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.”]
9/24/2016 – Michigan 49, Penn State 10 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Two years ago this game featured Dennis Norfleet dancing, a lot of bad football, and a series of increasingly boggling in-game decisions. Brady Hoke and James Franklin engaged in bad decision tennis, lobbing ever more ludicrous balls over the net and daring the opposition to top it. There was no winner—there is never a winner in bad decision tennis—but Michigan did not lose. They won the game, and the tennis match was called on account of forgetting to breathe sometimes.
Fast forward two years and things are a little different for one of these teams. Jim Harbaugh's taking timeout in case Jabrill Peppers can get a punt return in and asking to review a legitimately dodgy fourth-down spot despite being up a gorillion; James Franklin sees a fourth and goal from the two down 28-0 and decides on a field goal... wait, no, he's taking a timeout because he realizes that is a terrible decision. And now he's sending out...
Still the field goal team.
So this is a dumb fake—nope they kicked it.
Now they are down four scores, which is a notable improvement from being down four scores. James Franklin has lobbed this one good and high. This is an Eschaton-worthy parabola.
After they kicked it the camera cut to Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines, looking equal parts perplexed and offended on behalf of the game of football:
I had a similar look on my face. This is not good hard friendly competition. This was turtling. Signaled by their coach, Penn State promptly laid down. According to Wilton Speight, Michigan ran the same play eight consecutive times at one point Saturday. While that doesn't seem 100% accurate—there was a sweep in there—the bit in the box score where Penn State lays itself on the altar and hands the squiggly knife to Harbaugh is obvious:
Franklin told them to quit and they quit. I'm not surprised. One year ago this column was all about how pleasant it was to watch a Penn State game and not be stupefied by the things occurring in front of my face, and Penn State's held up its end of the bargain in that department over the last few years.
But I am also kind of surprised that James Franklin, who made Vanderbilt decent, would just roll over and die. You'd think that the kind of person who could stare the history of Vandy football in the face and make the Commodores one of the feistiest teams in the country would at least spit in his executioner's eye, for what little that would help him. Not today, and thus Michigan entered to the "win with cruelty" portion of the proceedings.
And, lo, it was cruel. Michigan acquired 13 tackles for loss and six sacks; they ran for over 300 yards with a carousel of running backs. Michigan threw to Eddie McDoom with less than half the fourth quarter to go, because a rep is a rep is a rep. It's not that Michigan was trying to embarrass or humiliate Penn State; it's just that they didn't care if that happened. Lo, it did. Meanwhile across the country in Autzen Stadium, a Colorado quarterback who was 0/7 with –4 rushing yards last week was spearheading a stunning upset by accounting for 500 yards of offense by himself.
Remember spinning around in circles about this defense last week? You should continue doing that, but for the opposite reason. Lost in the piles of viscera that are all that remain of the Penn State offense: PSU was an efficient, prolific offensive team headed into this game, with 39 and 34 points the last two weeks. It was even one seemingly well-suited to mitigate Michigan's advantages, with Trace McSorley throwing a ton of passes close to the line of scrimmage and completing 80% of them.
It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. James Franklin woke up this morning in a Cure shirt and eyeliner, because halfway through a game against Michigan he decided life wasn't worth living anymore. Just, like, whatever, man. Three points, seven points. It all leads to one place: the grave. First, Arby's. Then the grave.
#1 (tie) Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst, and Taco Charlton nose ahead of everyone else on a defensive line that set the tone early and never let up, racking up six sacks and a trajillion TFLs. Hurst turned in the most impressive individual play of the day when he came from a nose tackle spot all the way around a guard and got in McSorley's business for a sack; Wormley was the most consistent entrant into the backfield, and Charlton's return helped seal the rush lanes that UCF exploited shut. Also he got a sack and a half. Welcome back.
#2 (tie) De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon and Chris Evans were all between good an excellent as they combined for 40 carries for 318 yards, with seemingly nobody getting consecutive carries. Each guy ripped off a 20+ yard run; each guy made big chunks of yards for himself with good vision or broken tackles. Easy sledding but Michigan maximized their opportunities in ways that had not always been the case early this year.
#3 Ben Gedeon was the closest thing to a one on one matchup Michigan had with Saquon Barkley and that went all right. Gedeon tracked PSU RBs in space repeatedly, had a couple of impressive sideline-to-sideline tackles, and got in the backfield for 1.5 TFLs amongst his 11 total tackles. Barkley got his yards mostly on screens and shovels and the like, a couple of them on Gedeon. This was still a win against one of the top backs in the country.
Honorable mention: The right side of the offensive line was the main area Michigan attacked on the ground. Khalid Hill had another solid all-round FB performance. Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis helped shut down the PSU receivers on the rare occasions PSU managed to target them.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado). 3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF). 2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU). 1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU). 0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Taco Charlton and Chris Worley combine to sack Trace McSorley on the third play from scrimmage:
That set up the ensuing Peppers punt return and was an emphatic declaration of the way the game was going to go.
Honorable mention: Karan Higdon rips off an offset draw touchdown; Peppers decoy sends Smith into the secondary, where he goes stomp. Any one of Michigan's 12(!!!) other TFLs. Peppers returns a punt and windmills down to the nine.
Karan Higdon ran in for a touchdown from two yards out. The Michigan Stadium crowd responded with a polite golf clap.
The first half wasn't over.
The same couldn't be said for the competitive portion of the game. Higdon's run gave the Wolverines a 28-0 lead heading into halftime. At that point, they'd outgained Penn State by 209 yards; star running back Saquon Barkley had 66 of PSU's 50 total yards. That is not a typo.
The two teams didn't look like they belonged on the same field, and apparently James Franklin agreed. PSU opened the second half by forcing a three-and-out, then mounting their only sustained drive of the game thus far, getting deep into Michigan territory before facing a fourth-and-goal from the two. Franklin sent out the field goal unit to turn a four-score game into a four-score game. He sent them back out after calling a timeout to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. The kick was good; it was also a white flag.
Jim Harbaugh did not share that mindset. Michigan's opening touchdown came on a fourth-and-goal plunge by Khalid Hill, and a nine-yard Wilton Speight scramble(!) on a fourth-and-seven set up Higdon's half-ending score; Michigan would go for two more and come up short, but they didn't take the foot off the gas until the game's final minutes.
"It's just cool that he knows we'll pick it up," said Speight. "We know that his mindset is to smash it in for a touchdown, too. It's cool that we're all on the same page."
"Especially the one way where we were going into the wind, we thought the odds were better going for fourth downs," said Harbaugh.
One team played to win. The other played to survive.
Michigan dominated from the outset. They sacked PSU QB Trace McSorley twice on the first drive. Jabrill Peppers nearly housed the ensuing punt; after a sideline infraction moved the offense back to the Penn State 24-yard line, Wilton Speight completed three straight passes to get the team in a goal-to-go situation before Hill ultimately squeezed his way into the end zone. Michigan would finish with six rushing touchdown by five backs; five came from three yards out or fewer, with the only exception a 40-yard sprint draw to Higdon in the fourth quarter.
"I was really impressed with the running backs. All of them contributed in big ways," said Harbaugh, before naming all five backs—Higdon, Hill, De'Veon Smith, Ty Isaac, and Chris Evans—who crossed the goal line. "Moving the chains and breaking some big runs—it was a good way to move the ball."
It was indeed. Michigan bounced back from a couple sub-par rushing performances between the tackles and made Penn State's banged-up front look completely outmatched. The Wolverines covered 326 yards at 6.7 per carry, and in a big change from the first three games, only five of those yards came from a receiver. Smith led the way with 107 yards on only 12 carries; Higdon, Isaac, and Evans each had over 50 yards, and all the backs looked sharp.
It was no coincidence the offensive line had their best performance of the year, opening big holes up front and not allowing a sack. Speight mentioned in the postgame presser that Michigan ran the same run play eight or nine times in a row, with the only variation being whether they ran left or right. That third-quarter drive culminated in a three-yard TD by Evans to put Michigan up 35-3 and remove any shred of doubt about the outcome.
"I started laughing," Speight said of seeing the same call signaled in from the sideline so many times in a row.
"I thought our team was prepared and confident. There was some communication out there, especially from the offensive linemen, of what they thought they could do well," said Harbaugh. "We listened to them and repeated the call a few times. It was simply that."
Speight wasn't asked to do much through the air, but he was capable when called upon, going 21-for-34 for 189 yards and a short TD pass to freshman TE Devin Asiasi. He didn't look worse for wear after a rough outing against Colorado.
On the other side of the ball, the defense was unrelenting after welcoming Jourdan Lewis and Taco Charlton back to the lineup. Barkley had a couple moments, but he had little in the way of help.
"That's a good back. Saquon Barkley is really good." said Harbaugh. "But our guys were there and they were swarming."
Nine defenders combined for 13 tackles for loss; five were responsible for the six sacks. Mo Hurst, looking quite healthy, led the way with three TFLs and a sack.
The only downer came when Jeremy Clark suffered an apparent non-contact knee injury on a fourth-quarter kickoff. He required a cart to get to the locker room, and Harbaugh didn't mince words after the game, saying "we think it's a season-ender."
That will be something to overcome next week, when Michigan will host a top-ten matchup with Wisconsin, which is coming off a blowout of Michigan State. The Wolverines will enter that game as the winningest program in the country after today's win coupled with a Notre Dame loss to Duke—I'll pause here for laughter—gave the good guys the edge in win percentage again.
The Badgers will provide a stiffer contest. It would be difficult for them not to do so.
SPONSOR NOTES: Sauce Castillo may just be off the hook since Iowa lost to NDSU and does not look like a psycho killer this year. But if Michigan does lose to Iowa, hoo boy you're going to be a pariah! A persona non-grata! That'll show you to skip the ads.
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: Michigan was very heavy in this game, with only a quarter of their snaps featuring 3 or more wideouts. 27 of them had 0 or 1. CU was very consistent with their formations, running a pure 3-4 on all non-passing downs:
They ran a standard nickel on passing downs.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL the expected starting five with the exception of one drive for Bredeson in the first half. Smith got about half the snaps at RB with Evans and Isaac getting the rest; FB once again split just about down the middle between Hill and Poggi.
Butt and Darboh were just about omnipresent; Chesson only got slightly more than half the snaps since Darboh was preferred in one-WR formations. Bunting got about half the snaps; Perry and Asiasi both got about a dozen. Various other guys got 1-5 snaps.
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]
SPONSOR NOTES: Oh man Sauce Castillo, you're in for it. You already turned El Assico(!) into a blowout. I'm supposed to talk about mortgages. Right: low rates right now, and Matt will take these rates and turn them into a home if you qualify for things such as loans.
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: UCF was a 3-4 front with a couple of adjustments. This is their base front; Michigan is in "ace diamond TE," with Asiasi at one of the FB spots.
On passing downs UCF would go to a nickel with two DL on the field and standup ends:
And they'd frequently line up their three DL right next to each other and shifted to the run strength of the formation:
Called this "pinched 3-4."
PERSONNEL NOTES: Michigan cut down on the rotation severely despite having a huge lead. With the exception of left guard, the starting OL got almost every snap. Non-LG starters (Newsome, Cole, Kalis, Magnuson) got all 81 snaps. Braden and Bredeson platooned at LG with Bredeson(49 snaps) getting the plurality of time. Bushell-Beatty and Onwenu came in very late in a 7 OL package.
At WR, Chesson and Darboh got most of the run in a game featuring a lot of heavy packages. Grant Perry got just 15 snaps. Butt was near omnipresent; Bunting was the next-most utilized blocky/catchy guy. Poggi and Hill are still splitting things down the middle.
Smith got about half the work at RB(37 snaps), with Evans, Isaac, and Higdon splitting the rest about down the middle.
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!]
We have four more rounds, and a few big needs. For example the guy who kept questioning why drafting interior offensive linemen is important just looked at what's remaining among interior OL and realized he's really going to need a…
ACE: Round 23, Pick 1: Cameron Johnston, punter, Ohio State
[Draftageddon 2015, Draftageddon 2014]
OFFENSE: QB CJ Beathard (IA), RB Saquon Barkley (PSU), WR Jehu Chesson (M), WR Noah Brown (OSU), SLOT Curtis Samuel (OSU), SLOT Mitchell Paige (IU), TE George Kittle (IA), OT Nick Gates (NE), OT Kodi Kieler (MSU), OG Jacob Bailey (IU), C Michael Dieter (UW), WEAPON Jabrill Peppers (M)
DEFENSE: NT Ryan Glasgow (M), DT Jake Replogle (PU), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), DE Demetrius Cooper (MSU), MLB Josey Jewell (IA), OLB Brandon Bell (PSU), OLB/NICKEL Jabrill Peppers (M), CB Jalen Myrick (MN), CB Vayante Copeland (MSU), S Nate Gerry (NE), S Malik Hooker (OSU) SPECIAL TEAMS: P Cameron Johnston (OSU), KR Jabrill Peppers (M), PR Jabrill Peppers (M)
While it’s tradition around here to forego a real punter selection in order to hoard an extra roster spot, having someone who can reliably flip field position is valuable enough to merit a selection—Michigan fans saw that first-hand last year with Blake O’Neill.
Johnston is an Aussie import who’s been good enough over the last few years that he needed to clarify he wouldn’t join the horde of Buckeyes entering the NFL Draft early. In 2015, 22 of his 58 punts pinned opponents inside the 20 against only seven touchbacks, and he forced 21 fair catches; he was even better as a sophomore, putting opponents inside the 20 on 26 of his 48 boots with only five touchbacks. He’ll be in contention for Ray Guy honors for the third straight year.
Seth: Also tradition:
[After the JUMP: lots of picks, and some people in the comments who hate everything]
[Ed—Seth: Every year, by tradition, Mike Spath (@MichaelSpath198), one of the best journalists on the Michigan beat and bar none the best source of Michigan hockey info, also generates the only content I ever care about from Big Ten Media Days, offering anonymity to opposing players in return for their unvarnished opinions on Michigan players.
Spath has departed The Wolverine, but he still went to Media Days and got those golden quotes. He was at WTKA this morning and shared some of them with Sam Webb. You can listen to the entire segment on WTKA's website here. With their permission, Adam and I transcribed the parts that were paraphrased from those players.
Note: "paraphrased." Note again: I SAID PARAPHRASED. On a lot of these Spath is combining several players' thoughts, and he was talking on the radio. Please don't construe that into misquotations that result in me being chased by a tall blond man who in turn is being chased by a Big Ten athlete.
If you want more Spath, he'll be contributing some at Badgerblitz.com, and is expected to become a regular contributor on WTKA.]
HOW THIS WORKS: So I’ve gotten some harsh feedback on Twitter saying “you know, if I was going to say something critical I’d put my name to it,” but that’s not the way that it goes. I don’t go up to them and say “Sam, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to put your name on it.” I’ll say “Sam, I want to ask you some really honest feedback about Michigan football,” and the only way you’re going to give it to me is if I don’t quote you—if I don’t use your name.”
And so that’s how I do it and I would say this: if you’re a pretty smart person you can probably figure out that I went up to Indiana players, I went to Minnesota players, Rutgers players, Illinois players … and Northwestern.
So those are the five teams I was able to approach. It was a little more difficult this year—Sam you were there, and they didn’t go into roundtables where you have a lot more one-on-one times. So you really had to wait these guys out, and I waited until the last five minutes when they were completely empty, or I wasn’t afraid to—when a guy was getting up and leaving the podium when he’s done with his hour, or walking down the hallway with him. Because that’s when you’re gonna get the good stuff: when there’s nobody else around, and you have to really assure him: “I’m NOT gonna use your name.” You can see the light bulb going on in their head for that first second like: “I don’t know about this...do I really wanna do this?”
But eventually, and here’s the thing too, is that when you ask these questions—and I’ve seen other people try to do it—I think if you ask generic questions you get generic answers. If you ask specific questions, you get specific answers. And so a lot of the time what I’ve focused on is specific players.
“The player that they played against in November: we had six games of film on him from earlier in the season, and who was that player? This was a guy that caught everything, was a big play waiting to happen. There’s a play where he caught the ball in the middle of the field against us, and we had two guys right there, and we thought we had the angle on him, and he pulled away!”
“There’s track speed and there’s football speed, and this guy’s got football speed. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably fast this guy was, and how much of a difference he made over the course of the second half of the season.”
I posted some of these things to Twitter and there’s already this Jourdan Lewis thing that blew up big time:
Note from rival on @JourdanJD, even though they didn't complete much throwing at him, he didn't have many INTs so there was no fear factor.
One guy said that the reason they throw at Jourdan Lewis is there’s not a fear factor. And I immediately got jumped on and ripped on. I think when you read the whole quote it’s a little more understanding.
The guy was talking about how they didn’t complete much last year—they only completed 36% of their passes that they threw at him. But they did throw at him, because he had 90 targets according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s the tenth most at any specific defensive back in the country. So I mean you’re talking about 127 teams, talking about four defensive backs for the most part on every team, so you’re looking at 400 players and he’s the tenth-most thrown-at? That’s pretty crazy for a guy who’s only giving up a 36% completion. And the guy said to me:
“You know we didn’t complete much, but he didn’t get many interceptions.” So I asked him a little bit more—why did you keep throwing at him, and he said “What did he have interceptions-wise compared to Desmond King? Two or three?” (The answer’s two). “You weren’t going to complete many passes if you threw his way, but he wasn’t going to pick you off either. You didn’t have to fear the turnover if you threw it.”
And I said “So you didn’t fear him?”
And he’s like “We didn’t fear him: no.”
So when I’m trying to present this as “there wasn’t a fear factor” that’s not really how the quote comes off. [Sam and Spath talked a bit about man-to-man versus cover 2. Upshot: the difference with Desmond King is cover 2 cornerbacks are facing the ball the whole play.]
[Hit THE JUMP for Victims of Glasgow and Wormley Anonymous, Glasgows, Guards, and Peppers]