So it's been seven games and it's a bye week so TACO PARTY—
this is a thing you can purchase at "Fine Art America"
or steal from your crazy Aunt Betty in Pensacola
—also generic bullety midseason-type post.
BEST DEVELOPMENT. Confirmation of the offseason's Greg >>> GERG theory.
he's like defensive coordinator Zooey Deschanel.
There are still obvious weaknesses and no obvious stars past a slightly disappointing Mike Martin, but it turns out having a coherent defensive philosophy is a lot better than running around screaming "we're all gonna die but at least my hair is fantastic!!!"
Pick a metric, advanced or not, and the improvement is incredible. The advanced ones are even more enthusiastic than the regular ones: Michigan is actually a top-20 FEI defense. Top 20! They were 108th last year! Excuse me, I have to go list this pool of razorblades, despair, and misery on Craigslist! Where an Ohio State blogger will purchase it to talk about their offense!
You can apply every massively-deserved caveat you can think of and the author will nod sagely about how that is a concern and the end result is still something that should approximate giddiness. When the turnovers stop coming in droves and a smaller percentage of games are played in a trash tornado, Michigan will backslide. But, like… backslide into the 40s or something. IE: the offseason's best-case scenario that didn't involve installing robots from the future at key spots.
RUNNER-UP, BEST DEVELOPMENT. Jordan Kovacs ending the debate about Jordan Kovacs.
If you strain your memory you can think back to a time where it was very warm and people had heated debates about whether Jordan Kovacs was any good or not. This was summer, and it was a silly time. A major reason the defense is scraping the ceiling of the ceiling above its best-case scenario is the near-total absence of big plays. Michigan still hasn't given up anything over 40 yards. Kovacs and (to a lesser extent) Thomas Gordon are primarily responsible for shutting down the Wolverine Free Touchdown Factory and shipping it to Thailand. WOO OUTSOURCING JOKE
WORST DEVELOPMENT. Denard's inability to hit Charlie Weis in three tries.
Even if you ascribe to the theory that Denard's passing success last year was largely a mirage when it came to Actual Big Ten Defenses*, his numbers against the two actual-seeming defenses on the schedule thus far have been horrendous. At least half of that can be ascribed to Denard just missing dudes.
Even running in place would have been disappointing after the quantum leap it seemed he made last year. He was still raw as sushi and could still be expected to move more towards quarterback-dom than a guy who'd had the slightest amount of polish. Instead the Al Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine has shoved him back to being that guy who heaved it up against Iowa when he had a wide open Odoms running underneath. I didn't like that guy as much as the one from last year, warts and all.
*[Which I don't, FWIW. I UFR this stuff for a reason, and that reason is "so I can do something more than wave my hands in the air and say 'nuh-uh' when I would like to dispute someone else's assertion." I charted all of Denard's throws before the dismal end of the RR regime and there's a definite backslide.]
RUNNER-UP, WORST DEVELOPMENT. What happened, offensive line?
Last year you were all like blocking your way to an insane YPC and hardly giving up anything on the ground and this year you can't pull to save your life; the impregnable wall of no sacks was punched into smithereens by Michigan State. Now it's hard not to look at next year without a sense of panic.
MOST MIDDLING DEVELOPMENT. The tailbacks. It's still Vincent Smith and increasingly less Fitzgerald Toussaint (for reasons that are opaque to me). They're not awful. I still covet any tailback who wanders by to break a tackle or two.
MOST MISLEADING DEVELOPMENT. The defense's turnover-fu. It is not sustainable. Repeat this in your head a thousand times in a futile effort for its lack to be tolerable.
MOST DEVELOPING DEVELOPMENT. Special teams. They've been bad so far but the sample size is small. Brendan Gibbons made three(!) field goals against Minnesota and is 4/6 on the year. His two misses were both blocked. He might be serviceable. He might be benefiting from a bunch of chip shots—he still hasn't made one past 40 yards.
Meanwhile, the starting punter was suspended for the first four games and is averaging under 34 yards a kick because he was a nonfactor against Minnesota and Northwestern and seven of his punts came in a howling windstorm, six(!) of those from the Michigan State half of the field.
They can't cover kicks and can't return them, either. So… yeah. The jury is still out.
OFFENSE: FOCUS: OFFENSE
100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jeremy Gallon cloaking device engagement.
The play that followed it was pretty sweet, too, but that thing took Michigan from dead in the water to fightin' chance in The First Night Game Evar.
100% WORST THING EVER. Fourth and inches play action pass from the nine against Michigan State. I assume this needs no explanation.
THING THEY DO THE MOST. Run inside zone.
THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Throw deep.
THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Use stretch blocking and deploy the quick screen with the wide receivers to force a third defender to live outside the tackles. Michigan hasn't attacked the outside enough, allowing Michigan State's double-A-gap blitzes to be ludicrously effective.
BEST PLAYER. Well… Denard, despite obvious issues.
SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Taylor Lewan. Lewan has been near-flawless in pass protection, and has generally done well when the run game has come his way, which hasn't been often given their inability to pull left.
PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Michigan hasn't been able to pull left largely because Patrick Omameh can't get to the hole before the tailback, which is not so good.
GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Vincent Smith. He's a third down back and useful player who's not a guy you want to give 20 carries.
GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. Denard. Please, baby, please.
DEFENSE: FOCUS: DEFENSE
100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jordan Kovacs depositing his head into a ball Alex Carder happened to be carrying.
That sack is like the awful Nick Sheridan interception that kicked off the Rodriguez era and made its way into the Worst Plays of the Decade more for what it symbolized than the actual impact of the play. It heralds a sea change in Michigan's fortunes.
Caveats, caveats, caveats: Michigan is now deploying a zone-blitz heavy 4-3 under that will draw valid NFL comparisons and will hopefully start playing like Michigan defenses of old, and by "Michigan defenses of old" I mean "Michigan defenses of very old or more recent Ohio State outfits."
100% WORST THING EVER. It's a tribute to Michigan's safeties and Greg Mattison that the only long-ish touchdown they've given up was the no-safeties formation that handed Notre Dame a freebie right before the Gallon cloaking device play. But, man… that was kind of not good right there.
THING THEY DO THE MOST. Zone blitz.
THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Let guys outside the tackles.
THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Uh… you got me. /shakes fist at format established by himself
BEST PLAYER. Ryan Van Bergen, I think. It's close between RVB, Martin, and Kovacs, but Martin had a tough outing against Michigan State. Van Bergen played well. Kovacs had a storming game the first time out and is a major reason for the lack of long touchdown but has not has as much down to down impact. Maybe that's just the nature of being a safety. If Michigan gets through the rest of the year without getting bombed deep he'll win by default.
SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Kovacs. I don't hate Michigan's safeties except from time to time when Johnson is missing tackles.
PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Weakside linebacker du jour. Woolfolk hasn't been good but that's obviously an injury thing. I've been leery about Jake Ryan from time to time but he's turning in enough good plays with his bad ones to nose above even most days.
But whoever's been at weakside linebacker has had issues. Brandon Herron started the year, had two defensive touchdowns, and got benched. Brandin Hawthorne came in for him, played okay for a bit, made some mistakes, and has rotated in and out with true freshman Desmond Morgan the past couple weeks.
GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Will Heininger. Heininger hasn't been a disaster or anything but he is single blocked often, rarely makes plays, and is pretty much what you'd expect a walk-on to be at defensive tackle.
GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. There are two: Jake Ryan and Blake Countess. Both are freshman starters* turning in promising plays amongst the youthful head-vs-wall moments. Ryan in particular has cut down his blatant errors to getting cut to the ground a few times per game.
*[Countess is not technically starting. He is getting the bulk of the playing time.]
THE BIG TEN
THE WORST. Minnesota. We have a GopherQuest dedicated to their badness.
THE SECOND-WORST. Everyone else. This league is not so good. The team leading the East division starts Matt McGloin at quarterback and is coached by a guy without a headset who isn't on the sideline. The team leading the West division is Michigan State. There are no undefeated teams, no national powers, and it's inevitable that the league's bowl record is going to be 2-6.
FUTURE OPPONENTS IN ORDER OF CONCERN.
- @ Iowa
- Ohio State
- @ Illinois
BALLPARK RECORD AGAINST THOSE FOLKS. 3-2.
WHO'D TAKE 9-3. That's everyone.
WHO'D WHIMPER AND HIDE AT THE BOWL OPPONENT IN THAT EVENT. Also everyone. Okay, not you, message board hero who spent the last week calling Michigan fans whiners. You will say unreasonable things about the prospect of beating…
Wait. There are only two good SEC teams this year. Am I going to tremble at the sight of Arkansas or Georgia or South Carolina? No. Nevermind.
FIVE GUYS WHO SEEM PRETTY GOOD WHOM INSUFFICIENT DISCUSSION IS HAD ABOUT.
Bryce McNaul, Northwestern LB. (Heady, quick the hole, part of Northwestern's good run defense, injured too much, can do nothing about the nonexistent Wildcat secondary.)
Marcus Rush, MSU DE. (Rush has been overshadowed by the Gholston controversy but is actually a better player. Gholston does nothing once he is blocked; Rush will shed guys. Gholston would be on the bench if Tyler Hoover was healthy.)
Devon Still, PSU DT. (Still may be a reach since he is reaching tongue-bath levels but I was all about Still last year.)
Kawaan Short, Purdue DT.
Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota WR. (Winner: most futile B1G existence.)