SPONSOR NOTES: oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god oh god
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt 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: Ace trips tight bunch was the most relevant formation of the day.
Michigan invariably used two tight ends in the bunch.
Indiana's response to this was to have only six guys in the box with and OLB flared way out to the field. This is one of Michigan's favorite crack sweep formations; Michigan ran one crack sweep that got buried for a loss of five yards and repeatedly gashed IU up the middle.
Michigan also went with a lot of big formations; Indiana usually lined up with an even front, a SAM linebacker, and increasingly aggressive safeties. By the third quarter it was MSU out there:
This run performance was against a statistically good outfit in difficult conditions.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL per usual. O'Korn the QB save one Pepcat snap; Peppers got two other plays on offense. Butt (57 snaps) and Darboh(54) got the most run amongst the skill position players, with Chesson (43) running third.
RB snaps were about half Smith, with Evans in second place; Higdon and Isaac got slightly less than ten each. Wheatley(30 snaps) was suddenly preferred over Asiasi(8) as the second TE. Bunting(11) actually came in third. Poggi got 28 FB snaps to Hill's 18; Hill did have another very bad pass pickup that might explain that.
Crawford, Perry, McDoom, Bushell-Beatty, and Harris all got a few snaps.
[After THE JUMP: De'Veon Smith and a buncha nothin'.]
11/19/2016 – Michigan 20, Indiana 10 – 10-1, 7-1 Big Ten
When Midwestern Football Weather looms, there is only one priority for the experienced fan: please, not sleet. The heavens can aim at my head with golf-ball-sized hail as long as the precipitation is of the form that can be dodged or shaken off. The icy needle stuff that penetrates anything short of a spaceship hull is decidedly not preferred.
That's what we got in 2008, figuratively and literally. The infamous Fandom Endurance III game against Northwestern that sent Michigan to 3-7, guaranteeing no bowl bid for the first time in 40-some years, was played in a driving sleet that is bar-none the worst weather I've ever experienced at a game. I imagine the only competition available is that Purdue game from the 90s that ended 5-0; I was not present.
At halftime of 2008 Northwestern the sleet sent me to the concourse in the hope the pretzel machines could restore some feeling to my hands. They could not. And yet:
This is how weird it's been of late: as I huddled near a pretzel contraption at halftime of a game between 3-7 Michigan and Northwestern, soaked, frozen, pondering the grim futility of all things, I discovered that I was sort of enjoying this. Yeah, sure, you had to peel back layer upon layer of misery to get to the morbidly sunny core. But it was there.
That column is staggeringly old now, especially for Michigan fans who aged in dog years during the RichRod era and in you-chose-the-wrong-grail years during the Hoke/Brandon double-barrel fiasco. By the stuttering end of Hoke's tenure I was referencing that column only to repudiate it, my goodwill stripped to the bone and pecked at by Brandon in case there was any seat-cushion related morsel he could take from me and give to himself.
I don't know what's going to happen Saturday. John O'Korn didn't look like a quarterback who could win against OHIO STATE, but Ohio State didn't look like the all-caps version of themselves in a one-point win over Michigan State, or a four-point win over Northwestern, or a loss to Penn State. I don't know if John O'Korn is even going to play.
Having an Ohio State game hanging by a thread because of a quarterback problem is frustratingly familiar turf. Denard Robinson and Chad Henne literally could not throw their senior years; Devin Gardner played most of an OSU game on a broken foot; Drew Henson didn't even bother to play his senior season. It is brutal to have this defense and not know if they're going to have a chance because of yet another backup quarterback throwing a spanner in well-laid plans.
I spent large portions of that game playing Ohio State in my head. I've been doing this since the end of the Wisconsin game, to be honest. I didn't like the results much, but I suppose neither did the sliver of the OSU fanbase capable of complex thought after the Buckeyes got outgained by 3-8 MSU.
I think about ten years ago, and how seismic that felt. It felt like the world would rise or fall based on the result of one goddamn game, and how that was right. And Saturday, and ugh, and can we get this over with.
Then the heavens opened up.
What people with no experience of winter fail to understand is its capacity for sheer beauty. Saturday's transient blizzard turned a football game into a kaleidoscope of lacy geometries. The individual flakes traced whorls across the sky, each brilliantly lit. As they began to stick the stadium brightened, and brightened, until it was glowing. Light bounced from white to white until it seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.
I forgot about Speight's shoulder, and the looming nausea machine this weekend, and Twitter, and even the fucking red hat TV timeout guy. What looked dim from the outside was brilliant as mid-day on the interior. It is something I will not forget.
110,000 people felt that same lift. Maybe they weren't thinking quite as far back in the sleety past as I was, but they knew the difference between then, and now. Someone started chanting "BEAT OHIO," and thousands more took it up, as Michigan marched out a victory lit by a sun of a their own devising.
#1 De'Veon Smith had more than half of Michigan's yards and more or less produced all their points. On one particular short yardage run he ran directly over safety Tony Fields, causing him to eject an object that was either his mouthpiece, tooth, or soul. Fields kept coming, and Smith kept turning him into mulch.
#2 Taco Charlton collected 2.5 TFLs and created several more by driving his man deep into the backfield. He has been virtually unstoppable as a pass rusher; this was his best outing against the run. And now his ankle's 100%. Look out, world.
#3 Jourdan Lewis had three pass breakups and only gave up one of the two completions he ceded because it was in a blizzard and he was giving up ten yards on purpose. He had a couple of important PBUs on third down slants that booted Indiana off the field.
Honorable mention: Channing Stribling gave up one completion for 20 yards or so but had his share of PBUs and solid coverage; Ryan Glasgow was an interior terror; the offensive line in general blew up what had been a very good rush defense. Dymonte Thomas had an impressive thunk to prevent a drag route from converting a third down and had one of those PBUs where I have to check to make sure that he's not Lewis.
10:Wilton Speight (#1 UCF, #1 Illinois, #3 MSU, #1 Maryland) 9: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers, #2 MSU) 7: Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #3 Maryland, #2 Iowa, #2 Indiana). 5:Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #1 Iowa). 4: Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW, #2 Maryland, #3 Indiana). 3.5: De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU, #1 Indiana). 3:Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers), Amara Darboh(#1 MSU), 2.5:Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU, #2 Illinois). 2:Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW) 1:Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers), Ben Braden (#3 Illinois), Channing Stribling (#3 Iowa). 0.5:Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
De'Veon Smith stakes Michigan to a lead that felt much larger than three points.
Also, shirtless men.
Honorable mention: O'Korn scrambles for 30 yards; Smith extends the lead to 10.
Indiana goes on a Legitimate Drive in the middle of the second quarter and takes the lead at a point where you're wondering if Michigan can actually score a touchdown of their own.
Honorable mention: Various O'Korn things; the back-to-back-to-back ludicrous catches to set up an Indiana FG.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again. UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy. Colorado: Speight blindsided. PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury. UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured. Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man. Illinois: They scored a what now? On Michigan? A touchdown? Michigan State: a terrifying first drive momentarily makes you think you're in the mirror universe. Maryland: Edge defense is a confirmed issue. Iowa: Kalis hands Iowa a safety. Indiana: A legitimate drive.
Asked whether he will practice next week, Harbaugh said, “We’ll see.”
Can you talk about what De’Veon Smith and your offensive line gave you when you really needed it there in the third quarter?
“Yeah, I mean, grinding out first downs, grinding meat. De’Veon, he played with great motivation. And some great play from the offensive line. It felt like old fashioned, slobber-knocker football.
“Tim Drevno made some great calls. The touchdown, the long touchdown by De’Veon was a heck of a call. We’d been running to the strongside. Come back, pull, have the pullers to the weakside, it was just enough. Just enough space, and De’Veon, breaking tackles. The yard runs, the yards after contact, pushing for the first down was critical. I think it’s the most yards of his career. Heck of an effort by De’Veon.”
No disrespect to Indiana, but is it possible your guys were thinking ahead a little to next week. How was the focus, do you think?
[laughs] “I’ll tell you what, to win this game, it feels like one of the best wins I’ve ever been involved with because it was a playoff game, and it was beating a tough Indiana team. We have a lot of respect for them. They’re a heck of a football team. And the elements, too. That was…you know, feel good about our football team.”
Can you reflect on the run that O’Korn h.ad to set up De’Veon’s first touchdown, and how would you assess his play overall?
“Yeah, that was huge. We were struggling making third-down conversions and there was not just one but two defenders pressuring John, and [he] stepped out of it with good ball security. Got the first down and was being threatened there at the sticks and didn’t dive, didn’t slide. Kick through, kicked through an arm tackle and kept right on running, so that was a big play. That was a signature play for a quarterback in a big game, so I feel really good. Amara [Darboh] was also outstanding to extend our last drive. He did a lot of good things.”
[After THE JUMP: special teams, smashing the narrative, and waxing philosophical about Michigan Stadium]
De'Veon Smith's diving touchdown put Michigan up for good. [Eric Upchurch]
For 40 minutes, Senior Day at Michigan Stadium couldn't have gone much worse. The offense had nothing going with John O'Korn, who looked hesitant and flustered in Wilton Speight's stead. Indiana led 10-6 and looked poised to upset Michigan for the first time since 1987.
O'Korn had thrown for all of 46 yards when he dropped back on third-and-eight from the Michigan 36 with five minutes left in the third quarter. Indiana got instant pressure and O'Korn broke the pocket, jetting down the sideline for 30 yards, Michigan's longest play from scrimmage to that point.
"The opportunity presented itself. I thought I was going to score," O'Korn said, cracking a smile. "Then I got tackled from behind."
De'Veon Smith would not be denied in such fashion. He broke through the line, fended off a tackler, and scraped the ball along the top of the pylon for a spectacular 34-yard diving touchdown.
Following a short Indiana punt against the wind two drives later, Smith burst untouched into the secondary, and tiptoed down the sideline past a dominating block from Kekoa Crawford for a 39-yard score.
"Grinding out first downs. Grinding meat. De'Veon," said Jim Harbaugh, succinctly describing Smith. "It felt like old-fashioned, slobber-knocker football."
Smith accounted for over half of Michigan's total yardage with a career-high 158 yards on 23 carries. As Michigan Stadium turned into a Winter Wonderland in the fourth quarter, his punishing runs salted the game away on a 15-play, 51-yard drive that took nearly nine minutes off the clock and left Indiana with no shot at a comeback.
Michigan Stadium as snow globe. [Bryan Fuller]
While Michigan's offense scuffled early, the defense and special teams kept the Wolverines close enough for the eventual comeback. The defensive front, led by seniors Taco Charlton and Ryan Glasgow, ran rampant in the Hoosier backfield; those two accounted for 5.5 of Michigan's 12 tackles for loss. Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray both had excellent games, and the secondary shut down the passing game, holding the Hoosiers to 6.4 yards per attempt.
While Jabrill Peppers couldn't get much going in his few snaps on offense, he made his presence felt in the other two phases. He repeatedly gave Michigan great field position by fielding IU's line-drive punts, and a pad-popping stop on Richard Lagow in the backfield for one of his two TFLs helped hold the Hoosiers to a field goal on what would be their only scoring drive of the second half.
Special teams played a big part in this victory beyond Peppers's returns. Kenny Allen used the elements to his advantage, pinning Indiana inside their 20-yard line on four of his six punts, and he calmly connected on both of his field-goal attempts. When Peppers wasn't fielding punts, Michigan was blocking them; Michael Jocz and Khaleke Hudson got their hands on a punt apiece to help swing the momentum in Michigan's favor.
That proved enough for Michigan to avoid an upset. A much larger test looms next week in Columbus, of course, with the stakes about as high as they could be. It's yet to be seen if Michigan will have their starting quarterback on the field for the program's most important game since 2006.
"We'll see," Harbaugh said regarding Speight's status this week. "He's day-to-day."
[Wheatley sees Ty Isaac on the opposite side of the desk in the lobby/Towsley Museum]
“I’m about to talk about you. You know that, right? Wanna listen to it? Wanna come listen to what I’m about to say about you?”
[Isaac laughs and walks away]
With Chris Evans, he seemed to have the most productive day at Iowa. What were the things that stood out about him that maybe he was doing different than other guys?
“You said it. It was production. Certain games and certain backs—it was a penetrating front and Chris was able to hit some creases and go for it and be productive, so that was pretty much it. With guys we go to who has the hot hand and who’s productive and that was it. Chris was hitting creases.”
Were you guys trying to get him more as the game went on? I think he ended up with eight carries. De’Veon seemed to get carries down the stretch.
“Like I said, at that point whatever play is called and whoever’s doing well at that point in time, that’s who’ll go in.”
With so many guys that can go for you, what’s the room been like from a keeping it light but also keep--
“Chaos, man. They hate each other. [laughs] You see the bags under my eyes? Gray…I look like Barack right now.
“Nah, the room is great. The room, the tone has been set in camp. They understand the task, and the task is to win the Big Ten and then hopefully from that point on, as you know, the little gold trophy. So, the mantra for this university has been ever since the big man was here, ‘the team, the team, the team.’ So, it doesn’t change. You kind of put yourself to the side and put the team in front. The room is great. Guys are absolutely a treasure. I mean, a treat to coach and a treasure for me to have, so the room’s been great.”
[After THE JUMP: how to gain Wheatley’s trust, the secret to the Hammering Panda’s success, not noticing QBs in practice, and a quick injury update]
Whether passing or running, Wilton Speight dominated the air. [Bryan Fuller]
Dominance is the new normal, and this team knows it.
"There's no feeling like the feeling we have right now, and I'm not going to take that for granted," said De'Veon Smith, who rushed for 114 yards and three scores on only 19 carries.
"The yards he got after contact were real eye-opening. He's real tough to get down," Jim Harbaugh said, in perhaps the understatement of the season thus far.
Even with that production, Smith accounted for a mere fraction of Michigan's total output. That total: 660 yards on an even ten per play and a few more entries in the program record book. Wilton Speight broke a school record with 292 passing yards in the first half; he'd surpass his career high less than five minute into the third quarter. Speight finished with 362 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added a ten-yard scramble capped with a leap into the end zone.
"Statistically and just the eyeball, that's the best half of football I've ever seen a Michigan quarterback play," said Harbaugh. "Moving and throwing and accuracy and just extending plays, all of the above. I don't know how you play better."
"There was one throw that wasn't a great throw. Other than that it was a perfect game."
"Wilton had an unbelievable game today," said Jake Butt. "He keeps coming through for us when we need him most."
Butt made some history himself. On a five-catch, 76-yard day, he surpassed Jim Mandich as Michigan's all-time receiving leader among tight ends. Butt said it was "hard to take in" that he broke Mandich's record.
"You talk about [Ron] Kramer and Mandich, [Eric] Kattus, some tremendous tight ends have come through here. I know I'm leaving some out," said Harbaugh. "Most catches, most yards for a Michigan tight end is a great accomplishment."
Jehu Chesson, meanwhile, had a bounce-back game, hauling in five catches for 112 yards and one of the easier touchdowns he'll ever have when Maryland let him slip behind the defense. That was a bit of a theme; Michigan's first score came when Amara Darboh was all alone on a post route, and when the backups took over, Kekoa Crawford found himself similarly forsaken and caught his first career touchdown for the final score of the day.
Harbaugh was "bewildered" by the call marking Chris Evans short of the end zone. That's one word for it. [Eric Upchurch]
For the offense, there was little to complain about, save a couple calls that didn't go Michigan's way. Drake Harris had a long catch negated by a ticky-tack offensive pass interference call, and Chris Evans got marked just short of the goal line after a spectacular juggling catch and weaving run through the Terrapin defense.
"It offends my football sensibility in all ways that he didn't get a touchdown," said Harbaugh, who threw his hat several yards in the air after the call. "I think that would offend the football gods, as well."
Michigan mostly didn't need offensive contributions from Jabrill Peppers, but they got an early highlight when Peppers took a pitch, then threw it back to Speight, who launched a 40-yard bomb to Chesson. Peppers had a couple carries for 19 yards and added another TFL to ever-rising tally on defense. Asked after the game if he was trying to bolster Peppers's Heisman candidacy with "flashy" plays on offense, Harbaugh said he's simply utilizing Peppers as he should be utilized.
"It's just happening organically. It happens au naturale. He just does so much," said Harbaugh. "It doesn't have to be a forced thing. Au naturale." With a chuckle, Harbaugh added that his quarterback should perhaps be under consideration for the Heisman, too.
Whether on offense or defense, Peppers's contributions are "au naturale." [Fuller]
Despite holding Maryland to 367 yards, there were some worrisome moments for the defense. The Terps had a clear gameplan to test Michigan on the edge with outside runs and tunnel screens, and those plays found success—Mike McCray and Channing Stribling, in particular, had tough games holding trying to hold those plays down. Maryland nearly had a touchdown on a tunnel to DJ Moore at the very end of the first half, but Dymonte Thomas kept the play in front of him long enough for McCray to chase him down from behind; the clock expired with the Terps on Michigan's one-yard line.
Those deficiencies will get plenty of attention over the weeks to come, and Ohio State's coaching staff surely took note. That shouldn't totally overshadow an otherwise dominant outing from the defense, though. Maryland averaged just 2.7 yards per carry; the non-screen passing game was non-existent; the Wolverines had three sacks and ten additional TFLs. As in seemingly every other contest this year, Michigan knocked the starting quarterback out of the game, and Caleb Rowe was a clear downgrade from Perry Hills—he threw two interceptions to Delano Hill that Hill deemed "gifts" after the game.
A road night game at Iowa awaits. While that looked like a huge test entering the season, it now appears to be another golden opportunity for Michigan to make a statement to not only the conference, but the entire country. They're two more dominant outings away from having everything to play for in The Game.
Jeremy Clark is out for the season. They’ll attempt to get him a sixth year. Watson, Long, and Hill will get most of his playing time.
Jabrill Peppers is really good at football.
Mone might play this week. Have to wait and see if he can practice today.
Having multiple backs that deserve playing time is a good thing if, like Harbaugh, you subscribe to the more-is-more philosophy of life.
Harbaugh said Newsome was the best O-lineman against Penn State. He also liked the offensive line’s pursuit in this game as backs got downfield.
Harbaugh hasn’t contacted Les Miles or Cam Cameron about analyst positions or Les being an honorary captain, but he said he looks forward to talking to them soon.
Jabrill has the most helmet stickers. They might release a sticker chart every week since no depth chart has been published this season. (Harbaugh thinks depth charts are irrelevant in an age where tape is readily available, as it can be teased out from watching film, which, like, I get that.)
Your thoughts on Wisconsin, what they’ve done so far, and the challenge they present?
“Big team. I’m wondering if the field’s gonna be wide enough. They play extremely hard. Run effort--I had the pleasure of coaching Chris Borland a few years back, and it’s a team of Chris Borlands. High, high energy, tough, guys that can run, and a big, physical, team. Very impressed.”
Looking at Hornibrook, that was his first start against a very good team defensively. You guys [are] strong defensively. What do you think of that dynamic between the two defenses and two young quarterbacks as well?
“Yeah, that’s very, very interesting from all those perspectives. Alex had a heck of a good ballgame. Really acquitted himself well. Made a name for himself. Very impressed with how he played, the accuracy of his throws, the poise with which he played; it was impressive. Wilton has also been impressive in that regard as well. He’s played with great preparation and confidence and poise. It’s unusual to be that new to playing, really, in big games.
“I think back, you know, when I was the same age as they were, the same kind of experience of playing in your first couple ball games. Both of those guys are doing better in my mind than I did and some other guys did when we were young. Playing with more poise and awareness and preparation and confidence, all those things. Both those guys have been impressive in that regard.”
[After THE JUMP: I mean, sometimes I didn’t get [it out]. It’s, ‘Jabr—’ and he’s, ‘I’m here, Coach! Right here!’ It’s exciting. He’s good at football.”]
Kyle [Kalis] last night was saying people shouldn’t panic about the run game after Saturday.
“No! You know, I was truly flattered, to tell you the truth. When you load the box like that and you send that many pressures it means you’ve done something. You’re doing something that’s making people take notice. Most defensive coordinators, hell or high water, they will not let you beat them running the ball. It’s a demoralizing feeling to be beat up front in the run game, so most people say, ‘If you’re going to beat us, beat us in the pass game.’
“Like I told my backs, I said, ‘Look, don’t look at the numbers on the board. Look at what they did to take this away, and take that in pride and [to] heart. The offensive line is blocking like madmen up front for us and we’re taking holes and making them into big gains. Take that to heart. Feel good about that.’ Hey, when a team comes in saying ‘we want to stop the run,’ that means you’re doing something. So the run game, not worried about it.”
You spread the carries around; no one had more than 10. Was that just to see if anyone had a different take on it and could do something, or was that--
“No, that was just something Coach Harbaugh came up with and just wanted to keep the guys rolling, keep them fresh. No more than that.”
Were there things that you saw that they did that maybe we couldn’t notice in terms of what they did? I guess De’Veon breaking the tackles was significant, but--
“Each guy kind of—Chris [Evans] is quick. He gets in there, made a couple of moves. Been able to use his ability in terms of quickness to make some guys miss [and] create some separation. Ty [Isaac] is a guy that can lean on some people and push the pile. But anything or one thing in particular that separated them? Not really. It was just a game where we just needed to get the tough yards. There was going to be some creases in there where if it was three it was going to be a tough three. The old three yards and a cloud of dust, that’s basically what it was. Or a cloud of rubber, rather, as a matter of fact. That’s what it was.”
What do you see from the rest of the room when you put the tape on and De’Veon, he’s breaking seven tackles and getting a first down on that one run. Do you tell the guys ‘This is it, right here’?
“In terms of what?”
[Hit THE JUMP to resolve this cliffhanger, as well as more on the Four Horsemen or Four-Headed Monster or whatever you prefer calling Michigan’s stable of RBs]
It's been a while since Michigan fans set to grumblin' about 37 point wins, but here we are. That one track guy ran a long way and quarterbacks set to scrambling and a bunch of guys jetted into the backfield. These are bad things that a remorseless juggernaut would not allow in its vicinity, and thus it's open season for crabbers.
This is not necessarily a criticism. Your author joined with the Ann Arbor Pincer & Exoskeleton masses at halftime:
Not super happy with the blitz pickups. Even if they're blitzing you gotta pick up the guys coming up the gut.
What can I say? I expected Michigan to pave these dudes and they did not. While UCF did stack the box and blitz its little try-hard buns off, I rather thought that wouldn't matter. I did not expect UCF to rush for an uncomfortably large number of yards themselves.
I don't place anywhere near as much emphasis on these things as Scott Frost—"we outrushed them, we outhit them, and in the futuristic game of run-hit-ball, those are the only factors"—but in the middle of a live football game you're winning by a zillion points the only thing that keeps your interest is taking the data in front of you and projecting it down the road, when Michigan will face teams that can rush for 300 yards and not lose by 37… or at all.
After a rewatch and a little bit of time to reflect, the things that happened were things Michigan can clean up. Blitzers coming free because Michigan didn't get off their blocks fast enough. Defensive ends too gung-ho about getting around the edge because their careers are still in the tadpole stage. A bust here and there probably related to the new defense.
There wasn't anything that set off alarm bells except one bad fill by Dymonte Thomas against a 10.3 100 meter guy who was such a niche player that his 87-yard touchdown was his only carry of the game. (You know you're a specialist when you run 87 yards on your first opportunity and your coaches are like "great job, eat bench.") Per folks who look at these things closely, Michigan did mostly pave them, and declined to do things that would exploit UCF's blitz-happy approach on the ground.
What they did instead is let Wilton Speight go to work. Whatever ground game hiccups have increased the worry factor should be more than offset by Speight looking like a Harbaugh quarterback immediately. Michigan saw stacked boxes and responded by passing over and over again. Up 31-7, Michigan got the ball on its own 13 and threw five straight times to open their drive. After halftime they indicated they were not inclined to take the pedal off the metal by opening up a touchdown drive with back to back completions to Butt for a total of 40 yards.
I have seen some quarterbacks this year. I have seen LSU fans go bonkers because a Purdue transfer went 6/14 for 100 yards against Jacksonville State. I have seen Clayton Thorson rack up seven points against Illinois State. There's a ton of collar-pulling across college football when new quarterbacks step in, no matter their age or hype level. Harbaugh has none of that with Speight. UCF set up to deny the run so Michigan rained it on their heads.
There wasn't an ounce of hesitation, and I was reminded of the quarterback press availability a week or so before the season. Speight sat down and told the assembled reporters that he flat-out expected to start. That was a confident read. It went with his spring performance, and now 50 throws into his starting career we have a bonafide trend. Wilton Speight is a man who knows where he wants to go, and would like us to come with him. Even if we are a crusty, crustaceous people.
#1 Wilton Speight completed 68% of his passes despite three drops on routine balls, cracked 300 yards, was still super accurate on everything under 20 yards and good on longer throws, and dealt with an unfortunate amount of pressure with aplomb.
#2 Ryan Glasgow had a dominant defensive game on the interior, sussed out a dangerous screen for a TFL, and just about ran down a track star on the 87 yarder. His range is completely absurd for a nose tackle.
#3 Jabrill Peppers led Michigan with eight tackles, two of them TFLs, added two hurries on top of that, returned a punt 35 yards, and was not responsible for much of the scramble or screen yardage ceded.
Honorable mention: Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh were locked in and excellent. Erik Magnuson and Grant Newsome shut out the men trying to rush on them.
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF). 2: Jabrill Peppers (T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF); Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF). 1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii). 0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
No sir, no Early Season Jake Rudock this year.
Late Season Jake Rudock… ask again later.
Honorable mention: BLOCK ALL THE KICKS; Peppers forces a fumble with authority; Rashan Gary flashes end product on impressive sack; Speight hits Butt on a sweet corner route for a TD in tough circumstances; Michigan inserts Chris Evans at upback so they can't pop it up and UCF panics and kicks it out of bounds; Chase Winovich sack/strip results in a turnover.
Dymonte Thomas gives everyone the heebie-jeebies by failing to tackle a dude for like 20 yards and instead he goes 87. Also worrying about this play: the eerie similarities between it and the late season problems last year's defense had.
Honorable mention: Michigan Stadium has collective hallucination that Jake Butt dropped not one but two passes; various QB scrambles caused by bad contain; Kenny Allen drops the snap on a punt; several run plays are thunked in the the backfield.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again. UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
[After THE JUMP: SPEIGHTDOWN, also bad thing discussion]
[New 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.]
Last year was more of the same from a Michigan running back corps that had slowly devolved since the moment Mike Hart left. Upticks from Brandon Minor and Fitz Toussaint were more than offset by yards eschewed, random running, that year Toussaint couldn't pass block a soul, and a steady stream of Michigan discards who blew up as soon as they landed on another team.
His vision and run instincts tend to run hot/cold, leading to questionable decisions, and with his lack of explosive traits, Smith needs to be more decisive and trust what he sees. He tends to leave you wanting more due to his marginal burst and instincts, but there is a place at the next level for Smith due to his power, ball skills and upside as a blocker.
It was pretty bad… and then it got better. Smith's outstanding Citrus Bowl was the exclamation point on a mid-season turnaround that looks a lot like those Chesson and Rudock experienced. It wasn't as dramatic, but it was there. I'm going to whisper the next sentence: it almost kind of looked like someone had figured something out.
Running back coaching matters? I want to believe.
THE MAN THE MAN THE MAN
After consecutive years where this preview listed options at all three roles above in an almost but not quite entirely arbitrary fashion, Michigan enters the season knowing who their first-choice back is: DE'VEON SMITH. They know who their short-yardage back is: De'Veon Smith. They know who their third-down back is: De'Veon Smith. They think he's good enough to put him in the bin with Amara Darboh and Jourdan Lewis and all the other veterans who don't need spring contact.
Survey says... eh, maybe. Smith's bravura Citrus Bowl against some tough, if potentially disinterested, customers was the exclamation point to a rollercoaster season. If you don't want to read the rest of this section here it is in 15 seconds:
Smith abandoned his pulling guard, disappeared into a pile of bodies, was still upright seven yards later, got caught from behind, shook off a defensive back, got caught by the same guy again, and shrugged him off once more like so much lint on his varsity jacket. Few sixty yard touchdowns in the history of Michigan football have been as likely to cause the coaching box to exclaim "what are you DOING?" the instant before the breakthrough.
That was Smith's 2015. For every shattered defensive back left trembling in a puddle of his own making...
...there was a truck lane ignored.
Last year's UFRs invariably contained a book-length subsection on the running backs and the yards they made or, more often, set on fire. As the lead back Smith came in for the plurality of the discussion. Depending on the week this discussion was either generally positive and hopeful...
/spittle shields at 70% and dropping
Actually… I got nothing this week. I thought the backs did well. I complainedabout a lead zone run last week. Michigan didn't block it well; Smith mechanically ran into the gap he should go in if they in fact did block it well. He ate a DT for minimal yardage. I didn't care if Smith actually got anything on the play, I just wanted to see him see what was going on in front of him and put a foot in the ground to give himself a chance.
He did that on this one:
That cutback doesn't look like it'll amount to much when he makes it but Michigan gets on some blocks and Smith runs through some guys and it's a nice gain. If he'd gotten swallowed by an unblocked LB back there it's still the right cut.
I feel like this is going to lead into another running back diatribe.
Are they really diatribes?
Large portions of last year's preview focused on Smith's tendency to run at random, which outlets other than the Michigan obsessive bits of the internet picked up on:
The hope was Harbaugh and Wheatley could get Smith moving in the right direction more often, and for most of the season that was dashed.
But the frustration I experienced was not limited to Smith. Everyone who took more than a dozen or so carries made at least one mindbogglingly bad cut, from Drake Johnson to Ty Isaac to Derrick Green to Sione Houma. That's widespread enough to seem like a coaching issue, and Smith's trajectory confirms:
[UFR charting for ballcarriers is another spot where zero is bad. Zero means you got what was blocked and nothing else.]
Cuts late let M down.
Two very bad plays and not much to make up for it.
On just 8 carries.
Grinder; a bit frustrating with the cuts again.
Frustratingly slow sometimes but made up for it with power.
+2 blocking, +2 on catches, and then +3 late, which fits a pattern discussed below.
Made a significant number of yards himself. Zero pass pro minuses.
I be like dang
That is a veritable late-season surge. Smith came in for some clucking after the PSU game since I didn't care for three of his 13 carries, but in the context of the last five games that's the outlier and being good at running is the trend.
And this continued! Presented with a DL penetrating almost to the handoff point Smith cut off his OL's back and blew through an arm tackle. On the three, Smith turned negative two yards into two by juking two dudes and running through a couple tackles. Even on certain runs where it looked like he'd screwed up, the tape revealed he was trying to make the best of a bad situation only to find that there was no relief elsewhere. It took me a couple takes to realize that this was Smith avoiding a wholly unblocked LB in the hole:
As I said in the table above, he's probably better off running right at the guy for a few yards but I prefer Smith seeing trouble and adjusting even if it doesn't work out. Early in the second half Smith cut to the backside of the line and got hewed down early because a safety blitz prevented Darboh from getting to the guy. That's an RPS minus; without the playcall Smith is ripping off another backside cut. Even with it if Cole had cut off penetration a little better Smith can attack the S head-on, and that usually ends badly for the DB.
At that point I hadn't done the OSU game and wondered if that was a one-off; now that the entire picture is in view it's obviously not. I mean… it's kind of a Rudock trajectory. It wasn't quite as obvious since Michigan tried its hardest to avoid the defensive lines of PSU and OSU, but it's there. That's why Smith was placed amongst the revered elders during spring.
So. The dude remains a nuclear-powered icebreaker. The number of tackles he blew through was truly impressive, and even when he was in fact being tackled piles had a tendency to lurch two or three yards towards the endzone:
I have literally dozens of these clipped:
Smith grindsoutyardsaftercontactbetterthananybackI'veseenatMichigan. Yeah, he's slow. Yeah, he's not going to juke a guy in the open field. But in the right situation he can be a killer. That situation is surrounded by very good blocking that delivers him three yards downfield on a consistent basis. Smith will turn that into five or eight or eleven yards better than anyone not named Fournette. Is he going to have that this year? Maybe, maybe not. Michigan should get closer to it.
Smith's peripherals are unambiguously positive. He fumbled just once last year. He was also a strangely effective third-down back, to the point where I called him "King Hippo Vincent Smith." This is mostly because of his consistently excellent pass blocking:
Smith has the oomph to stand up linebackers like nobody since Mike Hart. This was a point of discussion after Penn State, a game in which Smith only got eight carries and still managed to stick out as an asset:
His eight protection minuses on the season are only twice what Ty Isaac managed to acquire in scattered snaps against Oregon State, and there was a distinct lack of the "team" minuses I hand out when I'm not sure who screwed up. 13 over the course of the season is a really low number and off the top of my head I'd guess that two-thirds could not be on Smith.
As a bonus, Smith is a solid outlet option because of this SAT analogy:
De'Veon Smith : defensive back :: windshield : insect
In limited opportunities he's shown that he's also an asset as a run blocker:
After that game I described him as a "low-to-the-ground 230-pound brick"; after the pass block above I broke my longstanding commitment to pooh-pooh all motivation/effort talk:
I usually assume everyone's going all out all the time and dismiss motivation stuff, but this week I got frustrated with a couple players for a lack of want-to. Smith never lacks that. Smith wants to end you. Even if he's slow and his vision is lacking, that's something.
He's the kind of guy willing to play through just about anything, and that's something Harbaugh has noticed.
Smith is a good bet to be Michigan's first 1,000 yard back since Fitz Toussaint. He's got a half-season of being pretty good and has more upside than you'd expect because so many of his issues stemmed from an unfamiliarity with the offense and running back basics. Wheatley:
"(Now we're trying to) get guys like De'Veon and Ty Isaac (and Drake Johnson) to what I call a mastery level. Progressing past the things we did last year."
It says here that Smith's 2015 is a better version of his second half. Michigan will rotate him a bunch to keep him as healthy as possible—his pounding style is tough on him and caused him to miss chunks of multiple games—and this will keep his counting numbers from attracting national attention, but his YPC should take a big step forward along with his reputation amongst Michigan fans.
[After THE JUMP: Jabrill Peppers! And other guys, but also Peppers!]