One of my early complaints about the Denard-Borges fusion cuisine was the grab-bag nature of the offense. By that I mean the sense that Michigan's plays were generally unrelated to each other and worked because they were new or the opponent was poor, not because they put the defense in a bind trying to defend one thing while another was happening. You can only run throwback screens out of an ace set a limited number of times when you don't roll the pocket out of an ace set effectively; you can only run a quick pitch that plays off a FB dive a limited number of times when you never run the dive.
That complaint is increasingly invalid as Michigan refines what it does. Full Minnesota disclaimers apply, but the most encouraging thing about last week's game other than everything was the series of gotcha plays that gashed Minnesota. BWS did a great job of showing how Michigan's long-overdue deployment of the sprint draw* (in this case a bonafide counter with a pulling LT) looks just like the QB run game that has been the heart of Michigan's offense for a year and a half. The sprint draw is a constraint play that punishes you for cheating on the offense's bread and butter.
That's one example. The Fritz package is another example. Michigan got a speed option blown up the first time; when they came back to it they ran a quick pitch that played off that option. This is what it looked like:
Check that safety on the far left hauling ass to the presumed option side. He gone. By the time Toussaint hits the corner ain't nobody here but us chickens:
Minnesota is exceptionally bad at all things but this is the kind of stuff that gives defensive coordinators hives. That looks just like OH CRAP DENARD OPTION until it's too late.
But wait, there's more! If you were surprised when Michigan opened up its second drive with a lovely touch pass from Denard to Stephen Hopkins, that makes twelve of you. He'd set Minnesota up for it on the previous drive.
*[I do have a slight disagreement w/ that post, FWIW: On that play it's clear Huyge is expecting to kick out the DE. When that DE comes inside rapidly Huyge looks like he's losing him. Lewan is supposed to hit the backside B gap, which has a marginally blocked guy in it. If Lewan doesn't block the DE there's a chance he shoots up into Shaw for a loss. I think you leave the safety for the RB.]
Play The First: New School Iso
It's first and ten on the Michigan 38 on the first drive of the day. Michigan comes out with what is for them a power set: shotgun with two backs and a tight end. Minnesota rolls both safeties to 7-8 yards and plays way off the WRs.
They're going to run an iso off the right side of the line. Iso kind of looks like inside zone—no one pulls, you try to combo defensive linemen—but you get a lead back roaring up in a designated hole. On an inside zone a blocking back will usually flare out or head backside to provide another gap on one end of the line and the running back will read his blocking and pick a hole.
Here it's straight upfield, hole or no. This train is headed A-gap.
It's Minnesota so there is a hole. Schofield and Molk send the NT to his knees. Omameh locks out the other DT and Denard holds the backside end with the threat of his run. A crease forms in the intended spot:
Hopkins thunders into it and lowers the boom.
And that's all she wrote. The two DTs getting annihilated and Hopkins thumping the MLB such that he provides a crease away from the Gopher free hitter—visible in the left frame above and stuck behind the Hopkins block in the second—gives Toussaint a free pass into the virtually nonexistent secondary.
Note that Molk is still waiting for someone to block. Minnesota is not good.
Toussaint runs through a diving tackle attempt and is eventually run down because he has to break his stride to do so. 35 yards.
Items of Interest
Minnesota is awful. I award them no points, God have mercy on their souls, etc. Not much else to say.
On this play three separate Minnesota defenders are crushed by their Michigan counterparts and Molk is just like hanging out because the Gopher LB is hanging around on Robinson when Robinson is being contained by a DE. Against a real team this is an eh gain.
This works for a lot of reasons but the paramount one is the Hopkins block. This is awful Minnesota play, but Hopkins makes it count by getting a driving block on the LB that kicks him out of the lane. If the guy gets inside of Hopkins Toussaint cuts out into an unblocked safety and picks up five or so yards unless he makes him miss; even if he manages that the process of making him miss will probably get him tackled by the backside DE.
But Hopkins lowers his shoulders and lifts the LB out of the hole, eliminating two guys and turning this into a big gainer. Without one guy eliminating two you can't pick up a bunch of yards when an extra safety is in the box*, especially on an old-timey quien es mas macho play like an iso.
*[And by "an extra safety" I mean two extra safeties; Denard + shotgun == extra guy in box is standard. Here both safeties are rolled into the box.]
Don't get down about Toussaint's speed because of this play. Yes, tackled from behind by a Gopher, but the ankle tackle he ran through put him off balance and slowed him up; without it this is likely a touchdown.
Several months ago Brian left a few whacky meatball surgeons in charge of the B.L.O.G. 4077th unit while he did the wedding/honeymoon thing. In need of good filler we duly turned over content control to the enlisted, then didn't use any of their ideas. Then TrapperVH and Major Tim Burns left the show and we forgot 'em, but this query from a non emu:
… When Hoke was hired, Brandon alluded to some research that he had done on correlation between the background of a new head coach and his winning percentage. He basically said that coaches who had previously coached in the conference, played, or recruited in the catchment area of a B10 school was much more likely to be successful than a complete outsider, and this was one of the reasons that made Hoke a more compelling candidate. …
…resulted in an excel spreadsheet (Google doc) that I've been tinkering with ever since.
We may call this the Gary Moeller effect since he is the epitome of a guy with longstanding Big Ten experience before he took his marquee Big Ten head coaching job. Mo started working for Bo at Miami (NTM) and after '69 the only years he wasn't coordinating something for Michigan were three spent as the head coach of Illinois. But he's also the antithesis for the Illini years, when Moeller went 3-18-3 in the Big Ten, way worse than before him.
At Michigan, Moeller became the most successful Big Ten coach in the last 40 years (ties counted for 0.5 each, records through 2010):
(Penn State is excised because when JoePa took over every team was in the Pangaea Conference. Bo Pelini too, for the same reason: not with the conference when they became HC).
Defining success isn't that straightforward. John Cooper* and Earl Bruce won a lot of Big Ten games at OSU but both were -9.5% in conf. winning % versus the 10 years preceding them while Hayden Fry (+32%), Joe Tiller (+25%), and Gary Barnett (+21%) dramatically improved moribund programs. When I compared every coach over the last 40 years to the 10 years before he arrived, I got this for best and worst:**
10 Years before him
But then the W% method is really unfair to coaches who took over great teams. Lloyd Carr is a hall of fame coach who won around 78% of his Big Ten games over 13 years in a tough conference environment, but versus '85 to '94 he's –2.36%, good for about average. John Pont made the Top 10 for getting Indiana from 18% to 37%. Pont later reappears just outside the loser's bracket for taking over a 40% Northwestern team and winning just 25% of his conf. games. Using both metrics however can give us a list of dudes worth discussing from the last 20 years:
Woolfolk is fine, even though he may or may not have been limping at the end of the game.
Cam Gordon will practice more. Sounds like he has to fight for his job back.
McColgan should be back for Northwestern.
Hoke voted for Michigan to be in top 25.
Opening remarks: “It was good to start the Big Ten season winning the football game on Saturday. It was good to keep the Brown Jug. I think the score got painted on this morning at eleven. It’s good to have the Jug here in Ann Arbor.
"Everything gets tougher. Northwestern, they’re 2-2 as you all know. They lost a heartbreaker down in Champaign last week, but they have a football team that’s very well coached. Pat’s probably as good a coach as there is in the league and a guy that feels strongly about that program, being an alumnus of Northwestern and being a tremendous player there. I also think when you look at them from an offensive and defensive standpoint, they’re a team that’s going to play physical. They’re going to play 60 minutes of football. Defensively, they run very well to the ball. Offensively, Persa was back, played most of the game, was pretty productive. But Coulter is also a guy who’s moved them offensively and done a nice job. So when you look at it and playing away, we haven’t been away. It’ll be a little bit different for us because we’ve been fortunate enough to play five games in Michigan Stadium.”
Does being tied for second in the country in ppg allowed mean anything to you? Also, can you point to any tangible improvements in the defense between the spring and now? “Well, it’s like anything else. It doesn’t mean anything right now. I mean, none of those things matter. We’re 1-0 right now. I think when you look at our front the last two weeks, we’ve been a little more disruptive. That’s enabled the linebackers to do their job. I think we put a little bit more pressure at times on the quarterback. We still don’t blitz worth a dog, period. And that’s got to improve. Guys are playing together. I think they’re understanding the roles. I think the defensive staff has done a good job in preparation, and the guys are doing a good job preparing themselves.”
How did Denard look in the passing game on film? “I think mechanically he was better. I think the routes were better. I think the timing of the offense was better. There was a good tempo and good flow when you look at him and his footwork and all those things that are part of the mechanics of throwing. I think it was better. I thought it wasn’t bad versus Notre Dame, either. I think he’s a prideful guy, he’s a competitive guy … He wants to be good for his teammates.”
How do you work on timing in practice? “Well it’s just the routes and the timing, and if it’s five-step or three-step drop, from the gun or under center. Just the mechanics of that and when the ball should be thrown, on what step.”
In the depths of Michigan's worst season ever (if you can't divide) or in a damn long time (if you can) they travelled to the Metrodome to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan was 2-7 and without the services of their starting quarterback. Minnesota was 7-2 and in possession of a functional offense. I was posting pictures of Death because Nick Sheridan was going to play the entire game. We were going to hit rock bottom when the Gophers picked up the jug they see once a decade, if that. "Henry Kissinger" was amongst the things projected to be more fun than the Jug game.
Because football is strange, Michigan waltzed into Minneapolis and annihilated the Gophers. The final score was 29-6; total yardage was 435-188. Nick Sheridan completed 60% of his passes and almost eclipsed 7 YPA. Justin Feagin averaged 7 yards a carry.
It was a crazy exception to the nigh-unrelenting misery of 2008. Yeah, they fluked their way into a win over Wisconsin despite getting outgained by 100 yards. Minnesota was different. If you had no knowledge of the context you would have thought it was a year like any other, a Michigan team like any other. Michigan did what they do to Minnesota: beat them without a second thought.
This week multiplenewspaper folk took the time to tell people the Jug doesn't matter, but when that awful Michigan team locked arms and walked over to Jon Falk to lift up the only thing they'd held onto, it mattered. Paul Bunyan, the bowl streak, most people's sanity, all of the street cred, and huge chunks of the dignity were gone. The Jug remained.
Martin, Koger, Molk, and Van Bergen were freshmen on that team. Molk started. Koger, Van Bergen, and Martin played but didn't acquire stats. Recruited by Carr, they stuck it out under Rodriguez. Many of their teammates didn't.
As a reward the four above started down a path towards the least rewarding Michigan careers in decades, through little or no fault of their own. You can win Big Ten championships with those four guys as prominent starters. You have to have other people to play football around them, though, and maybe a coach or two who can tell the difference between a stuffed beaver and a 4-3 under. Michigan didn't.
In 2008 they had little on the field and even less off it. According to John Bacon's Three and Out, Lloyd Carr signed off on Justin Boren's transfer to Ohio State and upstanding citizen Jim Tressel. Morgan Trent half-assed his way through the season and tossed bombs at Rodriguez afterwards. Toney Clemons and Greg Mathews would act as sources for the Free Press jihad shortly after the season. Given the result of that investigation it's clear they did so entirely out of spite. Brandon Minor would rail on about how leadership was going to happen in 2009 as people whispered that he was a major source of its lack in 2008. There's probably never been a more dysfunctional Michigan team, and it started from the top.
Freshmen learn from seniors. This is the way of the world. Usually they learn how to be, how to maintain the standards of the program they walked into. The four guys above did it a different way: they learned what not to do. When it came time to meet for the first time in the Hoke era, they decided not to repeat the recent past. Mike Martin:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Meanwhile, Van Bergen called out the program alums who'd drifted away when times got tough. The message was clear: this is our program. We've been here for four years and gotten nothing but crap. We've paid more dues than anyone in the last 40 years of Michigan football, and now we'd like some payoff.
That payoff was going to be an Alamo Bowl at best. But the seniors' effort, Greg Mattison's expertise, Denard Robinson's existence, the Big Ten's complete horribleness, and Brady Hoke's rectal horseshoe now tempt hope.
Michigan State can't run or stay within three scores of Notre Dame. Nebraska can't throw or keep a good running offense under 30 points. Iowa can't beat Iowa State. It may be a division race on par with one of those years Wake Forest won the ACC, but by God there is a tinny flimsy division championship there to be acquired. Even if it wouldn't be much—in all likelihood it would be a historical footnote after a curbstomping at the hands of Wisconsin—it would at least somewhat fulfill a promise Bo made when he arrived in 1969.
No one's deserved it more than the four guys above. It's relatively easy to be a "Michigan Man" when it's handed down to you. Koger, Martin, Molk, and Van Bergen had to figure it out on their own. They stayed, and figured it out when available evidence suggested being a Michigan Man was endorsing transfers to Free Tattoo University, telling recruits to go to Michigan State, and selling out your own program to a couple of hacks.
A few years ago on the eve of the Ohio State game that ended to that miserable 2008 season I wrote a thing about being an anchorless mid-20s person who is uncertain of where to go or who to be and is sad as a result. In that piece I envisioned Michigan's coaches telling their charges how to get out of this hole:
Some of you will stay. And you will go insane. You will work, and you will work, and we will build something here from nothing. Because, make no mistake, this is nothing. You will build something out of this. If you're a senior next year and you teach some freshman something, you will build something. If you're a freshman and you refuse to quit on your stupid decision, you will build something.
What you build will be yours. Few in the great history of his university have had that opportunity. Everything came based on what came before. They were part of a great chain, now broken.
Those of you who stay will forge a new one, starting today. When we are done we will fix the last link to the broken chain, and break the first link, and tell those who come after us to live up to it.
Whether or not Michigan manages a championship, flimsy or real, Michigan's seniors have done this. This Is Michigan again because they stayed.
The two QB formation thing. So that was something. That and the double pass touchdown reminded me of that Indiana game prior to Football Armageddon (IIRC) when Michigan dumped out a zillion trick plays to force the opponent to prepare for extra stuff. I didn't like it then and hope that's not the case now, not least because after the first play the thing seemed pretty effective. Gardner implied that was not the case:
“It’s really, really dangerous. We’ve also got Fitzgerald Toussaint back there and Vincent Smith," he said. "You’re going to have to wait and see. It’s going to be pretty dangerous.”
What to call it? Hoke refused to answer a direct question about what we should call it, so it's up to us. Vincent Smith suggests "two," which is a little bland. Ace got a "diamond of doom" suggestion on Twitter; while that's catchy it's also long and jinxtastic. Naturally, Ace wants to extend it to "Denard and Devin's Diamond of Doom" because it abbreviates to DDDD and if there's one thing Ace likes it's repetitive hexadecimal numbers.
But that's long and a bit awkward. Since it's a goofy, misdirection-heavy everyone's-a-QB thing that reminds people of the Mad Magicians I propose calling it "Fritz." It's not exactly what Crisler used to do…
…but what "Fritz" lacks in outright accuracy it makes up for in Getting-Itness.
[BONUS extreme history nerdBONUS: This has set frequent correspondent John Kryk alight with references to not Crisler but Notre Dame's Frank Leahy, who deployed a T formation with a close resemblance to Fritz.
Michigan sort of ran the above. Kryk actually has a diagram in which the T looks identical to Fritz:
I'm pretty sure we'll all way too abuzz about a formation we'll see maybe a half-dozen times the rest of the season, but old-timey football is always cool to see in the flesh. It's why Georgia Tech games remain an abiding fascination.]
Why does the outside pitch not bother me so much in that formation? When we run the I-form fake-dive-to-pitch it's just asking the opposition to key on the running back flying out to the corner because Michigan never runs the dive, and even if they did defenses are like "BFD." When we ran it from Fritz it played off the earlier speed option.
Is it a tenable package against real opposition? If the wildcat can work I don't see why this can't.
Triple option? May be on the way.
Records. Some happened. Smith's touchdown cycle had not been accomplished in the modern era:
It was the first time a player has ran, thrown and passed for a score in modern Michigan football history (post-World War II).
That seemed like a given. I'm waiting for MVictors to dig up the dude who managed it in 1923, because I know it's happened and I know he will.
Our helmets have wings… and numbers! Let's avoid the inevitable Rodriguez tradition rehash. It's already been done. Personal opinion of them: whateva. On a scale from 10 to –10 where 10 is Denard, –10 is Pop Evil, and 0 is total indifference I'm a –0.1. I'd rather not have the uniforms futzed with but the numbers have some history to them, don't look terrible, and are a minor adjustment.
I think Hoke should say he'll yank 'em if they lose, though.
On-field takeaways. Minnesota is very not good—we were playing a pretend game where the Gophers got a touchdown every time they crossed midfield and a point every time they succesfully fielded a kickoff and they still lost by 30. So disclaimers apply.
That said: Denard throwing to his receivers—and getting the opportunity to hit some short, confidence-building throws—was encouraging, as was the almost total lack of I-form even deep into the third quarter. That seems like an abandonment. If they were still working on it they would have pulled it out just to practice it, no?
Short stuff. AnnArbor.com's Kyle Mienke notes that of Michigan's first 11 passes, eight were five yards or less. He categorizes that crazy seam to Hopkins as "another was over the top to a leaking fullback," which is a goofy thing to try to lump into easy passes for Denard confidence. That was pure DO.
Patrick Omameh. Some evidence he might be struggling in the new offense: he was left on the field much longer than any of the other starters save Schofield, who was forced into the starting lineup by the Barnum injury and was granted time at tackle late.
Possible liberation society addendum. I'm so over the rollouts. It seems like the only way to get Denard Robinson pressured is to roll him out into unblocked contain defenders, which Michigan does plenty. If you leave him in the pocket people are terrified to get out of their lanes and he usually has a lot of time. If you put him on the edge against defenses keying on him he doesn't get outside and he has to make rushed throws on the move that seem to be more inaccurate than his usual ones.
I guess the rollouts do open up the throwback stuff, which has been very successful. And they did insert a heavy dose of sprint draw (AKA That Goddamned Counter Draw), something I've been pleading for since Rodriguez's arrival. So they might be developing a package there. They've got to figure out how to block it.
FWIW, I wasn't a fan of showing the sprint draw against an incompetent opponent. I'd rather Michigan's future opponents not prepare for a potentially game-breaking play. But I've got no evidence behind that.
It is not hard to see the qualities of Bo in Brady Hoke. At first I cringed at his seeming overconfidence, at his seeming overuse of Bo-isms, and wondered if he was trying too hard to win Michigan fans' hearts with his bravado. I don't doubt the man any longer. Brady Hoke has a Bo-like level of expectations for those he leads. He has expectations of effort, execution, and yes "toughness" that no coach since Bo has required from both his players and his staff. Hoke isn't making Michigan great again by being an innovator on either side of the ball; he is acquiring the best available parts, constructing a beast-machine, and driving the thing to eventual domination.
This is the section where I discuss turnovers and other momentum changing plays. There was one burst of impetus in this game. Minnesota kicked off to start the game. That's it. They were never in it. I bet that "adjusted winning percentage" diary shows us pegged at 100% for the duration.
Media, as in unwashed internet rabble. I have no idea what "Everybody pants now" means, but if you watch Parks and Rec you probably do. Amongst Adam Jacobi's things he learned in the conference this week:
So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.
Jacobi's still not banking on Michigan "surviving" our "brutal November," but if not surviving means not winning the division instead of collapsing to 7-5 I don't think Michigan fans are going to be too peeved.
Blake Countess is the next Leon Hall. Yep, I said it. Minnesota doesn't have the greatest talent in the world, but Countess has looked pretty darn good for two weeks in a row. Courtney Avery had a nice 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but Avery has been getting beaten more regularly than any of Michigan's other corners this year. He's still not bad, but it looks like Countess will grab a starting spot sooner rather than later.
The Hoover Street Rag notes it was appropriate that Michigan tried a transcontinental-type play on the same day they honored John Navarre, though in that case they were attempting a double pass, not a run. Was anyone else OUTRAGED that the Navarre highlight package didn't include the Buffalo Stampede? That's like having an Alan Branch highlight package without the Morelli elimination.
That was an old school Michigan blowout, like the ones you'd watch on ESPN Plus (memory lane, you are there now) back in the day, where nothing was ever in doubt and The Law was that Michigan would average a billion yards a carry under a grumpy Michigan sky. It's always the ideal of overindulgence, and if anything it's a reminder of how far we've come since 2008 when beating Minnesota on the road was considered an upset.
f and when Minnesota can get back to being competitive in the Big Ten, the Gophers can use Saturday's game as a motivational tool.
Hopefully for them, they'll remember this as rock bottom. Because Michigan blew the doors off Jerry Kill's team in a 58-0 humiliation at the Big House. The Wolverines have dominated this Little Brown Jug series for the last 40 years, but Saturday's margin of victory was the largest in the long-running semi-rivalry. It was the fifth-largest win in Michigan history, and that's a lot of history there.
For Michigan, this game was a chance to flex its muscles offensively and defensively, add a few wrinkles and give as many players as possible — in this case, 71 — an opportunity to play. Michigan was 8-of-9 in the red zone against the Gophers and is now 21-of-22 for the season (17 touchdowns and four field goals).
The three field goals were each career longs [for Gibbons] at the time, starting from 25 yards and going to 32 yards and to 38 yards. In five games this season he’s missed just one field goal — a 40-yard try against San Diego State.
Why was the passing game better today? Denard: “We just clicked. We worked on it in practice, and we just had to put it forward in games, and that’s what we did today.”
When the last time you had a rushing, receiving, and passing TD in the same game. Also, can you talk about the game plan that utilized you in a unique way? Smith: “I was just put in the right place at the right time. The coaches know what I’m capable of. What I have to do for the team to help them out.” Was it fun? “Real fun. And the last time I threw a pass was in high school, but not like three [TD’s] in one game.”
When did the 2-QB thingy arise? Denard: “We’ve been doing that in practice. We’ve been working on it. Coach said he’d throw it at us, and just be ready. And he called it, so we were ready.” Were you expecting it that early? “Oh yeah.”
That was an unorthodox offense today. Is that exciting for you? Denard: “Oh yeah … Just going out and having fun with my teammates.”
Denard, how comfortable did youfeel in the passing game? You looked more comfortable. Denard: “Oh yeah. I mean, we’ve been practicing getting it down with the receivers, and we were just on the same page.” How much you looking forward to going on the road? “Both of us are looking forward to that.” Smith: “I mean it’s just another football game, and that’s what we love to do. We just love to come out to compete, and it’s another night game.”
You guys have been putting up a lot of points. How does the team feel about this new offense? Denard: “We’re confident. I mean, we’ve been playing [well], and we trust Coach Al to give us the right play and make things happen, because we have some playmakers.”
Are there other things we haven’t seen that you might show us? Denard: “We can’t tell them that …” Smith: “Not that I know of.”
Misdirection plays were a big part of offense. Will we see more? “Maybe. It just is kind of the offensive package. It’s kind of, when you have a quarterback that threatens people because of his ability to run, that’s part of it. That stuff is like the old counter play, which you don’t see a whole lot of people running anymore. It’s a lot of traction one way and then going back the other way.”
Talk about Denard’s passing. Is that more like what you see in practice? “Yeah. The sky’s never going to fall. We’re going to make it through. He throws the ball well, and we like how he throws the ball. [He] set his feet well and we ran good routes and completed some balls.”
Talk about the intensity of tackling and sacks. “I think Jerry Montgomery has done a tremendous job with our front, and the pride that a guy like Van Bergen or Martin have in how they play is a big part of it. I think this whole thing is a process what the kids are going through and how you do things. I think it’s just one of the things that we emphasize and they really did a nice job on some of those things. As far as tackling goes, if you fit the defense right, and wherever the support is or the cutback player -- all those different intangibles you have to have on defense -- I think you tackle better.”
Talk about Denard/Devin formation. What kinds of problems can that create for defense? “They’re both pretty talented. I think who’s back there in the backfield with them have some talents. It’s just something that Al has had for a while and something that we thought would be a good thing to do.”
Talk about Vincent Smith. “He does everything you want him to do, when you look at him as a football player and how he prepares and his toughness. All those things that -- Vince is a guy that you can count on. If he makes a mistake or doesn’t do something as well, it’s not because of lack of effort or lack of toughness. He’s done a good job for us.”
How pleased are you at the 58-0 effort to start your Big Ten career? “It has nothing to do with my career. It really has to do with these kids and that jug, and keeping that jug in Ann Arbor. And us going out to play better football every time we take the field whether it’s tomorrow when we practice or if it’s on game day. Believe me we have a lot of mistakes from a personnel standpoint. We take a daggone penalty, and that’s my fault. We didn’t have a guy out there on the punt team. You can’t do that and win championships, and that’s my fault.”
Why did you choose this game to unleash all this offensive creativity? “You work on it during fall camp, you put it to bed for a little bit, but you work on it so the kids have a knowledge of it so when you bring it back out, it’s just something we thought was a good time to bring out.”
What was your reaction when Borges brought the 2-QB package, and is this the most complete game you have played this season? “Well Al and I have talked about that package in March? April? And believe me, Al Borges is very, very creative. So that’s not just that package. I’m sure his creativity will show up again. We played probably our best game to this point, but the schedule is -- we’re going away. We’re going on the road. We haven’t been on the road. They don’t know how we like to travel. And I say we as a staff. They have an idea, but there’s a lot of unknowns out there, and there’s a lot that we have to get better.”
Did you practice any jug security so you wouldn’t drop it, and does a game where everybody gets to play give you a boost in practice the next week? “I’ll answer the second question first. No question the morale of your football team -- those other guys, and I’ll use an example: Richard Ash, I don’t know how many plays he got, maybe four or five. But he goes down there on that look team and does a tremendous job down there and has the ability to come out there and play some. I would think he would feel pretty good about that. So I think that’s always important. You get guys live reps in games.
“Jug security is always at a premium.”
(more after the jump)
How did the game plan defensively change for you after you learned Marqueis Gray wasn’t going to play?Also, how did your defensive front do against Shortell? “We really didn’t change it at all. We do a lot of things by personnel groups, what personnel groups they have in. So all the calls were based on those groups. So they would have had the same calls if Marqueis would have been in there. So there was no change at all.”
Is the confidence level of players high enough where they expect to win a Big Ten championship? “I hope so.”
Are you eager to get this Michigan team out on the road, and will it give you and your staff a better indication of where they’re at? “We like playing at home. Now if Dave can do a 10-game home schedule, it would be wonderful. It’s pretty convenient. I’m kind of interested in seeing how we react. I really am. To see what we’re made of -- see our mentality, our mental toughness, see if we’re business-like in how we go about the work that we have to do, and the preparation and all those things.”
The defensive line wasn’t where you wanted it to be. Talk about progression? “I think they were disruptive. That’s what I like and that’s what you have to do if you’re a guy who plays up front. As you look at the schedule and you look at teams you’re going to play, I think there’s some offensive lines in this league that are pretty stout. We’ve got to make sure that we’re making our gains and our progression on a daily basis with great urgency and intensity.”
Three things: Troy Woolfolk looked like he was limping. What did Denard have done to his arm? How did Schofield play? “I didn’t notice Troy limping, so that’s new to me. Denard had a boo-boo. Schofield I imagine did okay in there. I can’t tell you for sure because of not [having watched] the film yet.”
Helmet numbers? “That was my decision, and we will have those numbers on there throughout the rest of the season when we get into Big Ten play because we want to honor the guys who wore those numbers before, and the 42 championship teams. And the guys who have represented Michigan. It’s important to us.”
McColgan was out. “He got banged up a little bit.” Is it serious? “Week to week, day to day.”
Did you sense more physicality up front? Also, how did Fitz Toussaint run? “I think, up front, you try and gauge yourself. Molk’s played a lot of football, and I kind of, being a defensive line coach, I like watching other defensive lines and how they play and how we block them. I thought there was football being played at the point of attack. And … why are you laughing at that? It was pretty obvious football was being played. But you could hear it. You could feel it and sense it. When you look at your line and you look at, if the back has to start making his decision and his cuts further back from the line of scrimmage, then you’re not doing a good job. And you could see when Shaw and Fitz and those guys were coming, they got more downhill, pressed the line of scrimmage more, and that tells you those guys were working hard. Fitz, I thought he ran well. He’s a tough little burger who did a nice job.” [ed-M: I doublechecked the video: he definitely said 'burger.']
Re: Two-QB formation. How much does that help that other teams have to prepare for it? Also, what’s that called? “Uh, you know, two quarterbacks, whatever. It doesn’t matter what it’s called. It really is, yeah. People have to prepare.”
Talk about your secondary and how guys like Avery and Countess are playing. “Well, you know. Courtney and Blake, and there’s Raymon Taylor, [who] is going to be a good football player also. Our young guys have done a good job. It starts in my opinion with Jordan Kovacs and his leadership and his directing traffic out there. I think they have a lot of confidence in each other. I think there’s a chemistry. I think J.T. has done a nice job. When he focuses in, he’s pretty doggone good. I think there’s number one, there’s some competition, because there’s a lot of guys in that room that all want to play.”
Talk about Thomas Rawls? “It was good to get Thomas some carries. He’s a freshman that’s learning the game of football at the Division I level. I think he’s got some skill sets that are pretty good. I think you saw some of that today. So it was good to see him out there.”
Gibbons was 3/3. “Someone has said that he’s kicked really good during fall camp. Ahem. Someone did. We’ve got a lot of confidence in him, and hopefully that injects even more confidence into him.”
Denard was 11/11 before his first incompletion. He’s a pretty confident guy, but how important is it to re-establish that confidence that he can be a succesful passer? “Yeah, because all he hears is he’s not. Not from us, but other people. (Ed: Looking at you, buddy.) I think getting off to a good start helps us with the run game so much. People want to put nine guys, and they played a lot of quarters, and they were doing a lot of good stuff with their safeties depending on where the back was. And then they changed during halftime, which is good coaching. Bill Miller’s a good defensive football coach. It was good, and being able to throw the ball was a big part to our offense.
Can you be successful in the Big Ten relying on Denard to get most of your yards? “I don’t think so. You become too one-dimensional. People are creative. We’re going to play a lot of good coaches and some teams with very good personnel. When good coaches give good personnel the game plan and scheme, they can be a problem. The ability for our running backs to do a nice job running with the football and the ability to do a nice job in the passing game is a big part of it.”
As a defensive coach, you must love a shutout. “Right.”What did you like specifically, and what can you improve on? “Yeah. They broke two runs that got outside that shouldn’t have. Then they fumbled. We got fortunate at the end [when] They fumbled the ball -- and the daggone end doesn’t squeeze when the tackle blocked … Just simple. Basic. Football. Stuff. That we didn’t do. As many times as we’ve done drills and as many times -- that’s unacceptable, because that’s a discipline that you have to have.”
Greg Mattison said during the halftime radio show, “An average defense comes out and goes downhill during the second half.” Were you concerned about a letdown during the second half? “I think we communicate with them pretty well. I think Greg and his staff -- I think we challenge them. This was a first step to what the goal of this football program is and has been, and that’s a Big Ten championship. You can’t go out there in the second half and slop around and not tackle well and not have an urgency and not have an intensity. That doesn’t get you any better. You go backwards, and I’m not a believer in going backwards.”
Despite being a raging tire fire of a team, Minnesota's run defense has been somewhat solid so far. Solid against teams that can't run worth a lick, but you've got to start somewhere. USC had three "team" carries for –34 yards—punts winged over someone's head?—that distorted their numbers but still only managed 4.0 YPC on 25 carries. That is downright respectable. Miami (Not That Miami) was also shut down.
Raincloud stickers apply for the Gophers' games against New Mexico State, who managed to get their main back over 100 yards at 4.9 YPC, and North Dakota State, who put up 141 yards on 27 carries. The Lobos Aggies went out the next week and put up 16 yards on UTEP. So… yeah.
While the initial returns are encouraging—at least relative to Minnesota expectations—the Gophers were 98th in rushing defense last year, giving up a whopping 5.3 YPC. They basically made their opponents look like they all had Michigan's rushing offense. The Gophers do return the vast bulk of their front seven and can expect to improve. Enough to hold Michigan under control? Probably not.
Michigan enters the game in the top ten in rushing offense despite [TEDIOUS THOUSAND WORD ESSAY ON THE MORAL FAILINGS OF RUNNING POWER FROM THE I-FORM EXCISED] thanks to Denard Robinson being Denard Robinson and a couple of running backs emerging from the pile of muck. Fitzgerald Toussaint can make yards with his shimmy…
…and Vincent Smith blocks and catches screens like a champ and can even make some yards of his own from time to time. While neither is an All-American, Michigan's tailback situation is much better than it was a year ago.
It's hard to see anything other than an elite defense shutting the Michigan ground game down as long as Denard's around. In this game of immoveable object versus irresistible force, the object projects to be pretty moveable.
Key Matchup: The offensive line using POWER. A main issue with Michigan's shift to a power-based power system for power running is the offensive linemen being ill-suited to picking up opponents and placing them downfield. They did this with aplomb against a very small defense; doing it against a much larger—though probably not a lot better—opponent would bode well for the meat of the Big Ten schedule.
Pass Offense vs. San Diego State
If Denard Robinson can throw the ball to the guys he might have one of those games where you get more than 100 yards passing. Ace keeps battering this and it's worth battering:
Mentally strikethrough Stoudemire, the star-type substance of the unit—he's out with a hand injury—and you've got something resembling last year's Michigan outfit. They've played like it. It's one thing to give up a 300-yard passing day to Matt Barkley and entirely another to drop these lines on the world:
NMSU's Andrew Manley: 20 of 31, 288 yards, 3 TD/2 INT
NDSU's Brock Jensen: 16 of 21 for 197 yards.
That's two quarterbacks repping schools you need four letters to abbreviate averaging 9.3 YPA. Compounding matters: last year Minnesota finished dead last with nine sacks. This year they're on pace for three.
Michigan will be permitted to acquire yards. Actually taking advantage of that opportunity has been problematic for Michigan so far, what with Denard's shoddy Burmese guidance chip malfunctioning and all. This will be an opportunity to get Denard going with some screens and short passes:
It appears as though we are content to give up everything underneath up to 12-15 yards at a time. I do not recall giving up a deep pass all year but we give up an average of 11.5 yards per completion.
Ace saw that in FFFF, as well:
I mean, this is just way too easy:
That happened, oh, all game. Before USC got stupidly conservative in the second half and forced quarterback Matt Barkley into a lot of third-and-long situations, he had completed 18 of 20 first-half passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns, all to Robert Woods, who had 11 first-half catches for 115 yards. Only one of Barkley's throws in that span went beyond ten yards at the point of the catch, that being a 43-yard touchdown bomb to Woods when Minnesota tried to play tighter coverage, and Woods ended up setting the USC single-game mark with 17 receptions, almost all of them coming on screens, slants, quick hitches, and short out routes.
With Borges stating that he needs to work within Denard's capabilities a little bit better in this week's press conference, expect more of a ball-control passing game this week. It will be there, it will be like passing skeleton, it will be up to Denard to take advantage.
Key Matchup: Denard versus Borges. This seems like a great opportunity for the yin and yang of Michigan's passing offense to figure out what works together. You can relax, get in a rhythm without worrying about defensive linemen, and enjoy the luxurious passing lanes afforded by the Gopher secondary.
Run Defense vs. Minnesota
Much of this hinges on the "questionable" MarQueis Gray, the QB/WR/QB who moved back to QB this fall and is the Gophers' leading rusher by a considerable margin with 351 yards in the first four games. Ace detailed the various ways in which Minnesota gets Gray yards, which look an awful lot like the ways most spread offenses get their QB yards.
"I'm hoping he'll be ready for Saturday and be able to give us minutes," Gophers coach Jerry Kill said about Gray during his radio show Thursday. "But I don't know. We got a lot of time before Saturday, and we'll take it all the way until game time to see what we do."
3. What are some of the other challenges facing the Gopher’s offense? A weak running game, or struggling offensive line?
Offensive line is a pretty significant issue. We have a freshman and a sophomore starting at RT and LT respectively. Then we have three seniors on the interior. Unfortunately the seniors are the larger problem. Both of the tackles have been solid while the interior line has really struggled. It is a very good thing that Gray is strong and fast because he rarely has a pocket before it collapses on him. 11 sacks allowed through four games is only slightly better than Indiana’s 12 but it is bad no matter how you look at it. The run game has actually been fairly solid, at least when compared to our passing game but both rank 8th in the Big Ten.
Gray's injury is a toe/foot issue that may allow him to play at the same time it limits his effectiveness on the ground. If Gray's reduced to a pocket passer you might as well replace him with Max Shortell, the true freshman pocket passer Jerry Kill yoinked from Kansas last year. (Or possibly Brazil: the NCAA's website calls him just "Shortell".)
Aside from Gray, Minnesota has relied on senior Duane Bennett (4.3 YPC a year ago, 3.7 this year) and sophomore Donnell Kirkwood. Kirkwood's been more efficient but both appear to be JAGs stuck behind a porous offensive line. FFFF shows a lot of misdirection as Minnesota tries to compensate.
Key Matchup: Jake Ryan, and to a slightly lesser extent the other linebackers, against lack of contain and misdirection. Michigan basically shut down Ronnie Hillman when SDSU was not getting Michigan to bust alignments or lose contain. Minnesota will again test Michigan's ability to line up right, something they're getting better at. They still need work.
Pass Defense vs. Minnesota
This will also depend on Minnesota's quarterback situation. Gray is completing 50% of his passes for 6.7 YPA and is coming off a terrible game against NDSU—5 of 12, 53 yards, 1 INT—in which he was pulled for performance reasons. Shortell is the better passer… or is at least reputed to be the better passer. His numbers to date are almost identical to Gray's: completion percentage around 50, YPA around 7, equal numbers of TDs and interceptions.
Neither is likely to be much good. The two-headed Minnesota quarterback will be less threatening than any Michigan's gone up against save Alex Gillett, but unlike EMU Minnesota will probably throw the ball around a bit. Certainly more than the Eagles, anyway. They attempted six passes, none in the second half.
Minnesota does have its usual quota of a single wide receiver you'd really like to see in a winged helmet. This year's edition is Da'Jon McKnight (right), a strapping senior with NFL potential. McKnight had 750 receiving yards and ten touchdowns last year; he'll be a tough, physical matchup for whoever he lines up against. It'll be interesting to see whether Michigan matches JT Floyd, who seems like their best and most physical corner, with McKnight or is content to play field/boundary. That would expose the slight Courtney Avery or Blake Countess to a 6'3", 220-pound opponent. (The assumption here is that Troy Woolfolk will rest is comically large array of minor injuries this week.)
As for Michigan, last week they showed stunning competence against a passing offense that was supposed to be pretty good. This could be a week-to-week fluke or Michigan taking advantage of playing an offense they literally designed, but one thing seems like an indisputably encouraging sign for the future: pressure. Ryan Lindley was forced to chuck a dozen off-target ducks because he rarely had time to get to a second read. Mike Martin tore through the interior of the line time and again; Ryan, Roh, and Black helped out on the regular.
In the secondary, Thomas Gordon continued to solidify himself as a non-cringe-inducing safety and all corners not named Woolfolk played well. Debutant Blake Countess was the talk over the past week but as mentioned, it's JT Floyd who's made a remarkable transformation from outright terrible to at least average. Michigan defensive backs are making life hard on opponents. For his next trick, Curt Mallory will teach Luke Fickell how to take a timeout.
Key Matchup: Defensive line versus a lack of gaudy sack totals. If the seniors on the interior are the problem relative to the freshman starting tackles, Michigan should be living in the backfield.
Will Hagerup returns. While Hoke is making noises about an open competition between the prodigal son and freshman Matt Wile, Hagerup has a cannon attached to his leg and Wile does not. Hagerup will get the job back and push Zoltan Mesko's punting average records. Kicker Brendan Gibbons missed his first real attempt of the season against SDSU, but at least it looked plausible. It did not spin sideways. So that's cool. (Gibbons did make a glorified extra point against EMU.)
Gopher special teams are less of a tire fire than the rest of the team. The Gophers haven't done much on kick returns but are averaging 30(!) yards a punt return… on one return. Small sample size disclaimers have never applied more thoroughly. Their punting has been legitimately awesome (46 yards a kick with just three returns on 12 punts); their kicker started off 1/4 but has made his last four.
Key Matchup: GIBBONS YOU PUT IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AAAAAA
Twenty point spreads do not require intangibles until the current head coach has proven this assertion to be false. But here's this… item from Midnight Maize:
Minnesota can block anyone on the line.
Michigan can't handle the zone read, man.
Y U NO 2010 DENARD, DENARD.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
Michigan can take advantage of the porous Minnesota secondary.
The Avery/Countess duo turns in a second solid game.
Minnesota shows up instead of the Disguised Vikings.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 1 (Baseline 5; –1 for Minnesota Secondary Resembles Michigan 2010, –1 for MINNESOTA SECONDARY RESEMBLES MICHIGAN 2010, –1 for And They Rush The Quarterback Like A Pack Of Mewling Tajiks, –1 for Freshmen At QB And Both Tackles, –1 for Lost To Not Even The Good New Mexico, –1 for Would Not Finish in The Top Three In A Dakotas State Championship, +1 for Lingering Fear Of Losing These Sorts Of Games From Last Four Years of Experience.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Not Having The Jug Would Crush MVictors, +1 for Would Like To Believe Michigan Could Be State Champ Of North Dakota, +1 for Losing To A 20-Point Dog Would Be A Carr Era Flashback I Would Not Enjoy, +1 for Oh No Not Again, +1 for Except This Would Be Even Worse.)
Loss will cause me to... never say anything nice about the defense again.
Win will cause me to... spend next week repeating "this is not 2010" and "this is not 2009" to myself over and over.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Come on, man.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
Denard picks up another 20 carries, the last few inexplicable. 150 yards.
Yes, Fee Fi Foe Film lives on until Brian pries it from my cold, dead hands or, well, threatens to withhold my paycheck (my staunch moral stances are only so staunch, people). This week, I'm insane enough to take in not just the entire Minnesota/USC game from week one, but also a decent chunk of last week's Gopher loss to North Dakota State—if you want to test your love for football, try watching multiple Gopher games in the same day.
Despite the fact that Michigan is going to annihilate Minnesota, barring a catastrophe of Horror-level proportions, it's still worth looking at what the Gophers could potentially do on offense to put up some points. Here are a couple plays that stood out to me from the USC game, which was conveniently uploaded to YouTube (first half, second half). No torrent/YouTube video exists for the NDSU game, mercifully, so you'll just have to take my word when I go over that game later. On with the show...
ZONE READ... WITH A TWIST: A lot of what Minnesota runs with MarQueis Gray at quarterback resembles Rich Rodriguez's offense, but the Gophers sometimes have a few extra bells and whistles on their zone read plays. One of their most successful plays of the game came when they brought the slot receiver in motion and ran a sort of triple option zone read. Confusing screencap, ho!
The Gophers use an H-back as well as a tight end on most plays, and like to run either from the pistol or in the shotgun with the halfback offset and a yard or two behind the QB. As the above picture so clearly illustrates, on this play the slot receiver comes in motion and is the first read on this play, forcing the defense to stretch out to the sideline to protect against a potential jet sweep. After that, it's your basic inside zone read, and in this instance the jet sweep fake does enough to open up a seam for the running back inside his left tackle:
As you can see, the rush linebacker (#4) gets too far upfield and loses the edge—if this was a Michigan game, Brian would surely be screaming "RYYYYAANNNNN" and confusing all the blue-hairs—creating enough of a gap for the running back to pick up the first down. The most glaring weakness on Michigan's defense this year has been their inability to consistently keep contain, so expect the Gophers to try this one out, though they surprisingly didn't motion the slot man on any of their other zone reads despite this play's success.
DEFENDING THAT ONE GOOD THING MARQUISE GRAY DOES: Minnesota likes to utilize a lot of pre-snap motion with their H-back and tight end, and often follow that up by also motioning the slot receiver. They'll often load up one side of the formation, as you can see here (the arrow indicates that the H-back went in motion):
From this look, they can either run a QB power to the strong side or, in this case, a QB draw to the weak side, taking advantage of the defense shifting to the overloaded side of the field:
A note on Gray: he seems very iffy on the zone read, and—much like Denard at times last year—usually hands the ball off even if that isn't the correct read. This resulted in multiple plays in which Gray handed the ball to a RB who had just enough time to give his QB a "WTF man?" look then get crushed by three defenders. Most of Gray's rushing yards came from designed runs in which he didn't have to make a read, like the play above, or (most often) on passing plays in which he looked for his first read and then, if it wasn't open, took off. This is when he's at his most dangerous, although it also severely limits the effectiveness of the Gopher passing game and also sometimes results in Gray running right into sacks.
With a severe lack of depth at wide receiver only adding to the passing issues, this makes it easy for defenses to load up against the run and dare Gray to throw—the key is making sure the defensive line maintains lane responsibility and doesn't allow Gray to escape into open space. In this game, with Gray's scattershot arm and shaky receiving corps, the Wolverines should focus more on bottling him up in the pocket than going all-out for the sack, at least when it comes to the front four.
OH HEY, I TOTALLY RECOGNIZE THAT PLAY: Remember that motioning H-back? Remember what Michigan did with Kevin Koger last year to keep defenses honest against the zone read? Tell me this play doesn't look like it was ripped directly out of the 2010 Michigan playbook:
Like the Wolverines last year, Minnesota likes to have their H-back seal off the backside of the play on the zone read, setting up the play-action fake with him leaking out into the flat. This is another play where the Wolverine outside linebackers will have to be on full alert, which honestly makes me kinda nervous. Again, however, the Gophers had success with this play and inexplicably ran it just once all game—their playcalling is questionable, IMHO.
A few quick bullet points on the offense:
Because of Gray's poor passing, Minnesota consistently runs on first and second down, hoping to get close enough on third down to make Gray's legs at least a threat. Their early-down passing was non-existent, and this was against a USC secondary that was absolutely terrible last year and—even with the game against Minnesota—is only 64th in the country in pass efficiency defense this season. Mattison should be able to get very aggressive with his blitzes this week.
Not helping Gray's deficiencies throwing the ball is his offensive line, which allowed consistent pressure even against simple four-man rushes. Their depth chart at the two tackle spots consists of one sophomore—starter Ed Olson—and four freshmen. Redshirt freshman right tackle Jimmy Gjere simply stood still and blocked nobody on one passing play despite having a defensive end line up right over him, and he would have given up an embarrassing sack had Gray not broken the tackle in the backfield and thrown the ball away. Craig Roh and Jake Ryan should have success coming off the edge as long as they keep contain on Gray and can haul the 240-pound quarterback to the ground.
Minnesota's non-Da'Jon McKnight receivers aren't very good at catching the ball even when Gray actually can find them, and that goes for the tight ends as well.
The one bright spot beyond Gray's running ability is the speed of the Gophers' running backs, especially Duane Bennett and Donnell Kirkwood. They found little-to-no success between the tackles in the games I watched, but could spring a big gain if they found room on the edge. So, yeah, please continue improving on that, Jake Ryan.
On defense, the Gophers stay in their base 4-3 on most every play, in large part due to a very inexperienced secondary that includes not one, but two position-switch starters. Ignore ESPN's inability to spell "former" and Shady Salamon's incredible name and look at that starting secondary: