needed:
Michigan sustained injuries to wide receivers Greg Mathews (ankle) and Junior Hemingway (shoulder). Safety Brandon Harrison didn't play the second half because of a groin injury. Running back Carlos Brown was limited with a shoulder injury. Defensive tackle Terrance Taylor hurt his foot and was in a walking boot after the game.
Thankfully, none of these injuries is supposed to be severe. Though Rodriguez downplayed the importance of the depth chart, Mathews is still listed atop one receiver position, although it’s an “or” with Stonum, and Harrison is listed as a starting safety. Hemingway is not present. He wasn’t present last week, either, and still played. Carlos Brown has disappeared from the RB position but Rodriguez said “we think he’ll be available.”
Mathews and Van Bergen (ankle) were “day to day”; Hemingway was “a little nicked” but his absence was “precautionary.” Harrison’s injury was actually a leg, injury, not a groin and he “should be fine.”
Other notes from the first in-season press conference:
- Feagin “isn’t ready to play” and will be redshirted.
- Threet had a “few more positive things” and “took the edge a little bit.” Still sounds like both will play. Before the opener Sheridan was getting most of the reps with the top unit; in practice this week they’ll split them evenly. I expect Threet to get the first shot at Miami.
- Defense was “awful in the first half”; Michigan “not good enough to play bad and win.”
- Grady is “practicing with the team” and is a maybe to play against Miami.
- Will Johnson and Obi Ezeh were the best players on defense.
- Mouton “got in there and provided a spark.” Sounds like they’ll be shuffling the linebackers some.
- There is “little separation” between Minor, McGuffie, and Shaw. “All three” are in rotation with the first group—no Brown.
- Redshirts are still somewhat up in the air, but Koger and Roundtree were called out as guys who will probably get in at some point.
- You can hear the longing in this quote on Miami, can’t you?
I know they've got nine returning starters on defense, and watching a little film on Vanderbilt, Vanderbilt's biggest plays were when the quarterback took off running. He as a really good athlete and got a lot of big runs, and that was the difference in the ball game.
The rest of it was the usual.
The status of the freshmen in re: redshirts:
- PLAYED: Shaw, McGuffie, Odoms, Stonum, Fitzgerald, Cissoko, Martin
- WILL PROBABLY PLAY: Koger, Roundtree, Robinson
- MIGHT PLAY: Khoury, Barnum, Floyd, Smith, Demens
- REDSHIRTS: Moore, Feagin, Hill, Cox, Mealer, O'Neill, Omameh, Wermers
Notably, only Fitzgerald saw action solely on special teams. This is a significant change from the Carr days, when many would burn their redshirts covering kicks and punts and the like, and a departure from Rodriguez’s professed philosophy on the redshirt—he, like Carr, prefers to get kids on the field as freshmen for whatever reason. I wonder if the new staff is giving the vast majority of the reps to people they feel can help now and thus the guys who might normally play in an average year are even more unprepared than they otherwise might be.
8/30/2008 – Michigan 23, Utah 25 – 0-1
Every rational thought in your head suggests that the whole walk-on or freshman-the-coaches-are-panicked-about at quarterback, the line of baling wire and the occasional confused chicken, and freshmen everywhere at the skill positions will combine to yield an offense worthy of Yakety Sax, but until you actual see the damn thing in action you can hold out hope it will be otherwise.
We have seen it in action. It could have gone better. At least we have an incredibly direct metaphor all around us:
This program is under construction with a completion date around 2010. This is going to be a tough year. If you’re prone to hysterics you should do everyone a favor, watch something else, and annoy everyone on the Project Runway message boards with your all-caps posts. Get over it.
If you’d told me the final score before the game I would have been disappointed but not particularly surprised and wouldn’t have budged much from the preseason prediction. Unfortunately, a raft of unusual events obscured a much grimmer picture, especially in the first half. That was a near-worst case scenario. The offense was as bad as everyone feared; the defense was far worse than anyone expected in the first half. Without the latter unit’s second-half turnaround, I would be halfway to the Yukon and my new life as a gold prospector this morning. As it is, I think a bowl game is unlikely since it will probably require a 7-5 record.
But I’m here and we can talk about the game some. The best part was the warmups, and I mean that only somewhat sarcastically. Seeing the 100-some men in winged helmets go “HOO HOO HOO” whilst pivoting was a weird kind of thrill, as was the Barwis-led Circle of Death. This is not your father’s Michigan football, (TINYFMF) etc.
The second best part was Rodriguez’s inability to cope with the idea his team sucked. I also mean that only somewhat sarcastically. TINYFMF was best displayed on Michigan’s last play of the first half, when Nick Sheridan dropped back on third and long and lofted a ball on an ICBM trajectory. Everyone in the stadium knew it would be intercepted the moment it left his hand.
Lloyd Carr would have called a fullback dive and punted. Michigan would probably have escaped the first half with a manageable five-point deficit, and the defense and special teams excellence in the second half would have been enough to pull it out. The entirety of halftime that “22” for Utah rankled. That touchdown looked completely decisive.
So maybe that was a stupid call. Having your walk-on hurl a ball skyward is asking for it. But I vastly prefer the expectation your player can come through in an important situation to the fear he won’t. That tendency is probably going to hurt this year, when expecting any quarterback to do anything except soil himself is a bad bet, but when Michigan is good they’ll go through each series with a mind to score points; they should blow the doors off opponents who can’t cope. Carr’s formula was a recipe for 9-3, 9-3, 9-3, 9-3. Rodriguez will go through more swings based on how much talent he has at his disposal. Eventually, this will be a good thing.
There’s not much more to say: they kind of suck. I don’t know who any of them are. I hope they get better.
- Boy, did I hate the 4-3 Michigan started out in during the first half. That’s a guarantee of zone coverage or a hideous mismatch between first-time starters at linebacker and slot receivers. For the most part it was the former, which the first-time starters at linebacker were terrible at, and Michigan got shredded on a wide array of routes designed test the weakest part of the Michigan defense. It failed.
- Do you ever get the feeling people are prepared to criticize in a particular way even if reality conflicts with them? I’ve seen a lot of rabble rabble about “Rodriguez needs to adapt the offense to his players” in the aftermath of a game in which Michigan threw 60% of the time.
- I bet you could have gotten good odds on “boy, I wish Rodriguez had run more” as a common complaint before the game. That was perhaps the most disturbing development, as it speaks to a total lack of faith in the offensive line.
- Stevie Brown was victimized repeatedly, giving up the 50-yard pass on third and twenty that led to Utah’s first touchdown. I think he was responsible for the coverage on the score right before the half. He did jump another endzone route and bat the ball to Ezeh.
- Feagin? I mean… he couldn’t have been worse.
- The holding and pass interference penalties should be set aside in a description of Utah mistakes, as Michigan forced those errors out of the Utes with a torrent of pressure and wild hopeful downfield jump balls. One of these will serve Michigan in good stead for the rest of the season.
- This would be the point during a game coached by Carr where I would bemoan the zone-tipping, ineffective 4-3 Shafer came out in for the first half; this is considerably more difficult when you have scarcely less information about the football team than the actual coaches do. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to get a grip on whether your defense can handle a spread offense in its base set when you’re going up against that in practice every day. Or how you’re supposed to figure out what you can do on offense when everyone’s a freshman and even the folks who aren’t played in a totally different system.
If ever a coaching staff could be forgiven for flailing about with the wrong players, it was Saturday. The halftime adjustments were encouraging.
You can comment on the post if you like as we wait for the WLA to arrive, should be around 3. Excelsior! Or Yakety Sax, we’ll see.
This picture evidently has a grip on me.
It was the centerpiece of the letter from the editor in Hail To The Victors 2008 and the desperate, searching column following the Post Apocalyptic Oregon Game. And why not? It’s perfect for this place and time.
On the right, Bump Elliot, fired/resigned/retired but at the press conference introducing his replacement. He looks like he wants a sandwich and is thinking about asking that guy off camera if he could get one, but he knows that losing to Ohio State 50-14 is not the kind of thing that helps the sandwich acquisition process.
On the left, Bo Schembechler. He looks like Bo. He is obscurely confident, staring at something. Maybe it’s a wall. Maybe he’s thinking about making that wall the best damn wall that wall can be. Maybe it’s a pair of pants, and Schembechler is devising a motivational method that will get the pair of pants to tailor itself into the best damn pair of pants it could be. It is not a sandwich, or Bump Elliot would be looking over there. It is probably not an elephant or a meerkat or any sort of African land mammal. Other than that we don’t know.
In the middle, Don Canham. In marked contrast to the men flanking him, Canham is sporting an expression of crystal clarity. Staring off into the middle distance, he draws his mouth tight and hunches forward. “God, I hope I didn’t screw this up,” he thinks. In a moment he’ll speak into the thicket of microphones in front of him, introducing the man to his right and hoping against hope that this man from Miami of Ohio can beat back the Buckeye menace. Together they will build an empire.
We are all Don Canham now. Rich Rodriguez comes in with a wildly successful pedigree but promises to finally tear down the culture of Bo’s program, to replace it with something uncertain. This has caused apprehension in some, joy in others, and disdain verging on hatred in a select group.
The program risks changing into something people drift away from because it has drifted from them, or, worse, something that you only wish you could drift away from. It also promises fireworks and fun and victory and a feeling that’s something other than that thing we’ve felt so much before. Other fanbases go through this every five or ten or fifteen years; for us it’s been 40.
I could welcome it, I guess, or celebrate it, or proclaim inevitable dominion over the land. But I don’t feel like it. Nor do I feel like fretting over imaginary scandals future. Like Canham, I just hope it works.
Here goes nothing. Go Blue.
Tomorrow the gentlemen of the Wolverine Liberation Army will be guiding the nouveau open thread, which will take the form of a Cover It Live chat/liveblog type thing. The action starts at 3 PM. Please don’t feed the WLA to a woodchipper.
A tentative schedule for the season:
- Game column
- Monday Recruitin’
- UFR: Offense
- On Notice Board (The return!)
- UFR: Defense
- Injury Wrangling
- Cover It Live chat (biweekly)
- Opponent preview
- Cover It Live “open” thread
There will of course be news and Unverified Voracity and all that sprinkled in, and UFR may get bumped back a day on certain weeks.
As is traditional, the mondo Michigan preview (this year: 17,212 words) prevented me from putting together a full-fledged opponent preview. Usually this is against a team that doesn’t make me regret the lack of a preview until something horrible occurs, but this year Utah is legit and you deserve some preview action I can’t provide. I suggest The Only Game That Matters and Varsity Blue.
A few TV items. Three things of note follow.
If you have Dish and live outside of the Big Ten footprint, they just yanked your BTN. An emailer, uh, emails:
After being all cocky about being the first guy to have BTN in the lineup last year on DISH, I just noticed that DISH has dumped BTN except in Ohio, MIchigan, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois and "sections of Pennsylvania and Indiana". As a California alum, this sucks pretty hard. I have already complained to DISH, but I thought you might want to help mobilize mgoblog nation to get on their case. Thanks!
Class of '98
David followed up with Dish and found this out:
So, last year, the BTN was added to the base package. Now, I had to upgrade to the "Plus" package ($5/mo. for the music channels) and then add the big sports package for another $5.99/mo. I was assured by the operator that I could get it in LA, despite the footnote on the program guide. So, it appears to be available for about $11/mo. Very frustrating.
Unfortunate, and pricey, but heroin doesn’t come cheap.
A note on the “reverse mirroring” policy mentioned in yesterday’s mailbag: no, it doesn’t apply to ABC night games. MSU fans in Chicago are screwed since the powers that be decided to put Clemson-Alabama on this weekend instead of MSU-Cal.
This affects Michigan less than most other teams since they refuse to play night games at home, but there’s occasionally a regional ABC roadie that would not be available except on Gameplan. Your best bet in that situation is to get Gameplan for the weekend, which I believe costs twenty bucks.
And a protest from commenter Ninja Football about my dissing of sopcast yesterday:
I take exception with your disparaging remarks about Sopcast. I was forced to use it for a variety of games and for other events throughout the past year, and as long as you know what you're doing it isn't so bad. There is always the chance of the guy changing the channel, but if you find the right site and "reputable" (HA!) streamers you can be assured that won't happen. Saying it's "fraught with peril" immediately makes people think of viruses and crashing computers, and while it can at times be frustrating, it's better than reading about the game in the paper two days later.
If that’s all you’ve got and you want a live stream, I guess it’s worth a try. If anyone finds some reliable streams or wants to go so far as set some up themselves, let me know and I’ll pass the information on.
It’s in. Marques Slocum will not go into the night without a plaque, dammit:
Godspeed, Marques; I hope you eat Mark May and take his place someday.
How to act. Three separate Michigan blogs inform you how to act on gameday. Varsity Blue has the student section covered:
If you are sitting below row 80 and hear a cow bell and say anything related to the Christopher Walken sketch on SNL lampooning "Don't Fear the Reaper" by Blue Oyster Cult, I hate you. Freshman year it's acceptable and funny for the first few games. Beyond that, seriously, that sketch was on like 8 years ago.
Just as in the student section, refrain from getting plastered at the tailgate. And if you do, stay at the tailgate. If not, that drunk feeling in the first half will turn into a hung-over feeling in the 2nd half. Your head and your fellow seat mates will thank you.
If you are in the student section, try not to get drunk enough so that to keep your balance you have to shove the people in the row in front of you over and over again.
I only have one request: when the PA announcer says “welcome to Michigan Stadium,” don’t boo MAC teams and the like. “We’d like to extend a warm Michigan Stadium welcome to… Toledo!” should not be followed by rampant booing. I would prefer the booing to be restricted to actual rivals: ND, MSU, OSU.
Wait, also: if you wear a shirt with “Buck The Fuckeyes” or any sort of letter inversion shtick please castrate yourself. Possible exception: “Iuck the Fllini.”
Well, the situation is very fluid, you see. OSU defensive tackle Doug Worthington will not be suspended for the Youngstown State game after picking up a DUI. This is no doubt acceptable to the folks who thought Kevin Grady should be executed after his wild night of being passed out behind the wheel of his Denali.
As soon as Steve Breaston took his talents to the NFL the return game imploded. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. Dammit—I have to raise my hand since I gave this a “3” last year, too.
Sure-handed, slow Greg Mathews was the primary punt returner with a little Donovan Warren mixed in; the duo was terrible, ending the year 79th. Mathews has been relieved of those duties this year and the job is tentatively Warren’s with slot electron Martavious Odoms pushing from behind. This should improve with two of the best athletes on the team taking up the reigns; hopefully the increased walk-on program will help fill in some gaps on special teams.
Kick returns were even worse. Michigan was 110th as Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor alternated runs directly into defenders. Freshman tailbacks Sam McGuffie and Michael Shaw have been mentioned as likely starters here, though it may take a game or two to blood them before they assume the roles. Shaw and McGuffie are fast as hell and there should be a rebound here, too.
After inexplicably sitting for a good portion of the season, Kickin’ Competency Lopata came on and hit 11 of 12. He’s basically Garrett Rivas, short on leg strength and dodgy outside 40 yards but a machine inside 40. This qualifies as a pretty good collegiate kicker.
I hate to say this about beloved Space Emperor, but Zoltan was quite conceivable in his second year as a starter. Though he was Michigan’s best player against Ohio State with 12(!) punts for 551(!!!) yards—almost 46 yards each—in his other outings he barely averaged 40 yards a kick. He was 53rd in average yardage and had almost 60% of his punts returned (that’s a lot). He was a Space Prince at best.
Here goes the standard “consistency” bit: if Zoltan can sustain the sort of performance he turned in against Ohio State he’s a Ray Guy candidate and likely winner. He’s always had ridiculous punter-get-drafted upside.
Special Teams in Summary
Kicker should remain static; the return game should improve, possibly significantly as Rodriguez continues to pack the roster with players like those guys named “Moss” who used to play for Miami. Zoltan should be at least average and if he can find consistency to be consistently consistent could be the Heisman winner. You heard it here first, Beanie: Zoltan The Inconceivable is coming for your trophy.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|2007||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
In marked contrast to lat year’s TO margin heuristic—which foresaw a plunge from 4th nationally to something still positive but far less spectacular and may have presaged some of Michigan’s difficulties—there’s not much to see here. I expect this to be solidly negative this year what with the n00b quarterbacks and the line and the no Mike Hart, but Scott Shafer’s GOT what plants CRAVE so it could be around even again. Don’t think it will have a major impact.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Two weeks ago John Ferrara was a backup defensive lineman. Today he’s pushing David Molk for a starting job on the line. Even if he doesn’t see the field the lack of confidence in Molk is apparent.
You could throw Brandon Harrison in here, as last year he was kind of a corner and this year he’s going to be the strong safety, but Harrison’s bounced to and from safety his entire career and will likely find himself in that familiar spot over the slot receiver. His responsibilities aren’t likely to change.
Toney Clemons is listed behind Martavious Odoms; his presence at slot receiver despite being way too tall for the Lollipop Guild—it is a guild!—indicates an obvious lack of depth there.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Rock bottom can be pretty low when you’re shoehorning a bunch of guys into a system they weren’t recruited for and you’ve had a ton of attrition at a couple key spots. Michigan is flirting with disaster on the offensive line and at quarterback. An injury or general suckage by one or more of the five new guys they’re counting on at those positions could send the offense into an epic tailspin.
The defense and some random plays from the exciting skill position players should keep Michigan afloat; games against the two MAC schools, Minnesota, Northwestern, Purdue, and Michigan State should all be at least reasonably winnable even in the worst case. 4-8 seems like the bottom-bottom.
There’s only one game that looks utterly unwinnable—Ohio State—at the moment. There’s no way the offense doesn’t blow two more, though. 9-3.
I am heartened by the idea that Rich Rodriguez’s offense doesn’t place much emphasis on 15 yard outs or deep bombs or seam routes. I am further heartened by the media’s near-exclusive focus on offense and players lost when compiling their preseason guesses. And I’m delighted by the idea Michigan beat actual football teams last year with Mike Debord calling plays for Ryan Mallett.
Not heartening is game against a Mountain West team that would be a pick-em on a neutral field, though the Vegas wiseguys initially set the line at M –7 before everyone bet it down. Nor is it heartening to miss Iowa and Indiana in a year that it would be really nice to dodge Wisconsin and Illinois. But that’s life.
For a glimpse at what this offense might be like I go back to the Year of Infinite Pain, 2005. With Jake Long injured the line was a patchwork assemblage of mediocre talent. Leo Henige had no knees and he started the whole year. The receiving corps was one sure-handed possession guy (Avant), one slot bastard par excellence (Breaston), and one zippy freshman (Manningham). This year those guys are Mathews, Odoms, and Stonum with potential bonus contributions from Clemons, Hemingway, Savoy, and Robinson. Mike Hart was out or limping most of the year; Kevin Grady and Max Martin took turns fumbling before Jerome Jackson finally took the reins.
The big advantage that team had was Chad Henne even though that was the year Tacopants reeled in something like 150 balls. Any illusions 2005 Chad Henne was a realistic ceiling for Michigan’s quarterbacks this year went out the window as I watched the turnover abortion that was the NC State-South Carolina game. We have no idea how bad it can get. Yet.
Still, 2008 wins by a significant margin at the skill positions, is close to a push on the OL, and has a significant advantage in playcalling, scheme, and proximity to Mike Barwis. I think a comparable season is realistic, and while that’s not good at all—55th total offense, 45th scoring—it’s not a disaster zone.
Meanwhile, the defense returns eight-ish starters from a defense statistically superior to 2005’s meh unit. They have also “enjoyed” their proximity to Mike Barwis. Scott Shafer seems a rising star in the defensive coordination business, a maniacal blitzer instinctively aware of the little game theory details that are the heart of gameday coaching.
It’s reasonable to expect improvement both statistically and actually, which would make this team better than 2005’s 7-5 record, especially because that Notre Dame team was 9-3 and this one won’t be and a bowl game against Nebraska is included in that record.
That’s the idea, anyway.
|9/6||Miami (OH)||Probable Win|
|9/13||@ Notre Dame||Tossup|
|10/18||@ Penn State||Probable loss|
|11/1||@ Purdue||Probable win|
|11/8||@ Minnesota||Probable win|
|11/22||Ohio State||Probable loss|
Take all the “probables” with a grain of salt except OSU, Minnesota, and the MAC schools. I didn’t want to write “tossup” eight times.
Really, the answer here is “hell if I know.” There are too many variables to predict anything at a level resembling confidence. I have enough faith in the defense and the little bastards carrying the ball to think the team will be towards the upper end of the reasonable range. 8-4 is the pick.
Let’s get it on.
What does this defense have to do to drive Michigan to wins?
The worst thing you can do in a defense that loves quarterback pressure is to allow the sort of consistent gashing up the middle that Michigan did last year. Any time the opponent had a decent interior line and a between-the-tackles runner it got ugly last year. Michigan State, Illinois, Oregon, Ohio State, and Wisconsin pounded Michigan up the middle.
Those were three losses, a miracle Robot Henne comeback, and a muffed-punt-trick-play victory over an Illinois team determined to give the game away. This is probably not a coincidence.
Meanwhile, the pass defense was excellent, about which more later.
The interior run defense was the third most obvious weakness on last year’s team behind Ryan Mallett’s center exchange and Steve Schilling; repairing that is going to be job one for Scott Shafer.
Can the interior run defense rebound?
Ask Obi. In this reporter’s opinion, Obi Ezeh is the most important player on this year’s team. The quarterbacks are going to be bad, the line tetchy even if Steve Schilling takes a quantum leap forward. Other positions have multiple options and any one player’s failure isn’t that devastating.
Linebacker, however, is short on options and has a potential breakout star. If Ezeh makes a great leap forward he can almost singlehandedly stiffen the entire defense. And he can make that leap forward. Most of his problems last year were mental. He was hesitant, slow to the ball, etc. He was stupid in the ways freshmen are stupid. This is the sort of thing that gets much better over time. He appears to have physical attributes similar to David Harris, blessed be his name. He’s getting the wide-eyed preseason praise that often precedes a big year but sometimes precedes Johnny Sears.
Devoid of onfield evidence, we just have to hope on Ezeh. The rest of it should get better what with the defensive line returning intact minus 20-30 pounds of flubber each and—not to be overly cruel—the replacement of Chris Graham.
So… I think so. All the key actors are back and better.
What can we expect from Scott Shafer?
This has been documented several times before, but to recap: all defensive coordinators, when hired, are reputed to be blitz demons with Brawndo—it’s got what plants crave!—flowing through their veins, all the better to WIN at AGGRESSION. No one has ever been hired and declared his intention to play a soft bend-don’t-break cover two.
But Scott Shafer backs it up. It’s hard to quantify this over the course of his career because the NCAA only started tracking sacks recently. Here’s the transition he wrought on defense (all numbers except turnovers are national ranks instead of raw yardage because of the evil distorting ‘06 clock changes):
In one year Shafer’s aggression shot the Cardinal from 111th in sacks to 11th; the near-doubling of turnovers acquired was obviously related. Quarterback pressure is the one thing that consistently produces turnovers. Shafer also famously turned Western Michigan into the top-sacking team in the NCAA and OLB Ameer Ismail, who no one will confuse with Lavar Arrington, into the nation’s leading sacker.
(I wouldn’t put much into the radical drop in pass defense; the 2006 Stanford rush defense was so unbelievably bad that opponents just plowed into the line for their 5 YPC. Despite playing in the pass-wacky Pac-10, Stanford opponents threw the ball 38% of the time.)
Expect Michigan to use their outside corners aggressively, pressing frequently and daring quarterbacks to try the difficult fade routes that Morgan Trent has been excellent on thus far in his career. On passing downs Shafer wants to deploy an “Okie” defense that’s a nominal 3-4 with safety/OLB types threatening blitz from all angles. The idea is to get opponents into unfavorable down and distance situations, then deny them the time to bail themselves out on third and long.
Steve Brown ack.
I mentioned this a bit in the D preview: people have a tendency to remember and overrate unusual events, especially if they’re traumatic. Steve Brown’s disastrous first foray as a safety was the most unusual and traumatic debut for a new player ever. So we remember the slipping and the falling and all that. That doesn’t necessarily represent his true ability.
What information we have on Brown, from his impressive debut on special teams to his recruiting rankings to the practice buzz, is encouraging. And he ceded the safety job to Brandent Englemon, who was totally functional. He wasn’t stuck behind someone who was struggling.
Brown’s ascension into the starting lineup isn’t cause for enormous concern, IMO, no more so than any new starter at a position where slip-ups mean long touchdowns.
Add it up and you get?
The striking thing about last year’s defense is their lack of suck. This would not be remarkable if Michigan hadn’t ceded 73 points in a disastrous opening two weeks. Look at the conference rankings: second in total defense, pass defense, and scoring defense. First in pass efficiency defense. Fifth in rushing defense. And Michigan missed the worst offense in the league (Iowa).
Some caveats do apply—Ohio State quit playing after getting their second touchdown—but a quick review of last year’s events also reveals two useless Purdue touchdowns, a useless Wisconsin touchdown, and a whole lot of awful Ryan Mallett play leaving opponents with short fields. Michigan was better than its eminently respectable numbers last year.
Now eight starters return (if you’re counting Brandon Harrison, which you should). Many of them are in clearly better shape. Obi Ezeh should be much better, and there’s not likely to be much dropoff from Chris Graham to whoever replaces him on the weakside. My accounting goes like this:
- Better: DT, DE, MLB, CB
- About the same: WLB, FS
- Worse: SLB, SS
That looks like a significantly better defense, especially since strongside linebacker is probably less relevant than nickelback these days. Replacing Crable’s 28.5 TFLs will be tough.
Anyway: I expect a significant bounce in the rush defense, even more sacks, and a defense that challenges OSU for the best in the conference.
BONUS: a quick review of last year’s stupid predictions. This is perhaps the most accurate thing I’ve ever pulled out of my ass:
- 23rd in scoring defense.
Michigan was exactly 23rd last year. But, uh:
- Aw, hell: Brown has a great debut and gets everyone totally excited about his potential. The safeties are good.
This could not have been more wrong, obviously.
On with the variably accurate show:
- Brandon Graham has monster year and departs for the NFL draft after it.
- Ezeh does get much, much better.
- The other linebackers are a persistent issue.
- Trent makes All Big Ten and goes in the second round of the draft.
- Michigan has a top 20 run defense and top 15 overall defense.
- Boubacar Cissoko is fun to say.