Gentlemen. We're two weeks in and the true cupcakes have been stomped. What is
1) the biggest pleasant surprise so far? 2) the biggest unpleasant surprise?
First responder gets Speight. Get to it.
Adam: 1) I had Wilton Speight resigned to the passenger's seat as recently as last month's Draftageddon, in which more rounds passed _between_ the selections of Speight and O'Korn (13) than passed before O'Korn went off the board (12). The ignorance is somewhat forgivable. Speight said yesterday that he basically learned his scout team assignment in 2014 and checked out. He got reamed in B-roll footage of a "Real Sports" piece on Harbaugh's arrival. He tore a groin and barely played in spring 2015. He got into a game against Minnesota later that year, and his performance was good enough to keep the Brown Jug but not good enough to unequivocally be anointed Rudock's successor. Fast forward to last Saturday, where it all ended on that first deep post completion to Chesson. With that one in the books, we'd seen enough throws of varying distances and degrees of difficulty to confidently assess Speight's ability to read the coverage and place the ball precisely where his receivers have a chance to reel it in while the DB does not. As it turns out, said ability is quite good. After 120 minutes as Michigan's starting QB, Speight looks very little like we expected him to, and that's been nothing short of a revelation.
2) Nitpicking is nitpicking, but the left guard platoon has been underwhelming. This was supposed to be a position manned by the more consistent of the two guards; Braden's return from injury against UCF didn't bear that out. He struggled, and though he has Bredeson to spell him it's hard to expect a true freshman OL to do much more than tread water. Braden's likely still recovering from injury, but I'll be nervously gnashing my teeth if the LG revolving door hasn't stopped spinning in two weeks.
[Hit THE JUMP for what we come up with besides “phew, so Quarterback’s alright.”]
SPONSOR NOTES: We have determined that if the Iowa game goes badly user Sauce Castillois the person to blame. This because it is not our fault, and it certainly isn't our lovely sponsor Matt's fault. We are going thanks to Matt, you see, and last time we did a blog road trip it ended… unwell. But that won't happen this time. Unless Sauce Castillo screws it up again.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he 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: There wasn't anything worth screenshotting as unusual. Here is a picture of how this game went.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Speight was your QB until the last three drives when things went O'Korn-Morris-Malzone. The RB depth chart looked to be Smith-Isaac-Evans-Higdon-Davis, with Isaac and Evans getting the bulk of the work once Smith's rib issue sent him to the bench. Poggi (15 snaps) and Hill (21) split things about down the middle at FB.
No surprises at WR, and the lack of passing cut into opportunities to see guys down the depth chart. McDoom may have passed Drake Harris? Way too early to tell. Nate Johnson was about the only guy who surprisingly didn't play, FWIW.
At TE it was all Butt and Bunting early. Wheatley and Asiasi didn't get snaps until the second half, I believe. Those two and McKeon all got around 15.
OL was Newsome-Bredeson/Kugler-Cole-Kalis-Magnuson, with Kugler getting the first and third quarters while Bredeson had the second and fourth. The second team line was JBB-Bredeson-Kugler-Onwenu-Ulizio. With Kugler on both lines he actually got 59 snaps, more than anyone else on either side of the ball. FWIW, Michigan left Newsome out for one drive after the established players left w JBB at RT and Ulizio on the bench.
The question: Biggest takeaway from the Hawaii game?
Goooooo sports team!
Brian: The thing that leaps out at me is *how diverse Don Brown's defense is*. I've just about thrown my hands up on accurately describing one formation versus another. The safeties seem to line up at any depth from 15 yards to 6(!), which Jabrill Peppers did once...
...on a play where his first steps were backwards and Delano Hill's were forward. Hill is lined up at 11 yards. There were ludicrous splits, plays where both LBs sat between DL in a three-man front, plain old nickel stuff, and a wide array of gray area defenders doing all kinds of stuff. I have no idea what I'm looking at. I gather that's the idea.
Meanwhile Peppers is another monkeywrench on top of everything. I'd say that for a good third to half of his snaps he was functioning as a safety. He was a corner for another chunk, and then there was some linebackery. Michigan's nickel package is the same as its 4-3, and Peppers can do damn near anything in the back seven from play to play. I'm fascinated to see how Michigan deploys their safety trio this year, but it's 50/50 if I'll ever be able to figure anything out.
David: if he can fool you, 90% of B10 coaching has no chance, right?
Kirk Ferentz can guarantee himself nearly his full 10 year salary by winning 7 games a year each of the next five. https://t.co/taoAyyuq3y
Can you talk about the kind of depth you were building on Saturday with all the guys that got in the game?
“Well, first, to start with, many players played and played well. Tremendous for morale. Guys that worked extremely hard all along just got to contribute, so it was good for our team.”
Along those same lines, in the past few years before you arrived the ‘wait until they get experience’ thing was kind of a common theme. Seventeen guys play Saturday. What has been the difference when you look at the ability to play young guys when you look at a few years ago and those young guys weren’t really getting a lot of reps?
“I can’t comment specifically about a couple years ago. Probably as you know, we talked about it. It’s a meritocracy in who plays. By your effort, by your talent you will be known. Positions on the depth chart when you go in the game, what the roles are, are based on that.”
The team struggled a little bit, maybe the first series and half, to run the football. What changed for you guys? It just seemed like all of sudden once Wilton completed that one third-down pass things just started clicking for the offensive line and clicking for the blockers on the outside. What was the difference?
“Uh…the third down, the fourth play of the game?”
Yeah, he connected on the pass but it seemed like as soon as that happened everything started working for the running game, too.
“Yeah, that was the fourth play of the game.”
Do you have any updates on Bryan Mone and Taco Charlton and if they’re going to be available this week?
“I don’t think either one will be available this week.”
If they’re not available, how does the defensive line need to regroup depth-wise and get ready for this game?
“I think Mo Hurst will return to action. Ryan Glasgow played very well in the football game. So did Chris Wormley. There’s talented players at that position. I don’t think that Bryan Mone and Taco will be out…it’s hard to say at this point. I don’t have an update on how long they’ll be out, but I don’t anticipate them playing this weekend.”
With that, you guys had Onwenu play a little bit of offense and a little bit of defense. With a couple guys out, do you think he’ll get more on defense at this point?
[After THE JUMP: even more injury updates, and Jim Harbaugh verbally assassinates a character assassin]
this elevator goes all the way up buddy [Bryan Fuller]
I wonder if Michael Jordan has an internal insincerity meter for crowd reactions he gets. It's 50/50. Jordan is the kind of transcendent athlete who could legitimately go through life thinking that 100,000 nearly random people would burst into rapture at his mere presence. But to get to that level you have to be completely unstinting in your self-evaluations. To be Michael Jordan you cannot have anything but an infinitely precise vision of yourself in your head.
Anyone who went to North Carolina and was once pictured four feet tall next to Joe Dumars on a Sports Illustrated cover cannot have many misconceptions about the general feeling of southeast Michigan towards his person. So I wonder if Michael Jordan got thrown up on the big screen at Michigan Stadium and heard what the reaction was and thought to himself "I don't know what these people are one thousand percent rabid about, but it ain't me."
Because that happened. Michigan put Michael Jordan on the big board and people went nuts and if Michael Jeffery Jordan was any part of that you'd have to get down to the third derivative, where damn near everything is in the +c. Happy to have you and all that, but if you're not down with being an emblem for a bunch of other stuff we cannot help you. Emblem you are.
Same thing with all the Jumpman stuff a few weeks ago. Part of that may be genuine excitement that a different company is making tubes with holes for your arms, but most of it is because it's a place to put your enthusiasm. It is a tangible thing you can do
I mean, the students showed up on time.
Let us consider the situation. It is noon. Michigan is playing Hawaii, a 42-point underdog. The sun is unfettered in the sky, at maximum hangover-beatdown wattage. It is Welcome Week. And despite being the same age as Will Smith's kids, the students are in their section at kickoff.
Anywhere you look you'll find evidence that Michigan fans are amped for this season, including this here blog that predicted 12-0 like an idiot and sold out of its season preview magazine. I don't think anything can top assembling nearly 30,000 students in 2016. As a reminder, this is what MSU's stadium looked like at halftime of a Big Ten game last year:
Harbaugh's got a shot at canonization now, after The Miracle Of The Full Student Section At Noon During Welcome Week 2016.
The team did their best to keep the party going. Even Wilton Speight's interception gave the defense another three plays on which to establish that Hawaii was going nowhere, and tack on stats when Michigan got the ball back. Like when you're running punts back to the one in NCAA football so you can make your absurd numbers even more absurd.
Michigan did not punt, scored seven touchdowns on offense, and would have won this game by two scores if none of those counted. It took Hawaii 25 minutes to get a first down and about that long to scrape above zero yards of offense. Jabrill Peppers jumped over a guy for fun. The only time anyone booed was when Hawaii broke the shutout with an audacious 55-yard field goal.
There wasn't anything they could do against Hawaii that would change opinions positively; they held serve.
This allowed the crowd to continue losing their mind for flyovers and Charles Woodson and Lamarr Woodley and Jim Hackett, who got the biggest cheer of anyone they introduced because he did one thing very well. Never in the history of interim athletic directors has one been greeted so rapturously.
And even that was kind of cheering at something because it's there, not for something. The yelling in Michigan Stadium was about things yet to happen. It's on the way.
#1 Mike McCray led the way with 3.5 TFLs, two of them sacks, and a total of nine tackles. His impact is even a little understated by those numbers, as he also picked up a holding call on a play that still ended with the QB buried under a pile.
#2(tie) Delano Hill and Jabrill Peppers. Hill had a pick six, a nice PBU on a deep ball, and a TFL on which he displayed his trademark open-field tackling. Peppers had two TFLs, a sack, and an absurd punt return ending in a hurdle of a dude damn near standing up. I also think he was shorted a TFL on the first play of the game, as that went (very slightly) backward.
#3(tie) Chris Evans and Mason Cole. Evans cracked 100 yards on just 8 carries. Cole helped spring a big chunk of those with a lovely reach block and looked like a very good center indeed.
Honorable mention: Eddie McDooom; Ben Gedeon; Ryan Glasgow; all persons living and dead.
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii) 1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Jabrill Peppers (T2, Hawaii). 0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Honorable mention: Evans bursts down the sideline; Evans bursts up the middle; various blitzes on which the only response was HALP; pick six; other pick six; Carl Grapentine pronouncing "McDoom"; Grant Perry's sinuous corner route; Michigan introducing Jim Hackett to thunderous approval as someone else plots a corporate Facebook page response.
Another Bryan Mone injury of some severity is the worst both for him and Michigan's DT depth.
Honorable mention: Wilton Speight momentarily panics everyone with a pick on his first snap; that one drive when Stribling was getting the business a bit; jerko Hawaii kicker ruins the shutout with a 55-yard FG.
WIlton, obviously things didn’t start off the way they were supposed to with the interception. Was there anything in particular that Harbaugh said that made you snap into it or was it just instincts?
“Yeah, obviously wasn’t the start I was imagining, but I was kind of rolling to our sideline anyway and my momentum just kind of carried me right into Coach and he just grabbed me and hugged me and was kind of laughing and was like, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll get it next drive. Don’t sweat about that.’ And I was able to do that.”
How much did it help you to have the balance that you did in terms of a running game and some receivers and tight ends?
“Yeah, so anytime the quarterback has a run threat it helps them a lot, it helps the passing game a lot. To have that balance and then have guys like Jehu and Amara and Jake Butt, Moe Ways, Drake Harris--the list could go on and on, just weapons after weapons--makes my job a lot easier.”
Mike, we heard so much about Don Brown’s defense and blitzing. You personally had a great game and the defense overall did so well, especially in the first half. What was it like to get out there in a new scheme and show what you guys could do on the greatest stage?
“It felt really good. We talked about it all week just going out there and showing everybody what we’re about. We had a great defense last year and we want to be better than we were last year. I thought we made a good statement coming out.”
Wilton, can you take us through the process of you getting acclimated? You’re comfortable in the system but the gameday environment and taking it step by step and putting it together, what was that like?
“I knew the gameplan front and back, and once I saw my first completion to Jehu on that slant I felt completely settled in and kind of like a weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was able to get comfortable and just fire some shots in the pocket.”
Was there a particular player that you felt like kind of boosted you?
“They were all really helpful. Jake Butt was in my ear a lot; De’Veon last night and this morning. But yeah, everyone was real cool.”
Coach said ‘We’ll get them back and everything will be okay’ and you started at the two-yard line. Talk about the momentum that you guys got on that drive and how you finished it off.
“Starting that deep, it’s just an opportunity to march down the whole field and that was what we were able to do. I was able to complete a few passes, the offensive line was able to hold all their blocks really well, and the running game was outstanding. To be able to march down the field 98 yards and fire a shot in to Grant [Perry] in the corner of the end zone was a good feeling.”
Jourdan Lewis, Ben Braden, and Mo Hurst were Harbaugh’s decision to hold out. Lewis and Hurst should be back next week. De’Veon Smith got bruised and should also be back next week.
Taco Charlton has an ankle injury and Bryan Mone needed an MRI Saturday night.
When all is said and done, 17-20 freshmen should see the field this year.
Harbaugh wasn’t worried about the first-play interception because his measure of a QB is how they respond on the following drive.
Harbaugh said they’re just scratching the surface of what Chris Evans can do. Expect to see him catching the ball out of the backfield and lining up as a receiver soon.
There’s still a competition for the backup QB spot (and probably every spot, really) because of course there is.
Harbaugh effusively praised the defense (he said they didn’t make a stance or alignment mistake through three quarters) and the secondary in particular.
[Getting the mics passed out is taking a minute]
“I can just give you my first answer. The first thing that strikes me is—it hit me about Thursday [or] Friday [that] our coaches had worked this group of players as hard as you possibly can, and our players worked themselves as hard as they possibly could, and it just hit me Thursday [or] Friday that it’s time to just let them go show what they can do. I thought we’d be good, and it was. I thought our team played really well.”
Wilton talked about how your reassurance after that first play—what it meant to him. You’ve been through that a lot of times, that kind of thing. Talk about your approach there.
“Well, really my approach was I wanted to see what he did on the next series. It’s very difficult for a quarterback to throw an interception on a series and then come back and lead a touchdown drive the following series. It’s something I’ve always been fascinated in watching quarterbacks, and the really good ones can do that. They don’t think about, ‘I’m not gonna make another bad mistake.’ I mean, that’s what some do, but good ones don’t. I was just excited for that opportunity, to see what he was going to do on the next drive.
“And then to see him start the next drive on the two-yard line. I mean, that’s as much adversity as you can have for a quarterback starting a series, starting a drive: having thrown an interception on the previous drive—and the very first throw of the game—and then to find yourself on the two-yard line. But he responded in tremendous fashion to lead a touchdown drive, make big third-down conversion throws, to make as good a corner throw to Grant Perry as can be made. It can’t be thrown any better. The slant he threw coming off the goal line cannot be thrown any better.
“Had total command and I think it speaks volumes and bodes really well for our team and bodes really well for his career as a quarterback to have done that, to have come back off an interception and then very next drive go on a 98-yard touchdown drive. Now he knows he can do it, and now we’ll expect him to do it. So, it was good for our team. Good for his career.”
Mike McCray’s overcome a lot and we saw him all over the field today. Talk about what that meant and how good he was out there today.
“I feel like our inside backers are very athletic and can run and get to the sideline and still play very physical inside the box, take on blockers, take on guards, take on backs. I think it’s a step up in terms of athleticism when you look at Mike McCray and Ben Gedeon and Devin Bush.
“There’s a lot of guys, a lot of guys that have personally overcome a lot that were out there and did well today. Michael Hirsch is another. Several. Several guys.”
[After THE JUMP: Imagine how excited Harbaugh was when Michael Jordan coincidently delivered one of his favorite messages to the team]
Chris Evans broke the hundred-yard mark in his debut. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]
It's hard to exceed expectations when facing a 41-point underdog.
Michigan exceeded expectations.
The defense was as salty as advertised, holding Hawaii without a first down until under five minutes remained in the first half; it took until the beginning of that drive for the Rainbow Warriors to get positive yardage. Even with the absence of Jourdan Lewis and Maurice Hurst, who sat out the game due to minor injuries, losing Taco Charlton to an apparent ankle injury early, and rotating in seemingly every warm body on the bench, the defense held Hawaii to 232 total yards and a 55-yard field goal that barely cleared the crossbar. That same Hawaii offense put up 482 yards on Cal last week. Cal's defense is bad, yes. Michigan's did nothing to dispel the notion they'll be elite today.
The offense began the game in ominous fashion when Wilton Speight tossed a pick on his first play as the starting quarterback. To say he bounced back is an understatement; he finished 10-for-13 for 145 yards and three touchdowns to three different receivers (Grant Perry, Jake Butt, and Amara Darboh).
"[Jim Harbaugh] just grabbed me, hugged me, and was kinda laughing," Speight said about the aftermath of his ill-fated opening throw. "[He] was like, 'don't worry, we'll get it next drive, don't even sweat about that,' and I was able to do that."
"He responded in tremendous fashion," said Harbaugh, who added the touchdown throw to Perry on the next drive "could not have been thrown any better."
Four quarterbacks played. Eleven players recorded rush attempts. Eleven caught at least one pass.
Of all of them, a true freshman stood out above the rest. Running back Chris Evans rushed for 112 yards and two scores, including a 43-yard burst right up the gut, on only eight carries. He's very much a running back, and he looks at the very least to have locked up the #3 spot on the depth chart behind DeVeon Smith and Ty Isaac.
"I knew Chris Evans is special. What you saw today is what we've been seeing all month," said Harbaugh. "He's a special player and I expect big things going forward."
Delano Hill had one of M's two pick-sixes. [Fuller]
Delano Hill and Channing Stribling weren't content to let the offense do all the scoring. Both recorded pick-sixes, Hill's on a 27-yard return, Stribling's covering 51 yards mere moments after his would-be interception was negated by a late hit on the quarterback. Ball don't lie.
Stribling's score gave Michigan a 49-0 lead with 10:51 left in the third quarter. The rest of the game was essentially an exhibition for the recruiting class of 2016. Receiver Eddie McDoom elicited a few wonderful "McDOOOOOOM" chants from the crowd, taking two end-arounds for 34 yards and gaining another first down with a nifty eight-yard catch over the middle. Michigan's run offense perked up when Ben Bredeson entered the game at left guard. Michael Onwenu played on both the offensive and defensive line; he made his biggest mark at guard, looking every bit as strong as you'd expect from a human neutron star. The list of freshmen to see the field is too long for this recap.
Harbaugh said that the injury that held Lewis out today is "healed," and it was his decision to hold Lewis out today; same goes for Hurst and guard Ben Braden, who was replaced in the starting lineup by Patrick Kugler. All three would've played if the opponent had warranted it. DeVeon Smith's rib injury is apparently minor. We'll have to wait and see on Charlton and Bryan Mone; Harbaugh said Mone will undergo an MRI tonight, though he didn't specify where.
If Michigan managed to escape without significant injury—we'll have to wait and see—then it's hard to imagine the opener going much better. The offense averaged 8.7 yards per play with great balance (10.3 yards per pass, 7.8 per rush), hardly slowing down after the starters took a seat. The defense almost literally didn't cede anything until backups were a major part of the rotation, and they scored two more touchdowns than Hawaii.
John Baxter fled back to California after one Michigan winter and will get what's coming to him in the next ice age. Baxter is a uniquely good special teams coach and there wasn't an obvious replacement available; also Rashan Gary existed. So Michigan promoted Chris Partridge to a full-fledged assistant spot and split special teams duties between him and Jay Harbaugh.
There's probably going to be a dropoff in effort applied. Last year Michigan took timeout in a squib situation so they could insert Dymonte Thomas; they lined him up at the spot a squib should go and lo, he returned it to midfield. If that creativity persists it's evidence Harbaugh is pushing every available angle. I don't expect it to. John Baxter appeared to be a rare commodity: a difference-making special teams coach.
Even so, this should be a strength.
The dread was palpable last year when scholarship freshman Andrew David wasn't even in the conversation. A couple of walk-ons vied for the job and were by all accounts somewhere between vexing and terrible. So of course when KENNY ALLEN locked the spot down he hit 18/22, with one miss a bad snap and a second due in large part to a downright supernatural gust of wind that pushed a probable make wide. Allen was also 46/46 on PATs.
The catch, such as it is, is that Allen rarely attempted a field goal from outside 40 yards. Just six of his attempts were in the zone of mild difficulty; he went 3/6. He did hit a 47 yarder and he's a booming punter so the leg strength is likely there.
Even if Allen is unproven at longer distances, I will take a #collegekicker who is near-automatic from 40 and in every day of the week and twice on Saturday. Some additional range is the only improvement required.
If that range is not forthcoming, QUINN NORDIN [recruiting profile] also lurks. Harbaugh is uncomfortable with having Allen take every last kicking duty so it's possible Nordin gets some longer kicks. If Michigan does decide to spread the load out, kickoffs are a more likely deployment for Nordin.
KENNY ALLEN, yes that Kenny Allen, figures to win this job too. Allen in fact came to Michigan a punter, and a booming one at that. He's had two punts in games, both of which went 50+ yards, and since Brady Hoke's reaction to "you have to have an open practice" was to turn it into a special teams exhibition your author has seen Allen punt a ton. He's really good. He could challenge Will Hagerup and Monte Robbins for the all-time gross average, which currently sits at 45 yards even.
One department that figures to have a decline is pooch punting. Blake O'Neil's feathery touch on punts inside the ten was remarkable and unlikely to be repeated by any non-Aussie. When I caught Michgian's open practice at Ford Field, Andrew David was tasked with that nose-down pooch punting stuff that's all the rage. David's left the team since; that might signify Allen's not great at pinning the opposition deep.