One Frame At A Time: Notre Dame

One Frame At A Time: Notre Dame

Submitted by Ace on September 10th, 2013 at 3:56 PM

This whole sequence—Hoke trying to call a timeout as Gardner barely gets the play off, Gardner scoring, Hoke shrugging—is spectacular; the ever-so-subtle smirk at the end just kills me, though. However, is this even the best GIF of the week? Hit the jump to find out my choice and vote for your favorite.

[JUMP like Funchess on a middle screen]

Picture Pages: Hopped Up On Goofballs

Picture Pages: Hopped Up On Goofballs

Submitted by Brian on September 10th, 2013 at 12:56 PM

I wish I'd remembered that Bob Diaco linebackers play like they're hopped up on goofballs before the game. Here's the mesh point on Michigan's first offensive snap:

hyperaggressive LBs

One ILB is almost to the line of scrimmage and the other is a yard back. This is way closer than almost any other team will be, and it is absolutely consistent. ND linebackers fire hard on any run action.

For the most part it's worked for them. Michigan won the Denard after Dentist game despite getting ten yards on eight tailback carries. ND's defense last year was lights out. Notre Dame's hyper-aggression at that spot has been a problem for Michigan's run game for the last couple years, as they haven't had effective counters. Their main one is the waggle, and we all know how that worked out last year.

Not much changed in this one early. Michigan's tailback running game was drips and drabs because of a lack of an effective counter trey. (You know, that play they showed against Central where Taylor Lewan pulled to the backside… ineffectively.) The longer runs they did acquire were almost entirely Fitzgerald Toussaint forcing errors out of ND safeties. For example, the UFR chart on Toussaint's early 14-yard sideline run has four minuses for bad blocks and no positives. Yikes.

Let's get a baseline in this one and see how Michigan responded later. This is a second-quarter zone stretch in which Michigan puts two tight ends to the top of the screen; ND responds with a rare three-man front (they were a 4-3 in this game that occasionally lined up in a 3-4 as a curveball) with a safety walked down:

aggresive-1

This looks like a called blitz but in practice it's difficult to tell the difference between an actual blitz and the playside linebacker hauling ass at the first gap he sees. It's just alignment. Notre Dame got some TFLs out of this gap-shooting, and even when they didn't those linebackers forced Michigan to disengage from double-teams on Tuitt, Nix, and Schwenke early, with predictable results.

Meanwhile, the backside linebacker would ignore any cutback possibilities and flow parallel to the line of scrimmage at approximately the same rate the tailback did:

aggresive-1

The overall effect is six guys at the line with one hovering behind for cleanup and that overhanging safety able to provide quick support. Even when Notre Dame screwed up this was mostly effective.

A moment post snap, Michigan opens up a gap as they go to double the two defensive tackles:

aggresive-2

Note that the backside players on the ND DL are stepping away from the play, which they can do because the MLB is jetting into the gap they vacate. This also allows the backside LB to flow as he does.

Some of this is  tough to see, but in this frame:

  1. Miller has disengaged from Nix in an attempt to cut the charging LB, which he does not do. He does knock him off balance somewhat, possibly contributing to his overrun of the play.
  2. Meanwhile, Glasgow and Lewan try to handle two guys who have disappeared from the frame: the playside end and charging safety.
  3. Both tight ends have locked on the playside LB, who is the force player.
  4. Schofield chases the MLB, who he has no angle on, but could still block if Toussaint cuts back.

aggressive-3

A moment later the LB flashes into the backfield wide of Toussaint and runs by; playside end got his legs caught up in traffic and ends up falling, pancaked. Both tight ends are still on the force guy:

aggressive-4

This is one of them gap things?

aggressive-5

Except it's got a linebacker in it.

aggressive-6

Video

BONUS! Here is a super slo-mo version.

(Does this help? If this helps let me know.)

Items Of Interest

Notre Dame got away with at least a couple errors here. The playside end ends up underneath Glasgow on the ground and they spent a linebacker blowing past Toussaint to little effect. (They did get Miller down but offenses will take one for one trades.) If that can happen and Michigan picks up three yards you can tell that it's tough sledding.

Tough sledding. The goofballs approach makes life tough on offensive linemen, who have to make split second decisions to leave guy and then try to block a rampant guy with tons of momentum before they are ready. This is tough, and Michigan didn't do a good job of it.

Toussaint could put his foot in the ground here and make a cut. Schofield is chasing that linebacker and you occasionally see the blocking develop such that the tailback can make a hard cut upfield behind that OL and suddenly make him relevant. Right about here…

aggressive-5

…if Toussaint goes hard north and south aiming for the hash he may shoot past that linebacker and into open space. That's why Schofield keeps following that guy despite not having an angle. It may not work, but you're at least giving yourself a shot. Toussaint had a good day overall; here I think he missed a cut.

The offensive line… I punt. They had a very tough first half against this line, and these linebacker gap-shots don't help. Miller just barely throws off that linebacker if he does anything, but then again that linebacker zips past the play he's moving so fast. If that guy can't make a play, can the OL make a play?

Meanwhile Glasgow gets a pancake that is probably aided by the ND lineman tripping on the blitzer's feet; Lewan ends up putting a safety on the ground. Points for them. This one was a lot better blocked than some.

Funchess is very frustrating. On this play, the linebacker to the top of the screen is obviously the force player*. Butt obviously has him kicked out. Funchess continues to block the guy the whole damn play instead of releasing downfield and getting a hat on the safety. There is no way this is right.

Meanwhile, on the single inverted veer Michigan ran, Notre Dame hyperaggression bit them as one of their linebackers roared up a gap and pursued Toussaint, as did Tuitt. Gardner pulled and got a nice gain. It could have been a lot nicer, but Funchess turned around again:

funchess-wat

Also not right, as with Kalis headed to the outside the linebacker is the optioned guy. I know Michigan's blocked guys who are supposed to be optioned before; even if that is the nominal plan, nothing good ever comes of turning 180 degrees when you're a blocker.

That left no one to take the only guy standing between Gardner and a touchdown:

funchess-wat-2

I guess it's better that the play wiped out by a nonexistent holding call was nine yards instead of a thirty-one yard touchdown?

We just saw this happen against Central Michigan; it's closing in on a pattern. Funchess remains a tight end in name only. The mental stuff is more bothersome than any lack of technique. All he has to do on some of these plays is vaguely bother a guy and Michigan can break a long one. Hopefully he makes some progress here in the next few weeks, but the relative prominence of Jake Butt in this game is not a coincidence.

*[IE, the guy who sits on the end of the line and accepts a kickout block. He positions himself such that if the back tries to bounce it outside he either gets tackled for has to take such a circuitous route that by the time he gets the corner for guys are waiting for him. Since things usually go badly—very badly—for the defense if the force player is not doing his job, he is limited in how dynamic he can be what with throwing blockers away and getting TFLs, so doubling him is useless.]

Michigan did exploit this, eventually. You may notice that I'm not complaining about how Michigan didn't adjust to this. This is a tease.

One Frame At A Time: Central Michigan

One Frame At A Time: Central Michigan

Submitted by Ace on September 3rd, 2013 at 3:41 PM

Football is back, and major props go to drum major—and Belleville native—Jeff Okala for nailing the traditional back-bend in his very first game:

I love that the BTN showed large portions of the pregame show; they had three(!) different camera angles of Michigan touching the banner. This one's my favorite:

Of course, I'm sure you want to see GIFs from the actual game. For Kyle Kalis and Devin Funchess setting their phasers to "kill", Taylor Lewan dominating with however many arms he pleases, epic ninja Hokepoint, and much more, read on below the jump.

[JUMP!]

Picture Pages: Return Of The Stretch

Picture Pages: Return Of The Stretch

Submitted by Brian on September 3rd, 2013 at 12:04 PM

8647559334_4580e9b90a_c[1]

GOOD? I think probably yeah. [Bryan Fuller]

You know that basketball game column after the Wisconsin halfcourt shot game where I laid out a scenario in which Bo Ryan was the vanguard of the bug people from Rigel? I disclaimed any belief that was actually true but asserted that if it was, Wisconsin basketball would be exactly the same as it is today.

So… Al Borges's gameplan. Michigan came out throwing from the shotgun, and that caused me to tweet out that this newfangled offense looked a lot like the oldfangled offense. I didn't yet perceive that Michigan's first four handoffs to Toussaint were zone stretch plays, i.e. the very foundation of Michigan's offense under Rich Rodriguez. I'm pretty sure that Michigan ran fewer than four stretches all of last year. Al Borges isn't trolling me, but if he was nothing about Michigan's gameplan would have changed. (Bubble screens are now trolling Heiko.)

Evaluating the stretch is like getting back on a bike for me. It was also Michigan's base run play for the last two years of DeBord, so for the five formative years when I was learning to say more about runs than "that's a big ol' wad of bodies" the majority of plays I was looking at were stretches. I'm still much better at figuring them out than any other run play.

This is relevant in a credential-establishing fashion: I've seen a lot of these and now I'm going to say something that might be a little out there. I think Graham Glasgow might be quite good. He and Miller consistently crushed the playside defensive tackle on scoop blocks throughout these four carries, which is a good sign to begin with. And on one I think he did something advanced.

The setup: first and ten on Michigan's second drive of the game. They come out in a 2TE set with both TE's to the boundary—the boundary is the short side of the field. Central is in their standard 4-2-5 personnel.

stretch-1

Funchess motions to the top of the formation; Central slides to that side. The aggressive posture of the safeties likely indicates cover four, which sounds conservative but isn't really. For our purposes that means that either or both can charge hard at run action to his side.

stretch-2

On the snap, the telltale tilt of the center sideways that indicates a zone stretch. On inside zone the line goes more vertical, attempting to blow the DTs back with doubles. Here they're trying to shift their line a gap over.

stretch-3

Lewan immediately crushes the playside end inside, which is bad for defenders. Glasgow bangs the playside DT as Miller tries to scoot around him in time to pick him up when Glasgow leaves.

stretch-4

This is all working just fine. The situation:

stretch-5

  1. The end is bashed inside and has given up the corner. Toussaint will go outside.
  2. The backside DT is headed to the ground on a cut block.
  3. Miller and Glasgow have gotten some push on the playside DT and threaten to cut him off.
  4. Funchess is releasing downfield.

The issue is the red line. That is the middle linebacker on his horse, headed for the backfield.

Funchess is about to violate a fake cardinal rule of football that I made up: never turn upfield on a run play. When someone runs by you, they're gone. You may have screwed up, but you can't fix it by turning around. Go further downfield and hit someone else and hope to God it all worked out okay.

Well, go ahead and violate it.

stretch-5stretch-6stretch-7

And of course the thing is you can see in these stills that Graham Glasgow has seen this linebacker charging, disengaged from the scoop block on the defensive tackle, and successfully engaged him. That wasn't even Funchess's dude. Funchess can't feel the play like Glasgow did.

In the wider view you  can see that Michigan has a a hat on a hat except for one guy:

stretch-highlight

That DT that Miller's handling gets sealed away:

stretch-7stretch-8

The upfield guy is actually a linebacker Kalis is chasing. Miller has stepped around to get his helmet playside of the DT, though, which means he's done.

Toussaint hits the hole, getting hewed down by that filling safety as Funchess realizes his error, turns around, and tries to get downfield:

stretch-8

Glasgow's guy is on the ground. Safety tackles as Toussaint runs inside of the Jackson block; five yards is the return.

stretch-9stretch-10

Video

Items of interest

Man I like this play from Glasgow. I suspect this is a very bad player they're doubling here and blowing him up is no great accomplishment. Level of competition disclaimer applied. But as mentioned, I have seen an awful lot of zone stretches. It is very rare to see a guy with the speed of thought and fleetness of foot to both decide he needs to get on that guy right now and actually get there. That reminds me of David Molk.

I also liked Glasgow's immediate release on another stretch when Central's slanting away from the play:

That is decisive recognition of the fact that the DT has stepped away and he's free to climb to the second level. He goes out, he gets a block, he does not hang around wondering what he should do. It's not a miracle or anything; it is an easy thing to see a first-time player screw up. So far Glasgow has been consistently executing his assignments and throwing in flashes of serious promise like the play above. I don't think I could be any happier with his performance in this game so far.

That is a great, great sign. Obviously. It changes the entire tenor of the offseason competition on the interior of the line if Graham Glasgow is just good.

And he can pull! Should have sent a poet.

This was one play after Lewan pulled and ended up four yards behind the line of scrimmage. That is the fastest dang pull I've seen while doing this. This is saying very little, of course. Even so this is a good thing to see from a first-time starter at guard. He can zone. He can pull. He seems to be consistently executing his assignments. His skill level seems very high, and if he can physically match up with Notre Dame you should prepare for a barrage of Glasgow == Kovacs, "don't you dare call him a walk-on" stuff.

Funchess is still a work in progress. While he is trying his darndest with the blocking, he is just not a natural. Here he gets lost and blocks no one. Worse, on the second Gardner interception he does not pick up a guy that Williams is passing off to him, and that guy gets into Gardner's feet. As a result Gardner's throw is way long and intercepted. If Gardner understands the coverage and is trying to back-shoulder that throw, he could get a nice completion there, and FWIW he did mention that in the presser:

The next one, I got hit while I threw it, so it kind of went [farther than I intended], and you can kind of control that, but not as much as you'd like to. via Heiko

He did some good things with his blocking, but that wasn't a one-year reclamation project.

I do think this is an unnatural thing, for guys to let it go when dudes flash by them. But once you turn upfield you're done. If Funchess had gone 90 degrees and then continued downfield he probably still gets the block. It's not the thought he should take this guy that dooms him, it's how long he takes to decide that he actually shouldn't.

You're done now. The weirdest thing about these stretches was what happened on the end. He got obliterated inside by Lewan every time. That gave Michigan the corner easily. Bad player, surely. Also one unprepared for Michigan to run the stretch. I never saw that in the DeBord/RR days no matter who they were playing. Those guys were hauling ass to stay outside the tackle every time.

That's actually the easiest read in the book for a guy running the stretch. Rodriguez had three rules for the tailbacks that went by "bounce," "bend", and "blast." Bounce was the first one and that was simple: if the end gets sealed go to the corner ASAP. This was handled in about fifteen seconds because it never happens and if it does it's yards every time.

Why would they be running the stretch all of a sudden? Well, they seemed pretty good at it. Michigan was one block/step away from busting some long ones. It may be hard to remember this, but Jack Miller was a Rodriguez offensive line recruit more in the mold of agile bastard David Molk than someone that is going to excel at blowing guys off the ball. But I think the main reason is:

Stephon-Tuitt-7-and-Louis-Nix-III-9-9-15-12_crop_north[1]

NOBODY fripperizes facemasks like the Notre Dame Fig Things

That's 322 pound Stephon Tuitt hanging with 340 pound Louis Nix, except this is probably a shot from last year's Michigan State given the background color. That's 15-20 pounds ago for each. Tuitt's backup is a somewhat touted redshirt freshman who is not Stephon Tuitt; Notre Dame lost Nix's backup to a season-ending injury and now the man behind him has a Notre Dame bio with an impressive set of accomplishments that happen to belong to Prince Shembo. Kona Schwenke is a senior with seven tackles to his name who was an obvious downgrade when Nix was out with the flu last year.

Stretch plays are good for getting rid of planetoid defensive tackles and making them run down the line in a futile chase to the ball. Notre Dame fans also apparently think their starters in the middle these days (Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese) are uninspiring plodders after the Temple game, so Michigan would like to make them run, too. Hypothesis: the stretch is something Michigan thinks will beat ND.

Central Michigan Postgame Presser: Brady Hoke

Central Michigan Postgame Presser: Brady Hoke

Submitted by Heiko on September 1st, 2013 at 3:16 PM

Talking points:

  • Three boo boos. Devin Funchess's injury seems to be just an unfortunately located cramp. He'll be okay. We'll have to wait for further news on Drake Johnson and Joe Reynolds. [Update: Johnson out for season].
  • Thomas Gordon will definitely be back next week. Hoke seems to have forgiven him for whatever his trespass might have been, though no details about whoaterenowhy.
  • The blocked punt was something they game planned for. The whole team knew about it, so when it worked it was pretty exciting.
  • Michigan planned to play up tempo the first few drives with their Nascar offense. 

--------------------------------

Opening remarks:

"One thing I really want to do is thank our students and our fans. It was really neat to see that student section in the maize and all that stuff when we went out for our warmups and it just kept building. I want to thank our students because it's fun when they're there. They make the atmosphere and the game fun."

Cam Gordon had a really good game. Talk about his play?

"Well Cam is a guy who has matured in a lot of ways in his time at Michigan. At receiver and then coming in and going to safety. The work ethic he has showed during the offseason, his leadership and his teammates. The motor that he plays the game with. He's a better technician. He's bigger, he's stronger. It's a credit to him and what Aaron Wellman does in the weight room. He's also an intelligent football player and can handle a lot of things well."

[JUMP]

Photos from Michigan vs. CMU

Photos from Michigan vs. CMU

Submitted by Eric on September 1st, 2013 at 9:18 AM

It was great to be back on the sidelines yesterday! Here are some photos from the game. 

 

IMG_1162.jpg

Cam Gordon (Upchurch)

 

Jarrod Wilson

Jarrod Wilson (Fuller)

 

 

IMG_1352.jpg

Devin Funchess (Upchurch)

 

Untitled

Devin Gardner (Fuller)

 


Photo Galleries

 

 

Here are links to our individual galleries if you'd like to see all of the photos. 

Bryan Fuller - Eric Upchurch

Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9

Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9

Submitted by Ace on August 31st, 2013 at 8:16 PM


Eric Upchurch/MGoBlog

The feeling was boredom, interspersed with brief moments of Norfleet-related anticipation that ended an ankle-tackle away from being actual excitement.

Boredom, in this case, was a great feeling—a pleasant return to normalcy for Michigan. A home opener against a directional Michigan school, a 50-point lead heading into the third quarter, a fourth quarter spent looking up numbers of various freshmen and walk-ons while fretting about burned redshirts; this is how it's supposed to go, fergodsakes.

The Wolverines got on the board before the Big House crowd even got a chance to see the much-anticipated new offense, as freshman defensive back Dymonte Thomas screamed off the edge to block a Central Michigan punt on the opening drive of the game; senior receiver Joe Reynolds scooped up the loose ball and took it 30 yards to give Michigan a 7-0 lead.

A muffed punt by Dennis Norfleet, recovered by Delano Hill at Michigan's seven-yard line, led to an inauspicious start for Devin Gardner; after his first pass of the season was dropped by Devin Funchess, he telegraphed a quick out to Drew Dileo, and CMU's Jarret Chapman jumped the route for an easy interception.

Michigan's defense held strong, though, forcing the Chippewas to settle for a field goal. Gardner was in fine form on the subsequent drive, picking up a first down with his legs, then buying time for Drew Dileo to find a wide open hole in the Central defense on a 3rd-and-4 for a 36-yard catch-and-run. On the very next play, Gardner stood tall in the pocket, couldn't find an open receiver, and waltzed untouched into the end zone for a 22-yard score (right, Upchurch).

From there, the Wolverines didn't look back. A 38-yard run on a Dennis Norfleet reverse set up a one-yard touchdown run for Fitz Toussaint, who looked back to his old self—aside from missing a couple open cutback lanes—in rushing for 57 yards on 14 carries. After another Gardner hiccup—an overthrow to Gallon that resulted in his second interception—led to a second Jason Wilson field goal, cutting the lead to 21-6, the redshirt junior quarterback roared back with an 11-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 16-yard touchdown pass to his favorite target, Jeremy Gallon. After Raymon Taylor jumped an Alex Niznak throw to the perimeter, nearly taking the interception back for a touchdown, Gardner finished the first half with a four-yard scoring run, again making his trip to the end zone look downright easy. Despite the pair of turnovers—and a punt block for a touchdown that didn't count towards the yardage numbers—Michigan held a 243-139 edge in total offense and a 35-6 halftime lead.

The onslaught didn't stop there. Michigan's opening drive of the second half featured a 45-yard play-action pass from Gardner to Reynolds; two plays later, Toussaint tallied his second score of the day from two yards out. After another quick defensive stop, freshman running backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith combined to run on each of Michigan's ten plays, including a 30-yard Green scamper on a zone stretch and the five-star's first career touchdown on a goal-line scrum.

Sacks by Brennen Beyer and Mario Ojemudia forced another three-and-out, and from there the backups took over. Freshman quarterback Shane Morris quarterbacked the next drive, completing a 36-yard pass to Devin Funchess before Thomas Rawls rumbled into the end zone from five yards out, giving the Wolverines a 56-6 lead as the third quarter expired.

The rest, as they say, was academic. The fourth-quarter monotony was broken briefly by a 36-yard punt return by Norfleet, who was one man away from scoring; a Morris interception on a tipped pass; and a forced fumble by freshman cornerback Channing Stribling just two plays later, recovered by Delonte Hollowell. That third play led to a 30-yard Gibbons field goal—his 14th consecutive make, tying a school record held by Remy Hamilton*—that gave the game its final margin: 59-9, Michigan.


Funchess sporting his new Ron Kramer Legacy jersey (Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog)

Aside from the two picks, Gardner looked like the superstar he's expected to be in his first year as the full-time starter, averaging 10.8 yards per attempt and rushing for 52 yards on seven carries; CMU couldn't keep him in the pocket and couldn't stop him when he escaped, including one play in which Gardner comically olé'd an awaiting defender hoping to hit him on the sideline.

His ESP-level connection with Gallon showed, as well; Gallon caught four passes for 47 yards and had a second touchdown catch wiped out when Taylor Lewan wandered downfield illegally rode his donkey too far even from the generous blocking zone they give linemen on play-action these days. Funchess and Reynolds both impressed, as well, and while each left the game due to injury, those dings appeared minor. Brady Hoke said after the game that Funchess left the game due to a cramp (an unfortunately-placed one, given the rather sensitive area he clutched after his long catch), while there was no report on the status of Reynolds.

Defensively, Beyer was a consistent presence in the backfield as a lineman in Greg Mattison's nickel package, tallying a sack and another TFL. Cam Gordon, playing in place of the injured Jake Ryan, looked fantastic in tallying a pair of sacks among his 2.5 TFLs, lining up at both strongline linebacker and defensive end and playing both well. Desmond Morgan took to his new position as the MIKE with aplomb, leading the team with seven tackles despite heavy rotation in the front seven. While the much-balleyhooed Frank Clark recorded a lone QB hurry, his backup, Mario Ojemudia, came up with a sack and looked like a very solid option at weakside DE.

Of the true freshmen to see their first action—and there were many—it was Stribling who impressed the most; he was Michigan's field corner when they went into the nickel package, and while he gave up a couple catches, he showed off his playmaking ability by stripping CMU's Andrew Flory after one of those receptions. Linebacker Ben Gedeon also played well in his first career action, tallying four tackles; "The Freak" didn't look out of place at weakside linebacker.

The only major points of concern were Gardner's two picks—hopefully those can be chalked up to opening-game rust, as he otherwise looked like a Heisman candidate—and the play of the safeties. Jarrod Wilson and Josh Furman blew a couple assignments, though there's a good chance that neither is starting by mid-September—strong safety Thomas Gordon sat out the game for a "violation of team rules" and Courtney Avery could factor in at free safety when he recovers from knee surgery, hopefully in time for next week's game but more likely for Akron. The offensive line had its moments, good and bad; Al Borges called for a lot of zone running plays instead of asking for his two new guards, Kyle Kalis and Graham Glasgow, to pull; Kalis played a very solid game, featuring a bone-crushing body-slam on Gardner's first touchdown run, while Glasgow and center Jack Miller had their ups and downs.

Michigan's fans trickled out of the stadium throughout the fourth quarter, content that their team took care of a MAC opponent like Wolverines should: devouring them alive. There was little reason to stay, more competitive football games to watch, and celebratory beers to drink. Cheers to a new season, a 1-0 record, and zero heart attacks.

--------------
*If you've just woken up from a three-year slumber, this is somehow not a joke.

This Week's Obsession: Pick a Hero

This Week's Obsession: Pick a Hero

Submitted by Seth on August 28th, 2013 at 10:31 AM

4 - Fuller - 8646548312_0c63ca1d13_oUpchurch -8645433395_55fbfcfb4e_oUpchurch - 8194562770_f047901922_o8646501226_936f70e3fc_oUpchurch - 8173041774_951f10fb90_o

Let's talk about the guys we haven't talked enough about yet. The breakout kids. The unexpected boons. Our pantheon of heroes:

  • Batblogger
  • Capt'n Seth of the Comma Police
  • An Bender, Flyin' Ace
  • The Heiko Kid
  • The Blue Creature from the Bend
  • Brett Thiessen (secret identity remains hidden)
  • Coach Unpossible

The Question:

Casey Stengel used to do this thing with the media where every year he'd point to a player on his team who wasn't already an established star (Gardner, Gallon, Lewan, Norfleet) and say "that guy is a lot better than people think." And that guy would have a really big year. Mentally (or mathematically if you're Mathlete) subtract John Q. MGoReader's expectation for the guys from your expectation for the guys this year, and tell us who's going to be surprisingly good?

BiSB: I'm on Team ACL this year. On the "breakout star" front, I'll go with BLAKE COUNTESS. I think a lot of people are expecting, or even hoping, that he'll come back

8646495402_91c26cfcdf_o
Rev up the Countess hype again | Fuller

approximately as he was as a freshman (which would still be pretty good), thinking his injury would offset whatever gains he has otherwise made. But we live in a world in which ACLs are repaired with unicorn dreams (or at least that's how Heiko explained it to me) and heal in six to nine months. Jake Ryan tore his five months ago, and is already running and doing lateral stuff. Countess is a full year removed, which in modern ACL years is "what, me worry?"  I think on the conservative side we're going to get the Blake Countess we would have gotten in 2012, and on the upside we're looking at a guy who will compete with Bradley Roby and Darqueze "You Spelled Denard Wrong" Dennard for first team All B1G.

My "breakout contributor" guy is CHRIS WORMLEY, who also tore his ACL about a year ago. Heitzman is the starter at SDE, but Wormley can be a difference-maker. He's bigger and stronger than Heitzman, and already has a year in the system under his belt (even if a lot of that year was on an exercise bike). He'll get plenty of snaps anyway because of the depth at SDE and Mattison's love of DL rotation. He may never take over the starter label because Michigan doesn't really do the whole "roster update" thing, but I think by the end of the year he's the most effective guy at the position, and he'll be getting ~40% of the snaps.

Also, Norfleet will be the new Steve Breaston, by which I mean at some point a tight end will maddeningly refuse to pitch him the ball and as a result you will scream terrible terrible things to no one in particular.

---------------------

Seth: NORFLEET IS ALREADY ESTABLISHED (else everyone would pick him)

[After the jump: NOT NORFLEET]

Preview 2013: Tight End And Friends

Preview 2013: Tight End And Friends

Submitted by Brian on August 27th, 2013 at 1:35 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver.

funchess[1]

I'll miss you, #19.

Depth Chart

FB Yr. U-back Yr. Tight End Yr. Flex Yr.
Joe Kerridge So.* Khalid Hill Fr. AJ Williams So. Devin Funchess So.
Sione Houma So. Wyatt Shallman Fr. Jordan Paskorz Jr.* Jake Butt Fr.
Thomas Rawls Jr.     -- -- -- --

Al Borges necessitates a change in season preview strategies. Previously folded into the wide receiver section, tight ends and close relatives have become so prevalent and diverse that they demand their own post and elaborate delineation of responsibilities. I have also snatched the fullbacks away from the tailback section to give a full spectrum of guys who aren't tailbacks or receivers who will see the field for Michigan this fall.

Your author's attempt to distill all the things he's heard about the guys listed above and put them into categories:

  • FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head runs into linebackers, gets two carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley.
  • U-BACK: A "move" tight end that motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
  • TIGHT END: Larger that the U-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: Tyler Ecker.
  • FLEX: Sort of like the U-back in that he rarely lines up on the line of scrimmage itself, but if he motions away from his spot near the line, it's not to fullback but wide receiver. They get a billion catches and break Jim Mandich's record eventually. See: Devin Funchess is the only flex guy I can think of recently.

Complicating matters is the fact that many of the players listed above bleed into other positions: Houma, Rawls, and Shallman could be tailback-ish, Funchess and Butt will have their share of time with their hand in the dirt, tight to the end, and may even motion to fullback on occasion. In a Borges offense, things are not as they appear!

/tosses smoke bomb

FULLBACK

RATING: 3.5

Fullback is a spot where walk-ons are prevalent; Dudley mentioned above was both a walk-on and Michigan's finest linebacker eraser in the past 20 years, with only Chris Floyd offering competition. This year is no exception, as JOE KERRIDGE eased past converted tailback Stephen Hopkins last year to acquire a strong hold on the job. Judging from one of the sudden legion of shirtless photos players put on Instagram, if you encounter Joe Kerridge in the wild you should walk away slowly and hope you don't smell like salmon:

image

L to R: Sione Houma, Bobby Henderson, Joe Kerridge.

Jebus.

That plus the whole returning-starter bit should see Kerridge retain his role as Michigan's first choice when something absolutely has to die. In year one he was a little tentative, as you might expect, and there were a number of plays on which I though he was not reacting to the situation in front of him quickly enough to make an effective block. I'm still not clear on whether some of the suboptimal blocking on spread plays was because Michigan wasn't using newfangled arc blocking (ie: using your fullback or tight end to take out an exchanging linebacker and give your edge guy the edge) or because a freshman wasn't executing, but with the move away from spread elements, the job will be simpler: see man, make man wish he had taken up lawn darts. 

Kerridge has a ton of potential. When he makes solid contact with guys, you can hear football:

That linebacker set up outside, Toussaint cut outside, and all the LB could do was fall over. He can bring the pain.

Kerridge had his inconsistencies. After three consecutive +3 games and a monster +6.5 against Illinois

And Kerridge is racking up big numbers.

I may be giving him too much credit for standing up linebackers but to my eyes he really appears to be whacking them and providing the impetus for an improved under center run game. Those isos and such are

…he fell off into a bunch of games where he hung around 1 point. A large part of that was the Gardner transition; he also lost some playing time to Stephen Hopkins, who came back from injury and was given a shot to displace Kerridge. Kerridge did whiff some blocks. He got smoked for a sack in the bowl game, for one. And this inverted veer against State is something an experienced guy might decide to block the end on because otherwise there's no one else he can hit.

For a redshirt freshman it was a promising season. In year two the goal is to cut his failure rate in half and catch five passes. He'll be an interesting guy to watch in UFR. If Michigan really commits to MANBALL he could see some big numbers.

[After THE JUMP: Funchess, Williams, U-backs, we've got it all. Except upperclassmen.]

Upon Further Review: Pass Offense vs OSU

Upon Further Review: Pass Offense vs OSU

Submitted by Brian on August 25th, 2013 at 11:16 AM

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HEY KIDS: This is an overview of all of Michigan's passing plays against OSU, which is an important data point for Devin Gardner. I'm not doing the run offense, because it was Denard doing Denard things and Rawls doing Rawls things and no one getting blocked ever—ie, not relevant, really.

Ln Dn Ds O Form RB TE WR D Form Type Play Player Yards
O35 1 10 I-Form 3-wide 2 0 3 Nickel over Pass Hitch Gallon 7
A little longer than a quick pitch and catch as Gardner resets in the pocket and hits Gallon, who's covered pretty well. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)
O24 1 10 Pistol Diamond 3 0 2 Nickel over Pass Throwback screen Gallon 2
Backside DE forms up and threatens to bat the pass down; Gardner pumps and then lofts it. This takes a long time to develop and busts up the play's timing; Omameh(-0.5) and Schofield(-1) don't get blocks and Gallon has to dance to squeeze out anything. (CA, 3, screen)
O22 2 8 I-Form 2 1 2 4-4 over Pass Out Gallon Inc
Gallon runs this well and gets a couple yards of separation; Gardner steps up and fires but a little wide and high. Gallon can only get one hand on it. Protection was good off a blitz, though they held seven guys in. Borderline MA/IN. (IN, 1, protection 2/2)
O22 3 8 Shotgun double stack 1 1 3 3-3-5 nickel Pass Sack N/A -8
Gardner is just about to step into this and throw when Washington comes around the back to strip/sack as Lewan(-3) gets beat clean. (PR, N/A, protection 0/3, Lewan(-3). The worst thing is that Gallon was breaking open for a touchdown.
M17 1 10 Ace 3TE 1 3 1 4-3 even Pass Fly Gallon Inc
Max pro, two man route going deep. Gallon gets a step and Gardner fires it out there; the throw is absolutely perfect but the OSU safety reaches out and grabs Gallon by the back of the shoulder pads, slowing him a hair. Ball is now just past his oustretched fingertips. Outrageous no-call. (DO, 0, protection 2/2, refs -3)
M25 3 2 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 3-3-5 nickel Pass Rollout deep hitch Roundtree 75
M gets the edge easily and Gardner can survey; Michigan high-lows the corner, who sucks up on a Gallon hitch for about five. Roundtree behind is open; Gardner hits him. That's about 15 yards, then the safety who just almost got burned (CJ Barnett) takes a horrendous angle to Roundtree and turns it into a huge touchdown. (CA+, 3, protection 1/1, RPS +1)
M30 1 10 I-Form twins 1 2 2 5-2 bear Pass PA comeback Roundtree 12
Good protection but no one's really going for the QB because of play action, I guess. Gardner steps up and has a very strange no-step throw that floats a bit. Either terrible mechanics or a great improvisation to get it over a DE in the throwing lane who endeavors to bat the pass down. Accurate, though, and Roundtree can turn it up for a first down. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)
M48 2 4 Offset I-Form 2 1 2 4-3 over Pass PA rollout Hitch Reynolds Inc
Counter PA to Kerridge does not hold the backside end because obviously. He gets out on the edge to harrass. Denard is underneath and covered. Gardner goes deeper to an also-covered Reynolds and misses, but Reynolds is off balance and may have stumbled out of his break or gotten interfered with. Can't tell and no replay. He probably should have gone to Kwiatkowski further inside but not possible with the pressure. So... I want to punt. (MA, 0, protection N/A, RPS -1)
M48 3 4 Shotgun double stack 1 1 3 Nickel even Pass Cross Gallon 36 (Pen -15)
Initial protection is good but Smith(-1) doesn't perceive the late blitz coming and leaks out of the backfield; pocket opens up and Gardner steps forward just as the blitzer does. He's got little time but does have Gallon on a crossing route. It's time for an Uncannily Accurate Gardner Flick, which is off his back foot and has no impetus, but goes right to Gallon for big yards. (DO, 3, protection 1/2, Smith -1). It's wiped out by a dubious offensive PI on Roundtree. (Refs -3!)
M33 3 19 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 3-3-5 nickel Pass Rollout Fly Dileo Inc
Another rollout; edge rusher gets too far inside and Smith chops him down well. Gardner has a lot of time and finds Dileo, but doesn't step into this one either, and that's bad. Dileo has two steps to the endzone and the throw is way short and inside. (IN, 0, protection 2/2, RPS +2). I may be harsh here because there's a shot of Gardner talking to Dileo that seems to be Dileo saying my bad just from the body language, but it really looked like a bomb into the endzone was six.
O25 1 10 Shotgun 2-back TE 2 1 2 4-3 over Pass TE jailbreak screen Kwiatkowski 6
Fake flare screen to Denard followed by a dumpoff inside to Kwiatkowski. Accurate, but Kwiatkowski got bumped off his route and away from his blockers and gets chopped down after a moderate gain. (CA, 3, screen)
O19 2 4 Shotgun double stack 1 1 3 3-3-5 nickel Pass Dig Dileo Inc (Pen +10)
Another delayed blitz bothers Gardner, who feels he can't step up in the pocket because a guy beat Omameh(-1) and can't step into the throw because there's a guy flying at Smith. Gardner has another back foot fling that's a bit wobbly and a little behind Dileo, but Dileo still gets both hands on it and drops it. (CA+, 3, protection ½, Omameh -1). Roughing the passer bails M out.
M13 1 10 Ace FB motion 1 2 2 4-3 over Pass Corner Gallon Inc
Gallon's got himself a window here and Gardner just misses by throwing it too far downfield. Good protection. (IN, 0, protection 2/2)
M19 3 4 Shotgun double stack 1 1 3 3-3-5 nickel Pass Scramble Gardner 4 +15 pen
A ton of time as OSU only rushes three. Finally flushed out, Gardner evades a charging LB and tiptoes down the sideline for the first down. (SCR, N/A, protection 2/2). Late hit adds on; it seems like they actually shorted Gardner a couple yards here, FWIW.
M38 1 10 Ace FB motion 1 2 2 Nickel over Pass Sack N/A -9
More max pro two man route stuff. OSU using delayed blitzes to get pressure after M OL commit. On this one Williams(-1) refuses to pass his guy off as he goes upfield and lets a LB in unmolested. However, this blitz is both delayed and slow, so Gardner should be able to do something. He pumps, hesitates, and is lost. (TA, N/A, protection ½, williams -1, RPS -1... both deep guys bracketed)
M29 2 19 I-Form 2 1 2 4-3 over Pass Waggle drag Roundtree 5
Instant pressure as end man is thinking QB first. Gardner makes another awkward-looking but effective throw and Roundtree has a step on the LB, but a hard corner prevents any sort of large gain. (CA, 3, protection N/A)
M34 3 14 Shotgun 2-back 2 0 3 3-3-5 nickel Pass Sack Smith -9
Robinson at RB, releasing immediately, just brushes a LB blitzing. Smith(-2) doesn't get over to block that guy for some reason, and Gardner gets chased and sacked. (PR, N/A, protection 0/2, Smith -2)
M31 2 4 Shotgun 2TE 1 2 2 4-3 over Pass Hitch Gallon 9
Gardner looks to Roundtree first and then goes to the other side of the field for a short hitch that Gallon turns into a comeback, evading tacklers and grabbing some YAC. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)
M14 1 10 I-Form 3-wide 2 0 3 Nickel over Pass Post Gallon 30
A perfect downfield strike to Gallon, who is a shoestring tackle away from a touchdown. (DO, 3, protection 2/2, RPS +2)
M23 2 8 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 Nickel even Pass Hitch Dileo 6
All hitches; Gardner finds the right one. Throw is a little bit off, so Dileo can't get YAC, but not quite MA territory. (CA, 3, protection 1/1)
M36 1 10 I-Form 2 1 2 4-4 over Pass Out Gallon 8
OSU showing a three deep shell all the way so this is an easy pitch and catch. Gardner's throw is a little upfield and outside, safe, but if he didn't pull Gallon that far out he could have picked up the first. Still not quite an MA. (CA, 3, protection 2/2)
M8 1 10 I-Form 2 1 2 4-4 over Pass PA hitch Gallon Inc (Pen +11)
OSU playing press and rolling safeties to the line for an aggressive look. Denard's looking for Gallon on a hitch and the ball ends up turfed in front of him... because Roby yanked Gallon all over the field before it got there. Looked like a good timing throw in the right spot without it. (CA, 0, protection 2/2)
M19 2 10 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 4-3 over Pass PA sack N/A -15
Inverted veer look into a pop pass. OSU stunts and catches this play perfectly. LB immediately in Gardner's face with no hope of any one blocking the guy. Gardner spins away from that guy and starts scrambling, but fumbles as he gets banged from the side. (PR, N/A, protection 0/3, team -3, RPS -3)
M31 1 10 Ace twin TE 1 2 2 4-3 even Pass PA crosss Roundtree Inc
Max pro, two man route, Gardner does have Roundtree if he leads him to the sideline but throws it inside and upfield, which is dangerously close to an interception. (IN, 0, protection 1/1)
M31 2 10 I-Form 2 1 2 4-3 even Pass Corner Gallon Inc
Gardner misses Roundtree wide, wide open on a dig and goes for Gallon on a corner route that is bracketed. He might have a tiny window but to get it over the guy sagging and there fast enough to beat the safety is a near-impossible task. The ball is a little late, too, and Bryant breaks it up. (BR, 0, protection 2/2)
M31 3 10 Shotgun 4-wide 1 1 3 Nickel even Pass Hitch Gallon 10
Just a simple hitch; coverage is a step off; Gardner fortunate that the Buckeye CB stumbled because he put this too far upfield and if not for that he would have had a play on the ball. Gallon grabs it and gets the first down. (MA, 3, protection 2/2)
M41 1 10 Shotgun 2TE 1 2 2 Nickel even Pass Scramble Gardner 10 (Pen -10)
Schofield(-2) gets beat by an edge rusher and tackles the dude as he flies by, drawing a flag. Gardner gets flushed, notices a big lane, and takes off for near first down yardage that gets wiped out. (SCR, N/A, Protection 0/2, Schofield -2)
M31 1 20 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 Nickel over Pass Improv Funchess Inc
Blitz overloads the M edge and gets two guys through. Not much the linemen can do about this, the blocking scheme just got beat. Gardner spins out and gets the edge, then decides to chuck it up across his body way downfield to Funchess. That's way short and inside. He had the corner easy and would have picked up maybe ten yards if he took off. Frustrating. (BR, 0, protection 0/2, team -2)
M31 2 20 Shotgun 3-wide 1 1 3 Nickel even Pass Rollout corner Dileo INT
Tough as he's a righty rolling to his left and can't get set here. He does have Dileo on a corner if he can get it to the sideline, but it's way, way inside and picked off (INX, 0, protection ½, team -1)

Let's get to it.

Okay.

Denard:

Opponent DO CA MA IN BR TA BA PR SCR DSR
2011 through MSU 13 66(12) 11(1) 34(1) 17 2 3 10 4 55%
2011 after MSU 9 77(9) 7 17 9 6(1) 5(2) 9 5 69%
Alabama 4 15(2) 1 4 3* - - 3(1) 1 71%
Air Force 1 14 3 2 1 - 2 1 - 75%
UMass 1 16(4) - 4 - 1 1 1 3 68%
Notre Dame 4 10(1) 2 4(1)* 2** 1 1 3 1 65%
Purdue 3 7(2) - 1(1) - 1 2 - - 73%
Illinois 3 6(2) - - 2 - - - - 78%
MSU 4 9(2) 3(1) 4 2* 1 5 2 - 48%
Nebraska 2 9(2) 1 1 - - - 1 1 90%

Bellomy:

Opponent DO CA MA IN BR TA BA PR SCR DSR
Nebraska 1 4(1) 2 7* 1* - 1 4 1 31%

And Gardner:

Opponent DO CA MA IN BR TA BA PR SCR DSR
Minnesota 3 7(1) 4 2(1) 2* 2 - 3 4 64%
Northwestern 4 16(2) 2 1 3* 2(1) 2(1) 2 5 75%
Iowa 3 16(4) - 2(1) 2 1 - 1 4 79%
Ohio State (pending) 3 11(1) 2 5* 2 1 - 3 2 62%
South Carolina 4 16(2) 2 8 3 4 - 2 2 55%

Like the South Carolina game, Gardner's accuracy let him down at points. This was mostly late, when Michigan was forced to abandon the run entirely with six minutes left in the game and Gardner was making deep throws outside the pocket by reason of rollout or pressure. It is rarely Gardner's mind that lets him down, but rather his feet. While his ability to get velocity and accuracy when he's not even stepping into throws is hugely useful in short-area flips, when his mechanics break down on deeper throws bad times result:

This was most apparent on the (eventually) game-ending interception, where a rollout to Gardner's left resulted in pressure and an awkward throw that sailed for days:

When Gardner does make a wrong read it usually results in a pass that's difficult to complete but not, say, a horrendous interception. In this one, he avoided serious mistakes entirely. This, however, was painful:

RUN THE BALL DEVIN

That was first and twenty and Gardner ended up trying to bomb it to Funchess way short and wide of the target. Runnnnn.

For 2013, it's all about getting set and throwing with good mechanics, because then this happens:

Gardner's relatively pedestrian numbers (11 of 20, ) are a bit harsh on his game. When you throw a perfect deep ball only for OSU's very crappy CJ Barnett to yank Gallon back the foot he needs to catch in stride, you have been robbed:

And when you have one of those little short-area flicks that turns into 36 yards but gets wiped out by a dubious penalty on the other side of the field, ditto:

That is the area where Gardner's ability to pull throws out of nowhere with terrible mechanics is a great asset. That broom-wielding chaos theory quarterback guru was probably like "whoah" about the guy, because when things break down he can get crazy throws off.

Receivers:

[Passes are rated by how tough they are to catch. 0 == impossible. 1 == wow he caught that, 2 == moderate difficulty, 3 == routine. The 0/X in all passes marked zero is implied.]

Player 0 1 2 3   0 1 2 3
Gardner           12 0/5 2/5 14/15
Roundtree 1     3/3   13 2/9 5/7 24/25
Gallon 4 0/1   7/7   16 3/7 7/12 41/43
J. Robinson           1 0/1 1/4 2/2
Dileo 2     1/2   5 2/5 4/4 14/15
Jackson           5   0/1 5/7
D. Robinson           1     4/4
Reynolds 1         2     3/3
                   
Kwiatkowski       1/1   1     4/4
Moore                  
Funchess 1         8 2/5 2/4 11/11
Williams                  
Hopkins             0/1    
Toussaint           1 0/2 1/2 5/5
Smith             0/1 1/2 9/9
Kerridge             0/1   1/1

Feast or famine here, as Gardner either put it right where it needed to be or missed completely. Except for the third-down drop by Dileo that was repaired by a roughing the passer, the wideouts did as expected.

This is every pass worth charting this year now, and you can see that Gallon, Funchess, and Dileo are extremely reliable options who drop balls rarely and have an excellent bail-out rate on tough throws. In years previous to this one a 20% hit rate on 1s would maybe be the best on the team; the three main returners were at 41%. That is somewhat mitigated by Gallon and Dileo's stature, which tends to move throws into harder categories. There are passes that are zeroes if thrown at them that would be 3s to Funchess. On the other hand, the percentage of balls marked uncatchable to Gallon is much lower than those to Roundtree and Funchess. Gallon's quickness means hitch after hitch is open, and it's easy to hit those. The stature, it gives and takes.

Upshot: Michigan returns a sure-handed and potentially prolific wide receiver corps, even without Darboh potentially emerging to replace Roundtree. Chesson and Reynolds should be able to at least keep Michigan even at the 'Tree spot, and then the Big One And Little Two should all improve, Funchess vastly.