SPONSOR NOTES: Matt reminds me that there is some chatter that the Federal Reserve could finally raise rates in the near future, which would be bad for your mortgage.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan broke out the 'bone a couple times:
That is a bonafide flexbone. One of these snaps was a jet sweep, the other a trap that coulda shoulda worked in the fourth quarter but for McDowell blowing Cole up.
Pistol diamond with MSU in their very standard arrangement:
4-3 over, two safeties sitting at 8-10 yards, on damn near every play.
Late MSU did split their LBs and blitz them as they threw the kitchen sink at M in an attempt to get the ball back.
But it was mostly "here we are running quarters."
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Starting line with the Braden/Bredeson left side for the second straight game, Speight your QB. Peppers got six wildcat snaps and one as a WR; Morris got thee QB/FB snaps. JBB got five snaps as a TE-type substance.
Darboh led the way at WR with 54 snaps; Chesson had 40 and Harris, Crawford, and McDoom got the scattered remainder. Poggi and Hill again split FB snaps about down the middle. Smith got 60% of the RB snaps with Higdon and Evans splitting most of the rest; Isaac was only used on four snaps, three of them sweeps.
Butt got 57 snaps as the primary TE; Asiasi (31) and Wheatley (18) also got significant action. Bunting was briefly on the field as well.
[After THE JUMP: three quarters of up and down the field followed by (correct) turtle time.]
If I were simply hoping to sum up the game in GIF form, the above would suffice. But y'all had requests. So, so many requests. I appreciated each and every one of them.
Before I get to those, though, I have to acknowledge one reader who went above and beyond this week. The MGoStaff will all have physical copies of Monday's peak self-burn State News thanks to user TitaniumTim, who responded to my call yesterday and confirmed today that a shipment is headed our way. We cannot thank him enough.
Talk about how the running game got you guys established early. Couple big runs on that first drive.
“Yeah, De’Veon was running really hard. All our backs were going. Both teams had success with the run early. That got us going. Set up quite a few things in the play action game and the passing game, and then our guys made plays.
“Really felt—[turns to SID] who’d you have in here? Saw Wilton. Who else was in here?”
SID: Wilton and Amara.
“Amara! Amara Darboh. [laughs uproariously] Heck of a game. That’s maybe one of his best. Talk about guys making plays, Amara Darboh was really making plays today. And Wilton, another tremendous game by him. You know, the throw he made before the half to Amara on the deep in route, I thought that was especially good after taking a hit, getting knocked down, taking a pretty hard hit and then coming back and throwing that one right on the money.
“Defensively, we made plays. Guys made plays. Three out of four fourth-down were huge in the ballgame. Jabrill getting the—got a fourth down stop and also picking up that conversion at the end, scoring a touchdown. Guys made plays. That’s the way I feel right now. Got the W.”
Jim, you talked about Amara going into the season as being your best receiver, and I think we’re seeing what you saw. Talk about what he’s done in the season to take it up even another level and what you’re getting from him right now.
“Well, his game is at a very high level. Some of the highest I’ve seen of a college receiver. I think he’s well established as a great playmaker and also disciplined in every route that he runs, he blocks, great teammate—he does it all and does it the best he could possibly do. He’s got a lot of god-given talent and great work ethic, et cetera. It was a premier game for him today.”
[After THE JUMP: “A lot of joy. It’s the great thrill of victory. The wonderful, wonderful feeling of winning. Jim McKay, right? ‘The thrill of victory’? Yeah. Good feeling.”]
Facing a fourth-and-goal down 20 points in the fourth quarter, Mark Dantonio went the James Franklin route and called for a field goal. The football gods did not look kindly upon this act of cowardice; Michael Geiger missed the 34-yard attempt.
Dantonio almost certainly regretted that decision when the Spartans cut it to a two-score game midway through the fourth. Instead of having a shot at a miracle, they ran out of time—a Donnie Corley touchdown catch with a second remaining on the clock only brought the deficit to seven. To keep up appearances, or something like that, Dantonio called for a two-point conversion.
This also backfired, and in spectacular fashion. Jabrill Peppers capped a game worthy of a Heisman contender by returning an MSU fumble 98 yards for two points. The subsequent onside kick that didn't matter bounced harmlessly out of bounds, and Peppers got one final opportunity to display his athleticism when, perhaps as an homage to Braylon Edwards, he backflipped following the victory-formation kneeldown.
While it wasn't the blowout most expected, it wasn't as close as the final score indicates, either. Michigan absorbed MSU's best shot on the opening drive, a 12-play, 75-yard march featuring 11 LJ Scott touches capped by a five-yard TD run. The Wolverines hit back by going 80 yards in eight plays with Eddie McDoom's 20-yard jet sweep setting up a three-yard Jabrill Peppers keeper to even the score. They gained the upper hand on the ensuing possession when Maurice Hurst slashed into the backfield to force Gerald Holmes into the unforgiving grasp of Peppers on a fourth-and-one.
From that point forward, Michigan was in command. Two De'Veon Smith touchdowns—one featuring a delighful smashing of Riley Bullough at the goal line—and a Kenny Allen field goal were the result of the next three Wolverine possessions, and MSU could only muster a field goal in the interim; Smith's second score gave M a 24-10 lead with 33 seconds left in the half, and it seemed safe to assume that would be the halftime score.
Tyler O'Connor had other plans, which quickly went awry. Instead of running out the clock, O'Connor heaved a pass towards RJ Shelton while under heavy duress from Taco Charlton, and Jourdan Lewis got his hands under it for the pick. Michigan got off four plays in 27 seconds; Amara Darboh, who had a career-high 165 yards in his best game as a Wolverine, drew a pass interference in the end zone to set up a chip shot Allen field goal as the half came to a close. Suddenly, it was a three-score game.
The 27-10 halftime margin would hold for the entire third quarter due to the goal-line heroics of the defense. In an otherwise stellar game, Wilton Speight made a significant error to open the second half, failing to see MSU corner Darian Hicks while targeting Karan Higdon on a wheel route. Hicks cut off the throw for an interception, and within two plays the Spartans had a first-and-goal.
Michigan State ran seven plays inside Michigan's ten-yard line on that possession, getting second life when Peppers was hit with a pass interference flag on third down. On play seven, Lewis crashed down on a fourth-down pitch to Scott and upended him in the backfield, ending the drive with authority.
After Kenny Allen struck a 45-yarder true to begin the fourth quarter, MSU went into desperation mode, inserting Damion Terry at quarterback on the ill-fated field goal drive, then switching to Brian Lewerke after a Michigan punt. The offense couldn't quite put the Spartans away, however, and Lewerke had a chance to make it a one-score game on fourth down with a little under two minutes on the clock.
The defensive line got serious heat on Lewerke, however, and Peppers cleaned up with a crushing sack. Michigan wore down some clock before MSU's desultory final drive while Jon Falk brought the Paul Bunyan trophy back to its rightful place in the Wolverine locker room.
Michigan State has lost six in a row. Michigan is 8-0 with one rival in the clear and three games to get through before a potential Big Ten East title game. While it took one year longer than any of us wanted, the in-state rivalry is, at long last, as it should be.
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things, like Harbaugh, and family, and Harbaugh, and some more family. Also I have a mortgage that was easy to get and has an excellent rate that will save me a ton of money over the life of it. And Harbaugh. And a decidedly pants optional lifestyle. Also Harbaugh.
FORMATION NOTES: Penn State played most of the game in a 4-3. Passing downs saw a nickel. I may have missed a few nickel snaps since 11 and 15 can look similar. This was a pretty typical alignment:
Note the PSU player to the top of the screen is a corner and Brandon Bell, their nickel LB, is over the slot. PSU's defense is superficially like MSU's, but they sit their safeties back a lot more and are generally less aggressive.
Michigan didn't do much out of the ordinary other than line up Peppers at RB, frequently in a shotgun 4-wide setup I dubbed "Baylor" because obviously.
This one was a WR screen since PSU elected not not to put two guys near the stack to the bottom of the screen.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Mostly the usual. Slight variants:
Kalis got knocked out for a snap, so Dawson was inserted.
Bunting returned to the field for a few snaps.
Hill is getting a fair number of snaps behind Poggi and Williams.
Peppers got a number of pure RB snaps and handoffs that were in no way frippery.
11/21/2015 – Michigan 28, Penn State 16 – 9-2, 6-1 Big Ten
I have seen things when Michigan plays Penn State. I have seen boggling things. Things I should not repeat but am about to anyway.
I have seen a free Hail Mary handed the opposition. I have seen a timeout just before an intentional safety. I have seen 27 runs for 27 yards. I have seen Michigan's slot receiver left alone, all alone. I have seen a slot receiver wonder if any of these 100,000 people can see him, especially the offensive coordinator. I have seen a slot receiver's constituent atoms disperse as he convinces himself he must not exist after all. Then I saw some more runs for one yard. Somewhere in there Dennis Norfleet dances in a loop for all time, because sure that makes as much sense as anything.
I have been baffled. I have been enraged. I have been morbidly entertained. I have been stupefied, watching Michigan play Penn State.
Things have been a bit frustrating the past few weeks, what with an avalanche of procedure penalties, offsides calls, and special teams mishaps. But when presented with a situation where they did not expect to and could not run the ball much, Michigan did not repeatedly bang their collective head into a brick wall.
Michigan's final drive featured five De'Veon Smith runs and one kneel-down. Five Jake Rudock attempts were sacks or scrambles. Once those are put in the appropriate bins, Michigan ran just 19 times to 43 passes.
Two years ago in that very stadium a complete wreck of an offensive line took on an equally stout Penn State defense. They didn't throw one wide receiver screen. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards. This year before garbage time time, De'Veon Smith had 8 carries; 6 went to Chesson and Peppers.
Michigan's going to be a good rushing offense. Probably great. But even though that's what Harbaugh wants to do, he adapted to the situation he was presented with. That's terrific.
Coaching can be divided into a few different categories. Development, recruiting, and tactics seem to cover the bases. While Michigan is still struggling with the near-total lack of the former under the previous regime, the latter was totally on point here. Can't say that about two years ago. Or a year ago. While Michigan remains a bit wobbly, a bit rickety, the things they are doing make sense.
Michigan played Penn State on the road and the only stupefying things that happened came from reliable sources like Big Ten referees and James Franklin trying to manage a game. Meanwhile Ohio State played Michigan State in the most stupefying game of the year. Now is the time to sit back and appreciate the fact that things more or less make sense.
It ain't perfect and it'll never be, but Michigan tries a bunch of things and takes what the opposition gives and if something isn't going great they stop doing it. The only time I've gotten really twitchy about tactics was against Indiana when Michigan ran play action on second and twenty that led to an interception. (I was mildly twitchy about Michigan's passivity on Indiana's go-ahead touchdown drive.)
In a world where Ohio State throws 16 times against Michigan State, where Tim Beckman is seen as a viable hire for a position more involved than vending machine*, where every coach in America seems to need a 14-year-old kid who plays Madden nonstop on the sideline, "more or less makes sense most of the time" is gold. Michigan's coaching staff has not punched itself in the face for four hours on any given Saturday, and in the cold light of dawn two days after a stupefying weekend of college football that warms the ol' cockles right up.
#2 Chris Wormley was the most consistent and dangerous of Michigan's defensive linemen, racking up 1.5 sacks and another half TFL. Wormley and the rest of the DL gave up one big Saquon Barkley run (mostly on Willie Henry and the linebackers) and shut everything else down, leaving PSU relying on the tempestuous Christian Hackenberg to move the ball.
#3 Jake Rudock threw one ugly interception. When not doing that he completed two-thirds of his passes for 256 yards. 6.7 yards an attempt isn't electric but since a half-dozen or more of those were wide receiver screens that Michigan used in place of a running game that may understate things. Also, Penn State has had one of the best pass defenses in the country to date.
Honorable mention: Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson had 66 and 69 receiving yards, respectively, and along with Darboh have established Michigan's receiving corps as a very good one. Henry, Hurst, and Taco Charlton helped out immensely, minus the Henry cut. Jourdan Lewis remains Jourdan Lewis; his KO return also helped seal the game.
Jourdan Lewis rips off a 60-yard kickoff return after Penn State draws within five, setting up a short field that Michigan drives for a game-sealing TD. Better is that he called his shot with Harbaugh beforehand.
Honorable mention: Darboh's tip-toe catch. #Buttdown. Harbaugh strippin' rage. Any number of sacks and TFLs.
Ohio State tests Michigan State's secondary twice. In a game of football. Against Michigan State. What are you even doing?
Honorable mention: Punt blocked. Any number of offsides or false start penalties. The touchdown Peppers allowed. Any number of infuriatingly bad calls. That fourth and ten conversion against great Lewis coverage.
Utah: circle route pick six. Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust. UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3. BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game. Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma. Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT MSU: Obvious. Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't. Rutgers: KO return given up. Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run. PSU: OSU's WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE gameplan against MSU.
[After THE JUMP: defense back, Rudock maintaining.]
I am out of of pants related stuff to tell you. Matt generally wears them, because he's a professional. He also gives you his contact information in case you need anything. This offer does not include pants.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan was super-heavy in this game. A plurality of plays were I-Form Big of some description, most commonly a 2FB lineup featuring Houma and Poggi.
Michigan frequently targeted the bubbles a 3-4 leaves by running fullbacks up both gaps. That is BYU in its standard 3-4, which they only left on passing downs. They left 8 or 9 in the box all day.
When Michigan moved from a dual fullback set to something with a blocker right behind the OL…
…the setup was appended with an "H". Here you can see every BYU defender within six yards of the LOS. M hit its first easy big play off this kind of defense with a 41-yarder to Jake Butt.
Michigan came out in a wacky formation right here:
I dubbed this "Emory" since it's kind of what's usually dubbed "Emory and Henry". This didn't work so hot since it didn't seem like anyone to the bunch knew what the dang snap count was.
On passing downs BYU would lift all but one DL and throw an amorphous pile of dudes at the LOS. They call this "radar".
Michigan's in the pro set they used on the Khalid Hill stealth mode play.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Houma and Poggi got all of the FB snaps. Smith got the bulk of the RB snaps until his injury; when he was absent it was mostly Johnson and Green, with Ty Isaac only getting two carries. That was odd, but more about it later.
Butt saw just about every snap. With the two fullbacks on the field for most of the day there wasn't a whole lot of room for other TEs; Bunting, Williams, and Hill all played bit roles.
WR was mostly Darboh and Chesson. Moe Ways got a healthy amount of playing time and proved an effective blocker; Perry only made appearances in the rare three-wide sets.
OL was per usual. Braden got knocked out with an injury we are assured is minor; David Dawson came in to replace him.
"We were dominated in every facet, their defense over our offense. Every guy, every play. That thing was a shellshock, from the first snap right though the last."
–BYU offensive coordinator Robert Anae, 2015
"If you put a pit bull in a ring with a chihuahua, don't expect the chihuahua to win."
-former PSU WR Chafie Fields, 2006
The last time something like this happened, Alan Branch sent Anthony Morelli to the sidelines muttering about pudding. The year was 2006; Michigan's defense was a flamethrower of a thing. Dudes from it still litter NFL rosters: Branch, Lamarr Woodley, David Harris, Leon Hall, hell, Ryan Mundy. Each level of the defense had an NFL Pro Bowler on it. Lloyd Carr had finally, agonizingly made a switch from Jim Herrmann to Ron English, and things took off.
This was right after 2005, the 7-5 year one idiot Michigan fan dubbed "the year of infinite pain" because the worst thing that had ever happened to him as a sports fan was a light pillow buffeting followed by off-brand ice cream. That year Michigan had coughed up all manner of leads in all manner of ways, culminating in the infamous punt from the Ohio State 34 and the nigh-effortless OSU drive to win that followed. That was a jarring thing, the first gray hair emerging from the program's ear.
Adapting to the reality of the 2006 defense's otherworldliness was gradual, and then sudden. The Penn State game was the seventh that season, and only then was it crystal clear that what was going on was not the usual. It took just four games this season to start wondering about a repeat.
Here's the numbers stuff. Michigan's third in the country in yards per play allowed, behind
a Boston College team that started the season off with Florida State… and Howard, Maine, and Northern Illinois
a Kent State team that's only in the conversation because it held Delaware State (remember them?) to –33 yards.
Michigan hasn't given up more than 337 yards in a game; two teams barely crested 100 yards and a third used a fourth-quarter drive to get over 200. The one team that moved the ball a bit on them, Utah, just atomized Oregon. S&P has Michigan fourth. (FEI does not update until week seven.) Michigan's already acquired 32 TFLs, 8th nationally on a per-play basis. Again they are mostly behind teams who scheduled Random Assemblage Of Ants In Helmets State. By any measure Michigan has established itself one of the nation's top defenses a month into the season.
A month is not a year. A number is just a number. But these numbers reflect what we've seen when Michigan has rolled out onto the field. They go seven deep on the defensive line. They have an All-American corner and two more guys coming on, and oh also Jabrill Peppers.
Aside from some blips in coverage against Oregon State none of the results have felt at all fortunate. In fact big chunks of the yards acquired have been batted passes still caught or sacks miraculously spun out of, with a side of NFL throws made under extreme duress. This level of performance is not sustainable, but only because we are currently peeved when the opponent scrapes into triple digits.
Any reasonably sane projection we're in on. We will also consider slightly insane ones.
That 2006 defense sprung leaks. We got a taste of it a couple weeks before Football Armageddon when Michigan ran out to a big lead against Ball State and rested the starters. Johnny Sears fell over a lot, Ball State scored, and scored again, and soon the starters were in desperately trying to prevent a potential tying touchdown in the waning moments.
That was Akron before Akron, and if you want to point a finger to the exact moment when a paranoid observer would have started building a bomb shelter, that was it. The soon-to-be 2007 secondary faced a jankety MAC spread and collapsed.
A couple weeks alter Michigan would go the whole game against soon-to-be Heisman winner Troy Smith with a 4-3 on the field against a spread offense. Chris Graham tried to cover Tony Gonzalez, a future first round draft pick at wide receiver. It went poorly. Michigan gave up 42 points. A couple months later Michigan shut down USC for a half; in the locker room Pete Carroll told his offensive coordinator to stop running the damn ball. USC ripped off 29 second-half points.
2006's Achilles heel—they had one great cornerback, one okay one, and nothing else—was in retrospect obvious but it took a long time to find anyway.
One may be on the way here, but it's hard to figure out what it might be. The spread ineptness that haunted Michigan's manball administrations for a decade and a half is emphatically out the door. If the thing you're exploiting against this secondary is the third and fourth corners on fly routes down the sideline, good luck. If there's an ACHILLES OUT OF NOWHERE here it's probably the sudden degradation of the defensive line if and when they face elite opposition. Even the occasionally iffy linebacker play will probably be fine against the kind of team that seeks to test Michigan there.
And I can't see that happening. We head back to precedents in an attempt to communicate how something feels. It is possible we're not going quite far enough back for this one.
Come back here young man who is older than me [Upchurch]
Yet To Be Named Harbaugh-Themed Guys Who Did Good Award.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Ryan Glasgow has somehow not featured on these lists yet. It says all you need to know about Michigan's faith in him that they decided to spend most of the day in dime with 5 or 6 guys in the box. Glasgow collected his usual TFL or two and was the linchpin of a 2.0 YPC performance in the most attractive circumstances possible for a rushing offense.
#2 Jabrill Peppers had his usual TFL, threw a BYU receiver to the ground with authority at the end of the first half, was not beaten in coverage, played (sort of) tiny WLB much of the day, spooked Tanner Mangum into a fumble on one particular blitz, and had two near-electric punt returns. Also, fair catches.
#3 De'Veon Smith ripped off this week's Who's Got It Better Than Us and thundered over 100 yards in the first half. It feels sort of wrong to put any offensive player on this list after that D performance, but I mean… yeah.
Honorable mention: All defensive persons. Darboh.
5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State) 3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV), De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU). 2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU). 1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Absolutely brutal decision this week but have to go with De'Veon Smith teleporting through a pile of players and then posterizing the same defensive back twice.
BYU scrapes over 100 total yards on their last drive.
Honorable mention: Rudock doesn't see the fact that Jehu Chesson's guy has fallen down on the first snap. Michigan gets stuffed on a fourth down in the second half. Blake O'Neill goes rogue on a 4th and 16 punt fake.
Utah: circle route pick six. Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust. UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3. BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game.
[After the JUMP: I AM FEELING QUITE POSITIVE THIS WEEK YES SIR]