What prompted you to go get an offensive coordinator back in January and what about Josh Gattis and his vision for this offense appealed to you?
“It was an opportunity to get a great coach. He’s somebody that I’ve been following and saw that he was becoming an offensive coordinator, so we moved fast to make him our offensive coordinator.
“What’s been going really well is he’s doing a great job. He’s a really good coach. Staff is working really, really good together. Everybody has met—had a lot of meetings, a lot of time on task to get to where we were yesterday, which was our first day of practice.
“Kicked off the spring practice and it was really good. Both—everybody on the team physically was ready to practice. That was the best we’ve had from a physical standpoint of guys being prepared to start spring practice. Also the best we’ve been in terms of really being as far along understanding the schemes offensively, defensively, and special teams-wise. Think there’s been a lot of great retention. Not where we’re gonna be, but really, really good.”
So with Josh [Gattis] here, how is it different for you, then, if he’s running the show? I know you’ve always been very involved. How is it different for you? Is it an adjustment for you or a change?
“Yeah, we’re all working together and learning, too. His style of offense is—contributing where we can, but he’s really good. He’s really good at explaining it and showing us how to coach it, so how’s it been for me? It’s been really good. Really enjoying it. Really learning a lot.”
I know you try to learn and grow every year as a coach. After last year, what motivated you to make this kind of change? What motivated you to--
“Like I told Aaron—[crosstalk] yeah, yeah. Just, that was that. Opportunity to get somebody I really admire and think is really good.”
How much of a departure will this be from what you’ve run the last four years?
”I think the biggest difference that people will see will be the tempo. The tempo that’s more up-tempo. Less huddle. That’d be number one.”
[After THE JUMP: more on Gattis and the offense, Nua, almost every position group, injury updates, position switches, and even a piece of the depth chart]
SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). Food trucks, beer, TVs, and also those things. When not tailgating Matt is also a person who will get you a mortgage right quick from the comfort of your own home. If you need one, he's the man, man.
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.
9/22/2018 – Michigan 56, Nebraska 10 – 3-1, 1-0 Big Ten
In the aftermath of an implausible beatdown there is always a race to identify the most emblematic stat of the day. I have participated. I have scoured the box score. I have consulted with the learned elders. This one takes the cake. Prepare thyself. Ensconce. All right: Adrian Martinez had 22 passing yards with a long of 32.
Those 32 yards came when a hunted Martinez hurled a 500 ball skyward that one of his receivers was accidentally in position to come back to. Michigan was one arm punt away from a statistic that would implode the fundamental nature of football. Alas.
At least they won? And Martinez finished with negative total yards?
The strangest thing about a game like this is how the goalposts move in the middle of the first quarter. If Nebraska had been moderately feisty and the defensive tackles had been a major factor in a 3.0 YPC day from the Cornhusker ground game, we'd be talking about how they passed a major test against a couple of senior guards who Big Ten coaches thought were pretty good. Instead Michigan held Nebraska's top three backs to ten yards total.
Nebraska now proves nothing. It might prove something later, if the tough-luck Nebraska that outgained Colorado by 150 yards but conspired to lose thanks to Laviska Shenault making absurd plays re-emerges. If Michigan also continues looking like a juggernaut instead of the sad mess that took on Notre Dame, this game will be retroactively upgraded from "accidentally played another MAC team" to the turning point when the Warinner hit and the corner got turned.
For now this was the sort of game where your sack celebration is ripping out and eating your own heart, because nothing else is going to be a challenge.
Precisely calibrating exactly how much to take from an unexpected hamblasting of a Big Ten team is far more pleasant than many things you can do after a football game. But we have been here before. With the exception of last year Harbaugh's Michigan teams have paved lower-tier teams flat. This is good! This tends to fling you up very far in predictive ranking systems. Michigan is now 5th in S&P+, like they seemingly always are, and S&P+ is designed to tell you who will win football games in the future. Paving people flat is a characteristic of very good football teams that win many games and leave you with a rich satisfied feeling that we are assured is something football fans can feel after the conclusion of a season.
But because of Certain Events and Certain Circumstances Leading To Third-String Quarterbacks all that feels hollow even if you're gripping onto the random, bloody-minded universe theory with everything you've got. We've been taught that paving folks doesn't correlate with winning the games that might cause the most annoying people in the universe to shut up for at least three seconds. That's not rational, but it sure as hell is sports.
The goalposts are going to keep moving until someone, probably Devin Bush, tackles them and glues them to the floor. Michigan has one more friendly double-digit spread next week against Northwestern, and then we get to play the games that will determine your state of mind, and, perhaps most importantly, the tenor of the takes we will have to endure for eight months of barren, dumb offseason.
Have fun storming the castle! Or paving it! Please pave it.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Devin Bush. Bush's main accomplishment was getting up to nine tackles on a day where Michigan's constant rotation and Nebraska's inability to stay on the field spread defensive stats incredibly thin. Michigan's next highest tackler had four; 12 different guys had TFLs. Bush had 2.5 of his own, a sack, and got sideline to sideline to blow up Nebraska's perimeter run game. He is reaching the Mo Hurst level where he is so consistently excellent it's hard to find new talking points about him.
#2 Rashan Gary. Just a half of play from him but it was a monster half. He's got his own section below. Felt terrifying in the way we were hoping he would before the season.
#3 Karan Higdon. The holes were there for him. He took advantage. His power was welcome after some YAC struggles last week, and if he hits the open field he'll outrun a lot of angles. Also he was the only offensive player to, like, feature.
Honorable mention: Will Hart is gonna get on the board if Michigan ever punts six times in a game. DPJ had a punt return TD. The tackles didn't give up a pressure? Is that true? I think it might be. The 10 guys with TFLs not mentioned.
Khaleke Hudson is ejected on a dubious targeting call and will miss the first half against Northwestern.
Honorable mention: Injury worries for Gary, who was holding his shoulder, and Kwity Paye. Harbaugh passes on a potential program-record field goal. Four commercial breaks in the first eight minutes of gametime.
[Bolded player rules: not necessarily returning starter, but someone we've seen enough of that I'm no longer talking about their recruiting profile. Extant contributor.]
Like every other thing about the run game, this was a story in two parts. Michigan started the year trying to be the kind of team that can run inside zone 80% of the time and make that work because they're just so good at repping it that all attempts to swamp it get outsmarted.
This did not work at all, in part because first-level defenders were continually left alone. The running backs had their hand in those early failures too. When not getting hit in the backfield by DEs they were often running directly into linebackers, thus spurring a UFR complaint about "zero cut running":
Too frequently Michigan guys are running straight the whole play. When the opposition has put an extra guy in the box you need to get someone to waste themselves without occupying a blocker, and misdirection is the way to do that. There's play-level misdirection that gets filed under Rock Paper Scissors, and then there's an in-play misdirection where you threaten one gap and then show up in another. There's a reason you hear a lot about "great one-cut runners" and not great zero-cut runners. ... Evans [just] runs directly into Bentley here:
Cut. You are 210 pounds; he is 260. You have the advantage when he changes direction. Purdue has pinched their line here to get this exact thing, but the risks are clear: on either side of the Great Wad in the middle of the play are big pockets. Don't take their bait.
It was heartening that Michigan's running backs repaired this deficiency over the course of the year. A shift towards more power rushing helped, as did a general surge in competence after Juwann Bushell-Beatty was inserted. More room and a more familiar patterns helped but to your author's eye the just flat-out got a lot better. After they nuked Minnesota:
Earlier in the year I complained about "zero cut" running that left no question about where you were headed, and requested a cut. Michigan's backs have started doing this very well on power plays. The most whizbang example was on the long Higdon touchdown, which happened in part because Higdon's path convinced #8 that he needed to be farther outside:
... Higdon had less spectacular results on better and more subtle cuts. This is a much narrower gap that he commits to late; once again that safety is in the wrong gap:
These are decisive shallow cuts that allow Higdon to maintain speed and exploit thin gaps in the defense. The big missed cuts from early in the year are gone. He'll occasionally miss a crack or do something somewhat suboptimal, but the caverns power plays carve out aren't a surprise; he's benefited from the power focus as much or more than the OL.
Some of that got swamped in the general malaise—safeties made contact two yards from the LOS I don't know how often, but the rushing renaissance was real. Despite a bunch of personnel changes and the limitations imposed by the passing game, Michigan finished last year 14th in rushing S&P+. This wasn't just on the backs of Rutgers and Indiana and Minnesota, either: Higdon and Evans combined for 122 yards on 22 carries versus OSU. Give 'em some breathing room and things could be real nice.
RUNNING BACK: I CALL HIM MINI-ROCK
stop! collaborate and listen, ice is ba—where are you all going [Patrick Barron]
There wasn't much question about which running back would get top billing here after KARAN HIGDON ended up six yards short of being Michigan's first thousand-yard running back since Fitz Toussaint, but any lingering doubts were obliterated by this offseason's favorite slice of S&C porn:
Higdon went from 187 pounds on last year's roster to 202, and apparently if you're 5'10" adding 15 pounds of muscle turns you into The Rock. Since Higdon was already a pad-popping runner who brings the "run behind your pads" bit of scouting jargon to vivid, YAC-filled life, expectations have ratcheted up a notch. This was Higdon last year:
There are a number of guys in this class who were thrown in the generic three-star bin for understandable reasons. If you take a deep dive on a kid you may come back with reasons he would outperform his ranking or even believe that a recruiting service or three was wrong, but you could still see why a QB in Connecticut slated for TE or a WR everyone expects will play basketball in college doesn't get a top 100 ranking.
There's nowhere to hide with Christian Turner, though. The subject of a rollercoaster Michigan-ND battle at one of the most talented schools in Georgia—Turner split carries with a 2018 FSU commit and 2019 four star—drawing the kind of the general yawning Turner did is weird. He even went to the Opening! Yeah, Turner didn't knock anyone's face off while there and had somewhat limited opportunities to blow up thanks to his crowded HS backfield. This still seems like an easy mid-four star kind of call, but other than ESPN that was not the case. C'est la vie.
"slasher ... good, not elite speed, but he is quick, he has a good burst up the field ... runs with patience ... solid [receiver] ... flashes the ability to break tackles, but the consistency between the tackles is not there yet ... may not be one trait that blows me away, but he is solid in so many areas."
"...knowing how he prepares and works at football makes him a safe bet. He’s not a flashy kid and he’s probably not the fastest, biggest or strongest back, but he's good at everything. He’s durable, he’s smart, he knows how to run and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s just a productive running back."
“I’d say my vision would be my best factor. Seeing things, really knowing the playbook – not just knowing the offensive side of the ball, but the defense; the different schemes and stuff they do. I think just knowing the game, is really what helps me out the most. My speed, toughness… you know I’m not the biggest running back, but I’m not afraid to lay a hit, either. I’m not afraid of contact.”
That is definitely true; a few of the plays that made his highlight reel are Turner laying the wood as a tiny middle linebacker. He gets under some pads when unblocked. And in there is where Turner impressed college coaches more than the industry guys. His coach provided the scouting report that might unravel this mystery:
“His number one strength is point of contact. His yards after contact is his strength — you better buckle up because he’s so explosive from the hips to the chest. He’s going to hit you and run you high, that’s what he’s gifted at. A lot of people don’t have that. ... very physical ... very explosive, I think that’s what makes him so good, because he’s very fast in the hole, very explosive on contact. His footwork is really, really good.”
As a bonus, Turner is also "really good" at pass protection, in part because he understands the pickups and in part because he gets low to the ground and uses that explosion.
It's not five-star 2019 Michigan commit Chris Hinton, however. It's his younger brother, 2020 OT Myles Hinton, who wouldn't look out of place lining up at tackle for Michigan right now. While we'll have to wait a few years to see that, it seems close to an inevitability we will; here's Myles talking with TMI's Josh Newkirk about joining his brother in Ann Arbor:
“Yes we are,” Hinton said on playing with his brother in college. “Before he committed I still liked Michigan, they were high on my list. So it kind of reassured that I love the school. I feel like I’m really close with my brother, so if we were separated it wouldn’t be as fun in college I don’t think.”
The Hintons attended Saturday's game, which couldn't hurt matters, either. They'll be back on campus for the Rutgers game. Michigan is already off to a great start in the 2019 class; a commitment from Myles Hinton would be the perfect way to begin the 2020 haul.
High school ball is underway for a few of Michigan's commits, including four-star IN LB Cameron McGrone, who killed a guy. McGrone spearheaded a dominant defensive performance in Lawrence Central's 40-6 season-opening victory over a ranked McCutcheon squad that may now be in search for a quarterback whose ribs haven't been smashed into a fine powder.
A pair of Peach State products were also in action. Three-star RB Christian Turner needed only 11 carries to rush for 128 yards and two scores in a blowout win for Buford, while four-star OLB Otis Reese put together a performance that raised his stock in the eyes of Rivals's Chad Simmons:
What is known is that he is a heck of a football player. In game one against Forsyth (Ga.) Mary Persons, he had numerous big hits including one which led to a fumble and turnover. He was around the ball a lot, he was very aggressive, and he is going to be a Rivals100 prospect when all is said and done.
Simmons also notes that Reese has gone completely quiet about his recruitment, which is a little unnerving given his recent visit to Georgia. Michigan, as expected, is going to have to keep recruiting him until the final bell. While Georgia has home-state advantage, Michigan has a couple factors in their favor: freshman DT Aubrey Solomon is Reese's former high school teammate and Reese's older brother plays at Central Michigan.
Nike's elite invite-only camp, The Opening, took place last weekend, and pretty much the entirety of this post will be devoted to the post-camp fallout. Michigan had four commits participate: guard Emil Ekiyor, running back Christian Turner, and defensive backs Myles Sims and Gemon Green.
Michigan center commit Emil Ekiyor flashed athletically in offensive line drills and come the competition portion showed he can bang with the very best. He defeated Ohio State five-star defensive tackle commit Taron Vincent in a run blocking 1-on-1 drill and impressed overall with his strength and feet at the point of attack. The 247Sports Composite ranks Ekiyor as the nation’s No. 4 offensive guard but he moves to center as a senior this fall.
Ekiyor's ability to play center may further explain why Michigan hasn't gone after in-state four-star Tyrone Sampson; between Cesar Ruiz and Ekiyor, that position is well-stocked for the future, and both of those guys are better-suited to sliding over to guard than Sampson.
Sims showed that while he's considered a safety by many due to his length, he's got the fluidity to play corner. TMI's Gene Hankerson:
Michigan cornerback commit Myles Sims had a really good day. You can’t miss him, because the kid is freakishly long and lengthy. I watched Sims during drills, and was surprised with how fluid his hips were in and out of breaks. He transferred that over to the 1 on 1’s where for the most part he ran stride for stride with receivers and broke up several passes.
247's Keith Neibuhr added that Sims "seemed to be in the right place a lot."
Green also made life tough on opposing quarterbacks. While I can't find any clips of him posted to Twitter, he made 247's top performers list for Texas prospects:
One of the most underrated recruits in the state, Green was extremely impressive today. The Michigan commit played shallow for his team and didn’t allow anything underneath. Green finished the day with four pass breakups and also notched a big interception.
Finally, Turner showed some wiggle in the Make 'Em Miss drill:
Four-star FL QB Joe Milton's commitment (Hello post here) has been followed by the usual post-pledge scouting reports. Scout:
Milton also does a good job of transferring weight and stepping into his throws. He has packed on solid mass over the past year, and measures in at roughly 6-foot-5 when lacing up the cleats. He can continue to work on his accuracy on some of his intermediate throws, but flashes great ball placement when extending the field with the deep ball.
The Central Florida native is also comfortable when throwing on the run. Milton's fleet-footed style allows him to dissect defenses with his legs, but he also does a nice job of keeping his eyes locked down the field in hopes of utilizing his arm first.
After completing just 46% of his passes as a junior, unfortunately the stigma of being inaccurate is going to be there for Milton. Farrell agrees that it’s something that needs to be dealt with but doesn’t believe it will be a long-term issue for the big QB.
“He’s going to have to be a little bit more less reliant on his arm,” Farrell explained. “His teams throws the ball down field a lot because that’s what he’s comfortable doing. On short and intermediate passes after seeing him in camps this spring and watching him on film, he’s not as comfortable with touch. He loves slinging the ball down the field and he loves showing off that big arm.
“He got in contact with and me and said, ‘Coach, tell me about this kid, I love him,’” Hayes recalled. “He always talks about how he reminds him of Steve McNair. I thought that was pretty big. Coach Hamilton may have had the job one week and we’ve been in constant contact since he’s had the job.”
Milton's commitment gives Michigan a connection to one of the top prospects in the 2019 class. As TMI's Brice Marich notes, he's a cousin of Palm Beach Central cornerback Akeem Dent, who's ranked as the #6 overall player in the 2019 class by 247 and boasts an offer sheet to match. Incidentally, Michigan offered Dent on Friday.