Before we start, folks who aren't going to be mentioned because they were on the sideline: Jehu Chesson, David Dawson, Ryan Glasgow, Mo Ways, Kingston Davis,Karan Higdon, Shelton Johnson.
Established guys we didn't see much of
I've seen a number of open practices by now and there's always a subclass of guys who aren't hurt but don't play much. Those guys are gentlemen who have established who they are and are too important to the team to expose them to extensive contact. They've made it, more or less. (These are never OL or DL.)
Most of the gentlemen who fell into this category are obvious: Jake Butt, Jabrill Peppers, Amara Darboh, Jourdan Lewis. There was one that indicates a supposedly contested position battle that might not be all that contested: De'Veon Smith saw very few live contact carries.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr Is A Tight End, And A Mutant
Some guys leap off the field the first time you see them in action, because… whoah. Devin Funchess did so at the first open practice these eyes ever laid eyes on, and that proved itself more or less correct over the course of his career. It was immediately apparent that Funchess was a rare combination of size and mobility.
Tyrone Wheatley Jr. is that plus 70 pounds. He's not Funchess. He's in fact the opposite of Funchess as far as blocky/catchy types go. But he has that same combination of size and mobility that makes you go "whoah" the first time you see him in action. I was typing out tweets about how his ability to relocate himself at his size was uncanny even before he did this:
That's not a great angle; I had one. Devin Bush Jr had outstanding coverage underneath Wheatley, grabbing an arm and forcing the one-handed stab. Which Wheatley made, escaped/stiffarmed an understandably stumbling Bush, and then outran a bunch of LBs and safeties to the endzone. Even though large chunks of the crowd had left by that point it drew the largest cheer of the day, and deservedly.
That was not a one-off play. Wheatley had four or five other catches where he looked both unexpectedly mobile and a natural receiver. He also had an outstanding block in space against Chase Winovich that allowed John O'Korn to uncork a long post throw to Grant Perry for a touchdown.
There have been persistent rumors that Wheatley was destined for OL because of his size and some assertions to that effect in Rivals's Inside The Fort posts. This practice will definitively dispel those rumors. Wheatley isn't just a tight end, he is a potential gamebreaker. At 280.
[After THE JUMP: future mutants, QB battle, an extant run game, and some dude from Malaysia.]
How is the growing of a relationship with Brian Smith going? He’s new to you.
“Yeah, yeah, it’s great. He’s doing great. He’s learning the defense fast and we’re working together, working a lot more time together with the safeties and corners and spending a lot more time together. Everything’s going pretty smoothly.”
We talked to Jourdan [Lewis] in Florida and he seems really comfortable, maybe even more confident than he did a year ago. Where’s he at right now in your estimation in terms of his growth?
“He’s doing a hell of a job. Kid works hard, works his butt off. He’s been playing really well this spring. I think part of his comfort now is its year two in a system that he pretty much knows. Only new thing really [is] one new coverage that we put in that’s kind of changed things, but it’s a fun coverage for the corners. It’s a fun coverage for the secondary. I think the comfort level of playing press-man all last year and coming right back and doing it again this year really is comforting.”
Did he exceed your expectations at all last year from when you first got him?
“Well…being honest, watching the prior year on film, we watched all the games and he was impressive then. I was impressed with him, Strib[ling], Clark, those guys to be able to play man the way we wanted them to play man. To be able to handle that transition last year, that was impressive. All three of those guys. And now the carryover is very helpful.”
Where can he still get better?
“Jourdan? Woo, that’s a tough question. He’s pretty dang good at what he does. I think the biggest thing for him is just maintaining that level of play that he has, staying competitive. You know, maybe if I was being critical of him, use of his hands downfield. But he’s doing some really good things.”
I’m sure you’ve had other guys who are at the top of their game. How do you go approach them different than maybe a normal player?
“You don’t. You don’t. You just coach them the same, be consistent with all of them. At times you use guys like him and Strib as examples, but you gotta be consistent when you’re coaching. That’s what I try to do. I hope I’m doing that for those guys.”
Do you see him having an influence on Stribling and Clark?
“Well, you know, certainly his accolades from last year. His work ethic on the field. Very competitive guy. Those things, we all wish they rub off on a lot of guys and so in our room that can have an effect.”
Do you see him ever more vocally--
“Oh yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. He gets fired up on the field. Quiet off the field, but in between the lines he’s pretty vocal.”
[After THE JUMP: A new coverage, safety depth, the Glasgows, and Jabrill: not just an LB]
Harbaugh has thrown the doors open down in Florida. There is a pile of stuff. So much stuff. Even before the open practice at 5PM today, there is so much stuff. Let's talk things and stuff.
First: yes, this is just technique work and mostly unpadded at that. Takes have largely been about throwing, catching, and defending said throws—there's not much you can take away on either line thus far. Oh and one other thing.
Jabrill Peppers, Linebacker
After @JabrillPeppers' heat in 30 yard speed drills he said , "your SAM backer is the fastest guy on the team! How does that feel?!" Lol
The most meaningful thing from the first few spring practices is the apparent move of Jabrill Peppers to strongside linebacker. Or, as they called it last year, "hybrid linebacker." While the nomenclature has changed it doesn't seem like a whole lot else has:
Through the first two days of camp, Peppers has played in the box almost exclusively. He's spent most of his time blitzing, supporting the run and covering tight ends underneath during 11 on 11 drills. In 7 on 7 workouts, he's drifted out to cover slot receivers, but he's never far away from the line of scrimmage.
That's more or less what Michigan did with him a year ago. The exception: against certain two-WR sets Peppers would slide out to boundary cornerback. Last year Don Brown rode with 6'1", 218-pound Matt Milano as his SAM, and all that dude did was lead the team in TFLs with 17.5 and add 6.5 sacks. Peppers is likely to be around that size, if a hair shorter, and obviously brings much more athleticism to the table. (I have no idea how athletic Matt Milano is. I am still comfortable making that assumption.)
Wolverine Devotee put together an every snap video from the BC-FSU game last year; Milano is 28. You'll see him lined up as an actual linebacker against heavier formations and often over the slot in lighter ones:
How does this change what everyone else does? One thing it likely signals is that the days where Michigan lined up a safety 15 yards back are over. To get away with the kind of light linebackers Brown favors you need to have all eleven guys potentially involved in the run game. You can expect Michigan to run "over" fronts most of the time, but that's not a change.
It also puts more pressure on the safeties to be able to defend man to man. Ian Boyd noted that the "ability of [BC] safeties to play deep overage is probably the strongest point" of Don Brown's most recent defense. I'm a bit leery of that given what we saw from Michigan last year—neither Delano Hill or Dymonte Thomas did a great job in those situations—but at least Thomas is fast enough to prevent a quick six points if he gets soloed up on a slot and things go badly for M.
Going forward, Tyree Kinnel will be very important. He entered Michigan with a reputation as a CB/S hybrid and that's exactly what Brown wants from his safeties.
The other SAM
we only have one Furbush picture so you might want to settle in with this shot [Patrick Barron]
Peppers finished last season with 45 tackles and 10 pass break ups. But this year, along with Noah Furbush, Peppers will be focusing more on playing SAM linebacker says Brown.
“Between Furbush and (Peppers), I think we can put those two guys together and create some dynamic ability out of that position. That’s what you are searching for,” said Brown.
Furbush is obviously a very different player than Peppers, and that might give you an indication of what Michigan is going to do when they do catch an Iowa or a Wisconsin. If Furbush fills out this year—his weight has been an ongoing mystery—he brings a lot more in the tight-end-whacking category than Peppers; meanwhile Michigan can move Peppers to CB or safety… or save some snaps in an effort to use him more on offense.
He is all of 240 pounds and can still move as well as he did when he was 215. … If things go according to what looks to be the plan, expect to see Winovich playing standing up at times, and with his hand in the dirt at others. His non-stop motor and reckless abandon should help him when it comes to getting after opposing quarterbacks.
I'm not sure where Jake Ryan 2.0 fits in a Don Brown defense but am willing to find out.
While nobody is tipping their hand I continue to believe that Zach Gentry moving to tight end is a dead giveaway that John O'Korn is the guy and authoritatively so. Baumgardner:
When forced to throw the ball in traffic, O'Korn's accuracy was just more consistent. It wasn't perfect, but his touch was better and his ability to deliver throws on time looked superior to what we saw from Wilton Speight or Shane Morris.
That's probably not a shocker to anyone. But it was notable. The deep ball will be a work in progress for O'Korn and his wideouts, and it's still important to note that Jehu Chesson is still rehabbing an injury. But Jake Butt still catches everything underneath, and Amara Darboh can still haul in most anything thrown in his area. O'Korn is figuring that out.
Webb noted that O'Korn is "unquestionably the most athletic" of the QBs, which is a nice physical intangible to have at 6'4". Speight and Malzone come in for mentions as well; Morris was probably at the other split squad practice so don't run to the hills with the news that he gone.
The hyped recruit has impressed as well. Brandon Peters was singled out by Harbaugh in a press conference after day two. Baumgardner made an effort to check him out during the brief time the media got to see him—he's been practicing mostly during the closed bit of Michigan's practices:
The main thing here: He's smooth and natural. When I spoke with a few scouts and analysts about Peters last summer, the first thing they all raved about was how he's nowhere near his potential. …
I've seen a lot of freshmen quarterbacks enter a program over the years and just look absolutely lost or panicked. Their feet are all over the place. They're throwing the thing as hard as they can on every rep. They're overwhelmed, basically.
Peters is far from a finished product, but he's not overwhelmed. That much is clear.
Here's hoping for two years of this kind of chatter before an epic showdown between Peters, McCaffrey, and whoever else survives the winnowing.
Ian Bunting didn’t have as good a day as Jake Butt, but he was close. The redshirt sophomore has terrific hands and showed trait on the play of the day. Bunting ran a skinny post. Coverage was decent, giving Alex Malzone a tight window to throw in. He fired a rope a little out front of his intended target where only Bunting had a shot. The ball was on him so quick that he only had time to extend one hand, but that was all he need to haul in the pass. He did so in stride and sprinted to the endzone to a series of oohs and aahs. It was his best play but definitely not the only one.
Also in there are takes on Wheatley (looking promising in the AJ Williams role, probably still needs to drop a little weight) and Gentry (upside, but needs time). Webb revisited Bunting after practice yesterday, asserting that he "looks like a guy poised to have a breakout season" because he is now blasting through linebackers on his routes and boxing them out. Here's to Ol' Skillet Hands making good on ridiculous MGoBlog hype.
Jake Butt is Jake Butt: he should win the dang Mackey this year.
"He's a big-bodied guy who can move people off the ball and when he goes out to run a pattern, he can work a guy," Michigan offensive coordinator Tim Drevno said Thursday. "Those short routes by the tight ends are kind of like (playing underneath) in basketball. He's a big target, put the ball (wherever) and he can run with it."
Michigan has an obvious hole to fill at inline tight end with Williams's departure and Hill's move to fullback. Wheatley is unusually well suited to fill that hole despite being a redshirt freshman. Meanwhile, Michigan "never seriously considered moving him" over the offseason despite rumors to that effect.
Zach Gentry "needs to add weight… a lot of it" per Webb; I think everyone's expectation is that he'll have to spend a year getting used to the position before issuing a serious challenge for playing time.
It's a creepy super slow mo video in which he loses a slant route to Reon Dawson, so maybe he won't break through immediately. Baumgardner says he's "pretty raw" and that was indeed his reputation as a recruit. He's likely to sit on the shelf a bit as he matures.
I kind of expected Channing Stribling to fade a bit as Jeremy Clark continued familiarizing himself with corner, but Webb's talked him up a few times:
Stribling continues to make plays against everyone except Amara darboh. Darboh having his way all week
He has made some really acrobatic plays. At the same time he has given up a few plays. Darboh has been particularly troublesome due to his superior strength and great route technique. Stribling also gave up the aforementioned deep ball to Harris, but again, he made many more plays than he gave up during the time the media was at practice.
Jourdan Lewis was his vintage self. I noticed one ball caught on him (a comeback route by Amara Darboh. He seemed to bait John O’Korn into a bad throw on one occasion. After taking away his man on a short route he began drifting back into the secondary and picked off O’Korn’s attempt to complete an out cut (sounded like Jedd Fisch said he should’ve thrown it sooner).
Not much more than the occasional mention of Clark and others. Still expect Clark to contribute extensively.
Ryan Glasgow and Jehu Chesson are still working out on the sidelines, as injuries are slowing them down. Neither is much of a surprise, but one name amongst the guys who aren't full go does worry: Wyatt Shallman was once again on the side after being full-go in the first practice. Guy cannot get healthy.
In happier news, both Bryan Mone and Mike McCray have been full-go. McCray's status is of particular note since last year he made some ominous noises about his long-term future. Also he is a linebacker, and Michigan needs some of those. Here is a positive noise about McCray that we will all dearly wish is true despite the fact they aren't in pads yet:
“He looks really good out here,” said Lewis. “He is probably one of the guys we look up to as the guy that should step up this year at that linebacker position. I’m excited for Mike. He has great upside.”
Getting a healthy McCray back is huge for Michigan.
Nick Baumgardner with the depth chart nerd assist:
Second-team OL (best I can figure): LT Bushell-Beatty, LG Dawson, C Kugler, RG Runyan, RT Ulizio
That is more or less as expected without Blake Bars. Those guys are in fact the only other scholarship OL on the roster until this year's class arrives in fall.
Baumgardner also caught the fact that in the second half of practice, after the third and fourth stringers left, the only OL to remain other than the starters was Kugler. Given Cole's versatility I would expect Kugler to be the guy who enters on any injury, and if there's going to be a shakeup to the expected starting five it would be Kugler pushing through at C such that Cole displaces a returning starter.
in 2015 U-M ran a 4-3 defense that played a ton of man coverage on the outside.
That’s still the plan in 2016, however, with a little twist says Brown.
“We’ll start with the four down (lineman) scheme, but we are not exclusively that,” Brown said. “We’ll do it all. We’ll play a lot of man (coverage) tight. But we will also play some other things. That’s the new piece. And that’s the learning piece.”
There will be more linebacker blitzing. Probably a lot more—Durkin had a five-man pressure he liked to run a lot but instances of true maniacal blitzing were very rare.
“That was new,” Harbaugh said. “More one on one coaching for reps for each guy. The rule is no player can practice more than four hours, which every player practiced for four hours and had a nice little overlap there. Coaches had a six-hour day, but it just flew by. Just felt like it flew by. Logic is pretty simple there to understand. More coaching and more football for everybody.”
Indeed it is but it's also another example of Harbaugh figuring out ways to get maximum efficiency from the allotted rules.
And we have a first name for Pratt Just Pratt:
Another player that has been working out on the side is 6-5, 268 lb. sophomore offensive lineman Logan Pratt. This is noteworthy only because Pratt is one of the most impressive looking walk-ons I’ve ever seen.
10/31/2015 – Michigan 29, Minnesota 26 – 6-2, 3-1 Big Ten
ONE. We've got a radio show now so I've been listening to sports talk radio even when Sam and Ira aren't on. I do it to compare and maybe get better and maybe draw confidence from the fact that a lot of sports talk radio is outrageously bad. The parts that aren't are often outrageously robotic. WTKA has a bunch of NFL stuff now that they switched to CBS, and it's on when I go to and from our podcast on Sunday; sometimes I catch it on a Thursday.
Tom Brady was on. Jim Gray actually asked him a lot of pointed questions about the upcoming game against the Colts and whether he had a desire to rain unholy fire upon those bastards. Brady responded with the passion of an accountant. I would chalk this up to Brady's flat affect, but I've seen player after player descend into this anodyne non-existence. This is a a league that spent most of the offseason discussing the Ideal Gas Law, after all—even if they didn't know they were doing so. It's just a thing. Colleges teach it but it doesn't take all the way. The NFL perfects it, along with the slant.
TWO. Minnesota has not been good for literally 50 years. Their blips to the positive aren't even Illinois blips. Every decade Illinois will show up in a BCS-level game; the Minnesota coach with the best winning percentage since 1944 is one Glen Mason, who the Gophers fired so they could hire Tim Brewster.
THREE. In 2005 I was pretty mad after a weird game where the Michigan Stadium scoreboards fritzed out and Jim Herrmann called a blitz on which Prescott Burgess, a 230-pound linebacker, was tasked with two-gapping a 270-pound monster TE. When I get mad I tend to be mad about everything, but when Lawrence Maroney rushed out to midfield and planted the biggest damn Minnesota flag in existence I was just like "yeah, go ahead, you earned that."
Sixty-plus Gopher players stormed across that field to reclaim the Jug without considering decorum, sanity, or sportsmanship. Michigan had just lost a game mostly because they called a blitz so telegraphed that a petrified backup QB could check them into a 50-yard run and I had enough non-hate in my heart to genuinely enjoy the fervor with which the Gophers reclaimed Fielding Yost's 30-cent chunk of crockery.
FIVE. Jerry Kill retired last week because he could no longer control the seizures his cancer had bestowed upon him. Jerry Kill talks like a NASCAR driver. He comes by his coachspeak honestly, and when Tracy Claeys was again thrust into a role he probably never thought he'd be in—Kill tends to buy and hold assistants until the end of time—he sounded 100% like Jerry Kill.
It was awkward. It was stilted. It was genuine as hell. He told his kids not to play with emotion because emotion evaporates but to play with passion because passion sticks and I was just like YOU MAY BE SAYING THIS LIKE TOM BRADY SAYS THINGS BUT I KNOW THAT FEEL.
SIX. Junior Hemingway, just shouting and weeping after the Sugar Bowl.
SEVEN. Jerry Kill.
EIGHT. Michigan won a football game that often doubled as an exercise in hilarious improbability. Michigan gave up a 52-yard touchdown after Jeremy Clark executed the platonic ideal of coverage against a corner route. With 19 seconds left in a football game, Minnesota spent 17 seconds on a series of elaborate motions on first and goal from the half-yard line.
Football is weird and terrible and sometimes it gets you to within a half-yard of a cathartic, wonderful victory and then says "nah." Sometimes when you're 2-and-a-billion after always being good your walk-on QB dials up a bunch of incredible throws and you go grab the Little Brown Jug with a newfound respect for its importance. Football, above all, is cruel.
NINE. If you are a Minnesota fan on a bitter Monday indeed, here is the equivalent of Lawrence Maroney planting a flag. It is Jon Falk, the recently retired and legendary Michigan equipment manager, welcoming his favorite 30-cent crockery back home.
It hurts, but that means something. That is a thing that is real. It is a reflection of Jerry Kill killing himself to be in this game and dying because he has to leave it.
TEN. I've always hated THIS IS MICHIGAN a bit because it reminds me of going to Penn State in 2006 and having their chintzy-ass scoreboards proclaim WE'RE PENN STATE… AND THEY'RE NOT. It's not necessarily as bad, but sometimes it tends to AND THEY'RE NOT. I'm not a huge fan of Michigan's excellently-executed James Earl Jones intro video this year because it claims a bunch of things that should be gestured at instead.
Michigan's great. I love Michigan. I love it all, though. I've been to Georgia and Auburn and Penn State and Ohio State and Minnesota and the feeling of college football is something else. Minnesota hasn't done anything Colin Cowherd would note for 50 years. You could maybe compare them to the Lions, who no one should ever be a fan of.
Except no. Tell me that doesn't matter. Tell me This Is Minnesota doesn't mean anything. We took the Jug and we mostly earned it and that matters to me. It matters to Jabrill Peppers and Jon Falk and Jim Harbaugh and Greg Dooley. It matters because it's college fucking football, and Minnesota means something.
To Michigan, it means the Jug. They got it back on Saturday by the skin of their teeth, and for a program that's had a bit of a rough go of late they'll take it any way they can get it.
Column inspired by Dr. Sap digging up a post-game Bo speech after the 1987 Jug game:
A half hour version that must be most of the game from WD:
Parking God has a more reasonable length reel:
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jabrill Peppers had a 40 yard KO return, a 40 yard punt return, two PBUs, a near pick-six, a rushing touchdown, a reverse set up by everyone fretting about Peppers, a pass interference call drawn—Peppers played nearly 100 snaps and was instrumental in all three phases of the game.
#2 Maurice Hurst didn't actually pop up in the box score much but he was frequently in Leidner's grill; on the final stand he blew up the pass protection on the first play and was one of a few different Wolverines whipping their dudes up front. Actually in the box score: he had a critical TFL that forced Minnesota to kick a short field goal.
#3 Drake Johnson didn't get many carries but was by far the most effective runner Michigan had; other guys had lanes but didn't take advantage of them. Hoping to see more of him going forward.
Honorable mention: Chesson and Darboh both had nice days. Glasgow again contributed to mostly good run defense.
Channing Stribling gets beat over the top for what seems like the game-winning touchdown, until it was not.
Honorable mention: Mitch Leidner hurling the ball downfield on throws that are very bad ideas only for those to be complete anyway. Rudock underthrows another deep ball by 20 yards.
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.
Upon Further Review has a sponsor. Ran into Matt at a hockey game at Yost on Sunday. We kind of shook our heads about some of the defensive breakdowns, shrugged, and went on with our lives. (Everyone was wearing pants, yes, do I really have to clarify that? I suppose I do.) But anyway this is a person who is part of our community; we've used him and we have been happy, as have other MGoFolk who have communicated this to us.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan had a new thing for MSU's heavy sets. This lineup has Wormley, Godin, Glasgow, and Henry from top to bottom on the line with RJS lined up as a linebacker. Bolden is acting as the SAM with Gedeon the other ILB:
That is the first time this year we've seen four true DL on the field at the same time. Another example, this time with RJS rolled up to the line:
They also did this, which I called 7-2 bear:
This was the TD on which RJS got bear-hugged; it did not come out again.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Aside from the occasional 4-4 mentioned above it was the usual rotation on the defensive line with one exception: I don't think I saw Charlton out there at all save for one buck snap. RJS got every other snap on which there was a buck—M lifted the buck in their dime sets.
Morgan played every snap. Ben Gedeon got most of the game; in the first half he was the third linebacker when M was in base personnel. After Bolden was ejected he was the guy lining up next to Morgan even after Ross became available in the second half. In the brief period between Bolden's ejection and the end of the first half, Allen Gant got a few snaps. Gedeon looked good.
Secondary was close to the usual with the notable exception of Jourdan Lewis shadowing Burbridge around the field after the first series of the game. To be honest I don't know what the Clark/Stribling breakdown was because they were peripheral, but I'm pretty sure Stribling got the rest of the snaps after Clark blew his coverage on MSU's second TD. Dymonte Thomas was the dime back.
[After THE JUMP: run run throw at Lewis, punt or repeat]
While you are not wearing pants you can just call Matt at Homesure Lending. You'll have his number. So if you are unsure about something or need something you can just call him up. Probably don't mention the pants, because that's weird.
FORMATION NOTES: Hello dime package. Michigan spent most of the day in it. This was probably the most common setup:
30 dime slide
Michigan has three guys in a three-point stance along the line with Ojemudia flanking them as a standup end; behind are Desmond Morgan and Jabrill Peppers. Most of the time Peppers went into coverage and left the front five to win one on one matchups, which they almost universally did.
The other very common formation was one that's pretty similar but again has the "buck" lined up just off the nose tackle.
Michigan would insert Ojemudia or RJS at various places along the line.
I called formations on which Michigan was clearly going into man coverage with another player while Peppers was added to the box "nickel 3-4."
Yes, those are two actual LBs. When BYU added their fullback Bolden would come in.
This with nobody backing the line on the snap was "5-0 dime":
I think that about covers it. Oh: I didn't get a shot but that first snap I dubbed "3-1-7" because Ojemudia is over the slot and there are legit 4 people in the box. About which more later.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Michigan spent almost the whole game in a dime package featuring all three corners plus Peppers, Hill, and Wilson. Morgan played the entire game except for the final drive; the DL rotation was the usual eight guys in the usual doses. If you ask me the starting lineup now includes Matt Godin instead of Willie Henry but that's a fine distinction.
Bolden got the few bonus LB snaps. These all came when BYU added an H-back to the equation. Ross was healthy after all: he got in at the end of the game.
[After THE JUMP: hhhyarrrrr it had eleven mouths and no bottom]
"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]
FORMATION NOTES: By this point the defense is pretty well established. We got a few glimpses at what Michigan intends to do against pro-style formations; this is a 4-4 with the line shifted over (to the strength of the formation), Ross at SAM, and Hill threatening off the weakside:
Wilson, the free safety, is about 20 yards downfield.
I'm calling the thing where they drop the buck off the line like so…
…"30 nickel buck" to distinguish it from an actual 3-3-5.
This is what I mean by "triple stack" on UNLV's part; Michigan is in their standard nickel even:
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line was close to the first two games with Henry/Glasgow/Wormley backed by Charlton/Hurst/Godin except that you could replace Henry in the starting lineup with Godin based on snaps played. Henry got cut a bunch on the backside of zones and didn't see much time in the middle of the game.
WDE/buck was the usual 70/30 split between Ojemudia and RJS.
Lawrence Marshall got in on the last drive, as did Brady Pallante.
Linebacker was the same; a little more James Ross at SAM in this game; Gedeon and Ross also got a couple drives as ILBs in the nickel.
Secondary saw the same rotation as per usual (Lewis/Peppers/Wilson/Hill with Stribling or Clark in the nickel) except that Wayne Lyons was the dime back. Brandon Watson got in on the last drive as well.
Just kind of talk about how your guys are coming along a little bit through three games.
“Yeah, the guys are working hard. You know, we just keep pressing them every week in practice, keep telling them to challenge themselves every day and hopefully it translates on the weekends. They’re working hard.”
Jourdan was saying on Monday that he thinks the secondary could be the best in the country. Is that sort of an attitude that you promote?
“Well, that’s what we want them to think and, you know, certainly the work and what they produce has to match that. But we absolutely want that attitude from those guys. It helps. Certainly their position requires that kind of attitude. They’ve got to have a short memory at that position and put things to the side and go play the next play. So, it’s all about attitude, it’s all about challenging yourself every day and just trying to get better and better and win every play.”
Talk a little about the challenge they’re going to get this weekend.
“A big, big challenge. I mean, those guys [are] 6’6”, 6’5”, 6’3”. Really big receivers, good athletes, decent speed; I mean, they’ve got it all, and they roll in those guys. They’ve got four or five really good receivers that they’re rolling in every down, so they’re going to be fresh. We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us.
“Just physically, when you line Jourdan Lewis up against a 6’6” guy, as scrappy as Jourdan is, that’s a tough matchup. But that’s how we’re going to play it. They’ve got to fight.”
When a guy makes a couple big plays like Channing did last week, what does that do for his confidence and how he’s able to play?
“You know, hopefully. When you do things right you get confidence, and he’s been doing things right. Throughout camp, Channing has probably had the best camp out of all the guys. He’s just worked hard. He had one bad day, had one bad scrimmage in the summer there. Other than that he’s been playing really hard and really well. I think he realizes, and I’m hoping that all of them realize, that you don’t arrive. You always have to get better, because somebody’s chasing you.”
[After THE JUMP: Covering big receivers, the importance of eyes, and seam responsibility in Cover 3]