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FORMATION NOTES: Michigan's most gun-heavy game of the year with just 18 under-center snaps vs 43 from the gun or pistol. Unlike previous games Michigan was perfectly happy to run from the gun on short yardage. There wasn't a whole lot of weird stuff by formation. Michigan had a couple of quads packages, one from a bunch and the other more spread out.
Wisconsin stuck in their base 3-4 defense for virtually the whole game, with the exception of passing downs.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Mostly the usual. OL the starting five the whole way. At QB McCaffrey and Milton both got a a few snaps. Two of those came during the competitive portion of the contest. Evans returned and got backup snaps behind Higdon. Wilson was all but absent until about halfway through the fourth. Christian Turner used up game #2 with a few late carries.
Collins and DPJ backed by Martin and Bell at WR, as per usual. Very little Grant Perry—ten snaps and change—as Michigan played a ton of 2TE sets. McKeon and Gentry were both on the field for large chunks of the game; Eubanks got a few snaps.
The thing that stood out most was the lack of Ben Mason, who didn't have a role on those 2TE shotgun snaps but also ceded some playing time to Wangler.
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FORMATION NOTES: A bit more balanced, with Michigan going shotgun (or pistol) on about 40 snaps and under center on the other 30. All murderback snaps were three TE ace sets:
Nebraska stuck in a 3-4 with their line shaded to the run strength for most of the day, frequently adding their strong safety into the box after starting him from the gray area.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Patterson, then McCaffrey and Peters at QB. No Milton, boo. At RB Higdon a clear #1, Wilson a clear #2, and Samuels sprinkled in on a couple carries before garbage time. By the middle of the third it was Samuels and a debuting Christian Turner. Mason got some run at RB, obviously. Jared Wangler got some backup FB snaps.
Collins and DPJ your primary outside WRs with a healthy dose of Oliver Martin, who stayed out there deep into the game. Ronnie Bell got a bunch of second-half snaps; Ambry Thomas got three total. TE the usual with maybe a little more Eubanks because of the 3TE sets and garbage time. Redshirt freshman walk-on Carter Selzer got snaps in the fourth quarter, which is a definitive statement that Schoonmaker and Muhammad are redshirting.
OL was the usual on both first and second units, except that Michigan brought in Andrew Vastardis at C after one drive and bumped Stephen Spanellis out to RG. Stueber and Paea got the last drive.
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FORMATION NOTES: About 50/50 between shotgun and other stuff, with an emphasis on TEs and WRs—just 12 fullback snaps for Mason. Nothing stood out as unusual. WMU responded with a four-man front on every play and some rolled up safeties... sometimes absurdly so.
This was less of a problem for the run game than you'd think but RBs did have to dodge these guys at the line from time to time. The flipside was the Nico Collins touchdown, which was super easy because a safety lined up at eight yards.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Same OL as the opener. Second team was Mayfield/Filiaga/Spanellis/Honigford/Hudson. QBs went Patterson, McCaffrey, Peters. Higdon and Evans got closer to equal reps with Wilson indeed the #3. WR rotation was pretty much the same as the opener, with DPJ and Collins clear-ish starters on the outside and Martin the only guy rotating in much. TEs were the same.
Muhammad, Schoonmaker, Turner, Milton, and Hayes not getting in strongly implies redshirts are coming for them.
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FORMATION NOTES: Nothing particularly odd from Michigan. They were about 70% gun, which is obviously a huge uptick. A couple of hurry-up drives (-ish) at the end of the game were always going to be from the gun; even without those Michigan was almost two-thirds shotgun.
ND ran a very standard 4-2-5.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Patterson except for the extended cramping period in the second half when McCaffrey played. Runyan/Bredeson/Ruiz/Onwenu/JBB the whole way except one snap for Spanellis after Ruiz's helmet came off. Higdon got a large majority of the RB snaps, with Chris Evans the only other back to play.
At WR Collins, DPJ, and Martin got all the outside snaps with Perry getting all the slot snaps. McKeon and Gentry got almost all the TE snaps with the occasional contribution from Eubanks.
[After THE JUMP: it says something about expectations that I felt this could have been worse?]
Into the maelstrom of crippled quarterbacks and generalized flailing steps CESAR RUIZ [recruiting profile], the best center prospect to hit college football in a decade. Last year's preview:
Ruiz dominated his opposition at the Opening ("looked like a total star… dominant … only lost a couple reps the entire weekend") and the UA game (“shined … displayed impressive extension and solid power"), enrolled early, and started generating college-level hype soon thereafter.
This is in part because Ruiz played at IMG, the Florida all-sports academy that sucks in a full team of D-I recruits annually. His transfer there allowed him to play center when most D-I prospects of any variety get thrown out to tackle for obvious reasons, and this was a very good idea:
…he’s made to play center. I don’t remember the kid ever having a bad snap. … He’s got the right mentality and the perfect personality for the position. … He’s a real student of the game and then he has the physical skills to go with it. … He’s been making line calls and he can really step and snap. … Most guys we bring in we try to cross train them as guard-centers but we didn’t really do it much with him because he was just the ultimate center and we knew he’d be there.
Michigan probably would have been better off just rolling with him from the drop but college coaches be college coaches and he started the year on the bench. When Onwenu got hurt before the Minnesota game, he entered the starting lineup. He exited it mid-game after a comically freshman moment that resulted in yet another thunder-sack of a Michigan quarterback—okay maybe college coaches know something—but returned the game after and locked down the spot for the rest of the year. Even in that first Minnesota game it was clear he was going to be a dude:
Ruiz is already a mauler. There was little difference between him and Onwenu. The big obvious bad thing was big, obvious, and bad, but aside from that he ejected people. Excellent sign for Ruiz's presumed ascension to the starting C job next year.
Ruiz is a player. Like... now. Another excellent day from him, this time without a QB destruction that's his fault. Onwenu's obviously earned the right to his starting job but I don't think center is going to be a problem next year.
Those two starts featured +7 and +8.5 UFR days with one negative run grade of any description. Post-Minnesota:
How was our first extended look at Cesar Ruiz?
... he was whoopin' up on people. His kickout blocks were usually huge. Here he pulls to a DE and that guy reacts like he's a defensive back trying to hold up:
#51 RG pulling
I usually give relevant kickouts a half point because they're often a mutual agreement between offense and defense that the ball will go in a gap. Something that big is a full point because on certain runs that extra room is going to be worth yards. Not so much in this game, because everything was going further inside. But sometimes. Ruiz was consistently moving whoever he impacted.
This was more relevant on the Evans bounce play. He gets surprised as the guy he's pulling to is trying to dive inside him instead of accepting a kickout; his ability to stall and then drive that guy saves Evans a critical yard or two on his bend to the outside and helps give him the corner:
#51 RG pulling
Poor damn safety #8.
That couldn't and didn't last, as Ruiz got a harsh wake-up call against Wisconsin and TJ Edwards in particular. Twice Ruiz pulled to find Edwards his target, and twice Edwards knifed past him for a run stuff:
That'll happen when you're a freshman who may have been spending a lot of time at center and not pulling to All-American linebackers.
When not getting a harsh lesson from Edwards or getting Peters thunder-sacked that one time, Ruiz was excellent. Everything about his recruiting profile and first year in the program points to stardom. Immediate stardom.
In addition to his upside as a person who moves other persons, Ruiz promises to help fix Michigan massive organizational issues. Michigan's pass protection was borked all year by not knowing what to do. The ground game was up and down but always prone to plays I threw my hands up at because it seemed like half the line was running one thing and half the line something else. A fuller take on these issues and how they get repaired is in the upcoming offensive overview post. For Ruiz purposes it's sufficient to note that these are words being said about a true sophmore center:
“How it was last year, it’s like, no matter what, if he comes, you gotta block him,” Evans explained. “Now Cesar’s in there and he can adjust it and you can go at it like that."
That says volumes.
[After THE JUMP: redshirts! And probably All Big Ten sorts?]
“I'd like to thank the Outback Bowl. [Ed. A—And I’d like to thank David Nasternak for being our guy on the ground in Tampa and getting audio of the presser] Great experience. Congratulations to South Carolina on their victory.”
Did you feel it slipping away at any time, or did they get better as the game went along?
“I think they did get better. I think probably a little bit of both those things. They got better as the game went on, no doubt, and made plays to win the football game, and we didn't get the knockout punch when we needed it. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities that were there.”
Can you put your finger on why the defense was having a dominant performance and then it all changed? What did you see in terms of why it changed?
“Yeah, they made a really good throw, really good catch on the touchdown. Made another spectacular throw and catch on the second touchdown pass. Yeah, they executed well, really well, and then our errors, starting with the—really starting with the fumble by Sean McKeon, which was not Sean McKeon’s fault, that was our fault. That was a coaching error. We had the wrong personnel in there, and I should have called time out. And then the other miscues we had.”
Pat Kugler, was he banged up a little bit? Is that why you took him out of the game?
“Yeah, Pat had gotten rolled up on his ankle and gave it a go and was doing fine, but just felt like it was too much to overcome.”
When did you know about that Ben [Bredeson] wasn’t going to be able to play?
“About three weeks ago.”
[After THE JUMP: sifting through what went wrong in search of answers, shooting down NFL rumors (again), evaluating QB play and what it means for 2018]
“Uh, I don’t know. It was kind of tough for me. Felt like I probably should have gotten the award, me or Chase [Winovich], but it happens. Can’t dwell on it now. It’s just the way things go sometimes.”
Were you expecting it?
“Uh…you know, kind of but…whatever.”
Do you ever think about not playing in the bowl game?
“A little bit. Still not really sure. Right now it’s just business as usual, practicing and all that type of stuff.”
So you haven’t made a decision?
“No, I haven’t.”
What’s going to go into that decision for you?
“Just, you know, speaking with my family, talking to Jake [Butt], talking to Chris [Wormley], some of the other guys that may have had a similar decision. Talking to coach Harbaugh—just trying to use all my resources to make sure that I make the best decision for myself and my family.”
[After THE JUMP: Hurst on his timeline and insurance, Karan Higdon: South Carolina fan, Kugler on next year’s O-line, and McCray on SEC speed and the 2018 defense]