Rules: He had to play at least a season or a snap at a significantly different position at the college level (so no ATHs), and BEFORE this position. Jake Ryan’s move from quasi-DE in a 4-3 under to the Mike in an 4-3 over counts; Matt Godin going from 5-tech to DT does not. Neither does moving between safety positions unless you’re a FS who became half-linebacker. Also no pro moves (sorry Cato June), or playing a second, non-primary position (sorry Charles Woodson) even if you won the Heisman (sorry, Tennessee fans, but he did).
Cutoff Point: Recruited Post-Bo, so I don’t have to remember positions from when I was ten (sorry Tripp Welborne).
Quarterback: Devin Gardner
“Wonky throwing motion” indeed. [Eric Upchurch]
In between the times he wore 7 and that awful Nebraska day, Michigan of the Denard era couldn’t resist getting one of their best athletes on the field. So despite no backup quarterback plan other than Russell Bellomy for Denard Robinson (who’d been knocked out for that nerve in the elbow before), for 2012 Mr. Gardner was shipped off to receiver. At first it looked to be a good idea: Gardner had touchdown passes in his first three games (Bama, Air Force, and UMass). He wasn’t a great route runner but with Denard getting the ball every play the receivers got a lot of one-on-one matchups, and Gardner was a big dude. Then Denard went out and we had to wait until the following week before the Devin at QB era could begin. The receiver experiment thus ended at 16 receptions, 266 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
As for quarterback, the end of that 2012 season was magnificent enough to portend great things, but the offensive line was never enough. Two virtuoso performances against Ohio State and Notre Dame as a redshirt junior, then a senior year of a lot of heart but a broken body and a coaching situation. If we do a “man I feel sorry for that guy” team he’ll be back.
Other candidates: Nope.
[Hit THE JUMP unless you’re an Iowa safety then you probably don’t want to know what’s next]
Longtime readers will know the MGoBlog policy on sacking: sacks and sack yardage should be counted as passing, because they are pass plays, not rushing, as the NCAA and thus everybody else is wont to do. Counting sacks as passing leads to a better understanding of success and where yards come from, and prevents problems like the computer in the NCAA videogames passing every play because the sacks that generates keep making the rushing numbers look progressively more awful.
For the Hail to the Victors preview books (kickstarter coming soon) each year we put these "At-a-Glance" boxes into the opponent previews, complete with offensive and defensive stats that we've adjusted for this. Having done the calculations for that, I thought I'd share them with you.
First, the difference it makes to passing stats:
By counting sacks as passing Michigan drops from 8.15 yards per attempt (good for the best passing team in the conference last year) to a more realistic 6.85 YPA, dropping them to fourth. Minnesota's passing game dropped from middling to awful, Iowa's climbed from the bottom to the middle.
And the difference to running stats:
Michigan's awful running game is still awful, but it no longer looks like the Scheelhaase option-running game was a disaster. Ohio State's 7.27 YPC isn't just first among the conference; OSU and Wisconsin were the #1 and #2 rushing offenses in the country. Michigan: 115th out of 125 teams.
This isn't perfect since quarterback scrambles still can't be pulled out of rushing stats, but that's not so big of a deal considering a running QB should be contributing to your rushing success.
[Jump for Devin Garder's passing season and profiles of next year's opponents]
Every week we take this opportunity to do a roundtable obsessing about something, usually quarterback, center, non-Gallon receivers, and non-Gordon safety. This week we obsess about all those things.
The Depth Chart:
Center of everything: Brian Cook
Wide retweeter: Blue in South Bend
Fiddycentback: Seth Fisher
Left guardian of the database: Mathlete
Weaksnide lifehacker: Ace Anbender
Five-technical questions for you: Heiko Yang
And the question:
What position on each side will be most critical to the 2013 team's success?
Seth: We took this to mean the spot you're most focusing on with this team, not which is most important in general (otherwise everyone would say quarterback and associate editor/business manager). Also to avoid obvious things that are obvious, it is stipulated that all are agreed Gardner hurting ouches are the very worst things.
Brian: Even without the possibility of injury this is Gardner by a mile. On one hand, here's a guy who got moved to wide receiver last year and has five games under his belt. He was recruited as a dual threat guy and won't really be one.
On a couple others, dude would have had a top ten passer efficiency mark last year if he'd had enough attempts, and without any cupcakes padding out his stats. Except Iowa. He's spent the offseason hanging out with QB gurus from coast to coast, impressing NFL scouts as a top junior QB, not getting kicked out for boozing, that sort of thing.
Blue in South Bend: Outside of Devin Gardner (who remains the correct answer no matter how you phrase the question), I'm keeping an eye on the tight ends. The depth chart is really thin with the departures of Mike Kwiatkowski and Brandon Moore. They don't really have a game-ready "U" TE, and AJ Williams is the only guy on the roster who has shown the ability to kinda sorta sustain a block (and even that is... yeah). Michigan ran more 2+ TE sets and almost no 0 TE sets with Denard completely out of the lineup last year, and the odds are pretty good that Borges wants to get back to that this year.
But can he kinda-sorta catch? (Fuller) P.S. What do you think of my new caption macro? Captions!
He may either have to get creative (such as putting Dennis Norfleet on Terry Richardson's shoulders under a large trenchcoat jersey) or abandon some aspects of the playbook before even taking them for a test-drive. I think we'll see some position switching to deepen the ranks, and we'll see a guy or two (cough cough Wyatt Shallman cough) moved to a U-TE/H-back role to give them some more flexibility.
On the defensive side, the answer is Devin Gardner. Beyond that, strong safety is worth watching. I really like Jarrod Wilson, and he looks good in the back end, but I don't know whether he can fill Jordan Kovacs' slack in run support. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks he's more of a free safety. If you re-watch the spring game, you'll notice that Wilson made exactly one tackle, and it was him hopping on Funchess' back until the whistle blew. Neither his recruiting profile nor his 2012 play screams "omnipresent tackling machine." If it becomes a problem, will it force Mattison to run more 'even' coverage schemes (cover-2 or quarters)? Will Thomas Gordon's nose for the football be enough to compensate? Or will we just return to the days where 40 yard running plays are a thing that happen sometimes? SO MANY QUESTIONS AND ITS STILL JULY.
But seriously... Devin Gardner.
Seth: Yes, Gardner Gardner Gardevinygardner has to work out but I don't know what you guys are so worried about that occurring. Most fears have been answered. Why was he moved to receiver? Because they wanted his athleticism on the field, and you know he was taking QB reps all that time. What about the awful spring games? He had a good one. No experience? He started last year against four groups of relatively competent human beings plus Iowa and put up a 160 QB rating. Can he match Denard's production? In five starts against better competition last year his metrics were better than Robinson's. Can his superior passing ability make up for Denard's effect on the running game? In the three games Brian bothered to UFR the running plays with Devin at QB indeed weren't as effective but the passing made up the difference and then some:
[Hit the jump for the table, Mathlete, Heiko and Ace]
I'm trying out a new feature of mouse-over tags so readers who don't get some of our references can get caught up. Underlined text has a tag. If the tag is a link then you've found a link. I appreciate any feedback on its deployment.
Left: Young Wolverines some of whom were recruited for power (Upchurch). Right: Power.
Chris Brown's recent article on Smart Football included a link to a 1997-vintage article by Bill Walsh (YTBW). Chris included it as a way of crediting Walsh for correctly predicting Tony Gonzalez would become a great NFL tight end. With Michigan transitioning further toward a Walsh-ian offense, I thought I'd appropriate the whole article to see how well Michigan's 2013 offensive roster matches Walsh-ian archetypes.
Before we jump in, you'll recognize a lot of what's said here from like every NFL draft report ever. Walsh's coaching tree perforated the league for years, and that meant the things he tended to look for in players became what most of the people making draft decisions were looking for. They've been repeated so often as to become memes, however I still think going back to the source can provide some insight into how Michigan's players and recruits are being evaluated.
This is all intended to help you do your own scouting when we publish things like Hello posts (lots of those coming up) and positional previews.
Tom Brady prototype, Tom Brady, Tom Brady with legs? --Bryan Fuller
Walsh Says: 6'3, 210. Having a strong arm isn't as important as an "inventory" of passes, although decent arm strength is a necessity:
"Arm strength is somewhat misleading. Some players can throw 80 yards, but they aren't good passers. Good passing has to do with accuracy, timing, and throwing a ball with touch so it is catchable…
"Remember, the goal of passing a ball is to make sure it is caught ... by your intended receiver."
The most important characteristic for a quarterback is intuition/instincts. He has to be able to sense the rush, make the right decision quickly and get the ball "up and gone," and handle progressions and broken plays with grace as opposed to a sense of urgency.
"The single trait that separates great quarterbacks from good quarterbacks is the ability to make the great, spontaneous decision, especially at a crucial time."
Walsh wants his quarterback to be "courageous and intensely competitive." He also wants them mobile and defines it thus:
Mobility and an ability to avoid a pass rush are crucial. Some quarterbacks use this mobility within the pocket just enough so they are able to move and pass when they "feel" a rush. But overall quickness and agility can make a remarkable difference. As an example, there were some very quick boxers in Sugar Ray Leonard's era, but he was quicker than they were and because of that he became a great champ.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Tom Brady, obviously. Tate Forcier.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: High accuracy plus high YPA. "Makes things happen."
What you can learn on film: Doesn't make you nervous. Escapes from pressure then seems calm, not rushed. Sees something and reacts quickly. Receivers aren't making tough catches or breaking stride.
What could signal bust potential: First a warning on this part not to take it as "anyone who exhibits this trait will bust." What I'm saying is beware a guy ranked highly because this feature he possesses, which is a good thing to possess, may be overrated. Here it's arm strength—more an NFL problem than college since college QBs can learn systems and Navarre their way to great college careers with only one type of pass. Arm strength with no accuracy and a terrible delivery can turn into a great player if he's got an innate sense (think Stafford), but more often a coach will try to fix it and end up with a Dontrelle Willis.
How our guys compare: So far only Devin Gardner has seen substantial play against college defenses but we've gotten about a game's worth of Russell Bellomy too. Gardner's inventory has passes for finding Gallon 40 yards downfield, zips that only Dileo can get to, and even that Stafford-y thing he flipped to Dileo in the Outback Bowl. He has ideal size, and wins the mobility category over everybody not named Denard Robinson. If you give him a lane to pick up yards with his legs he will take it. And he MAKES PLAYS, those coming first to mind being where he runs around in the backfield defying sack attempts until something worthy of forward progress appears.
His weakness so far has been in that crucial "up and gone" aspect. His delivery has a long wind-up and that exacerbates a medium-to-mediocre diagnosis-reaction speed. Previous spring games when Devin looked really bad at this suggest it wasn't a few months as a receiver to blame, although that obviously didn't help. Gardner will live and die by his scrambling and ability to make linebackers freeze in coverage when he takes a step forward. He's not Tom Brady, but Gardner's package can equal a helluvah good college QB. An offseason as quarterback in a system designed to his strengths puts the ceiling high for 2013, and off the charts if there ends up being a 2014.
Russell Bellomy (right-Upchurch) in his few appearances last year—mostly the 2nd half against Nebraska—gave us a fairly strong indication of his abilities. He wins Walsh points by having a catchable ball, but there it ends. His apparent lack of arm strength severely limits the inventory, his agility isn't anything special vs. Big Ten defenders, and while you can forgive a freshman thrust into starting for this, he showed a lot of panic. I am skeptical that he can contribute on this level unless his arm strength improves as much as I expect his comfort will.
Shane Morris, now. Other than every scouting thing they can do with high schoolers, it's hard to say what he will turn out to be. The senior year performance and the thing that guy said in the Elite 11 about his primary read being taken away are marks against the Walsh archetype, but the size and arm and full inventory are there. He's too young to know if he will develop the rest.
Terrance Flagler, A-Train, Toussaint –Upchurch
Walsh Says: Needs to be big enough to take punishment and always fall forward, but "some smaller runners play big." He uses James Brooks but of course we've got our own exempli gratia. The 1B for backs is again, instincts, though he emphasizes getting "the first four yards within the scheme and then rely on instincts to take it beyond that."
Walsh puts a high value on durability, which maybe isn't as important in college where the hits are lighter and the roster is deeper. The other thing he harps on is instinct, mentioning he got burned on this with Terrance Flagler. This is the difference between Michael Shaw and Mike Hart.
After that he goes into bonus features. If he can block he doesn't have to come off the field in passing situations. He has to be able to catch a screen and the further down the field he can threaten as a receiver the more "dimensional" the offense becomes.
Walsh's Favorite Wolverine: Anthony Thomas. Always falling forward, instinctual enough to be a kick returner before becoming the feature back.
What to look for in a Scouting Report: At least 185 lbs., thick and squat. Numbers don't tank against high-level competition.
What you can learn on film: Defenders look like bad tacklers (subtle movements by the RB make him tough to set up on). Falling forward, durability, operating in small spaces. Lots of D-I ticketed RBs will run sweeps all the time because their speed is just unfair against high school DEs. Watch the inside and zone running.
What could signal bust potential: Beware the big backs who wrack up huge high school yardage by running through terrible tacklers. It's hard to tell the guys who can subtly shift their bodies to make themselves difficult to bring down from the ones who just truck over a division full of future doctors and lawyers. One strong attribute can sometimes dominate a bad high school league, but D-I football requires several working together.
How our guys compare: Toussaint has shown the instincts and "plays big" at near the extreme for smallness. He looked on his way toward being a zone-style feature complement until having the unluckiest year in recent Michigan RB history. Justice Hayes is like Toussaint except he's yet to show those instincts. Dennis Norfleet has the playmaker thing down but there's a major difference in size between him and the other guys. Norfleet was listed at 5'7/161 last year, and Vincent Smith was put at 5'6/175. Hayes was 5'10/183 and Toussaint 5'10/202. Norfleet/Smith and Toussaint/Hayes are different tiers.
Among the plowshares, thick-trunked Thomas Rawls saw extensive action last year. The difference between him and Mark Ingram is Rawls seems to miss his hole a lot—that "first four yards" thing is a problem. I haven't seen enough of Drake Johnson yet to know if he brings anything different. None of the above (who are still on the roster) have yet to demonstrate they're any better than mediocre blockers.
Two incoming running backs come with the Walsh stamp of approval. Green is already 220 lbs. and his senior highlight reel shows him doing a lot of inside power running and finding his extra yards. Deveon Smith is already Toussaint-sized and seems to have that micro-instinctual quality that Hart had. No idea if either of these guys can block.
By farside286. Please tell me that's a processor speed reference and not your Mo-Jo room number c. 1998-'99 because if it's the latter I'm so so sorry!
When I came to Michigan they had recently started doing these really interesting seminar classes that only freshmen could take. There was one on the Simpsons, one all about spring break destinations, and one on King Arthur that filled up right away since it got around you get to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail.* I ended up taking the Psychology of Business, basically an insight directly into the hive mind of management that would have been invaluable to a corporate career if it hadn't also completely turned me off from it.
Club_med, a statistician, mentioned a few of that class's signature readings on "flow" while showing that the team with momentum going into overtime does not have any advantage. He plans to see if other things like 4th downs or turnovers create swings. Hypothesis: if there's a difference at all it is probably a) buried in too small a data sample, and b) an effect of freeing coaches from their lizard brains to take appropriate risks. The ND-Pitt Hypothesis: success in overtime situations is directly correlated to which team is better at playing football.
*I appreciate a discussion on holy hand grenades as much as the next guy, but some of us honestly want to talk Alano-Sarmation Theory, and translate Nennius's list of battles into Welsh to see if it rhymes.
More Statistics Bias in This Week's Read These:
Run charts like running QBs. Please let's all welcome the nerdy and likeable LSAClassof2000 back to the diaries with a quick comparison of Michigan's rush/pass offense/defense over the last 10 years versus that of Iowa. Conclusion: having Denard Robinson or Brad Banks under center makes you good at running:
Whence the Tebowing? The guy who I think graduated from LSA in 2000 also decided to chart up the Denardian career. I don't like that the charts are all on a different Y scale so you can't really compare to each other until…
…arrrgghhhh 2012 Y R U no touchdowns!
Get yer head out of September. The Devin Gardening of the past few weeks has people thinking of 2013 things despite the 2012 things still being very much in play. Gordon put together a great list and discussion on the Big Ten's out-of-conference schedule for next year. Hurrah for the yellow and blue not starting against the Sabanic empire in Jerryworld and thus diminishing the excitement of the season right out of the gate. Somebody remind me to back-link this thing next August.
Hoops in Pittsburgh. I bumped ClearEyesFullHart's preview/obsessing over next week's basketball game at Pitt. And not just because I'm a sucker for Firefly references, even if I'm a hopeless sucker for Firefly references.
[JUMP for some epic weeklies and best of the board]
The only press box I've ever been in is Eastern Michigan's, and I was there to watch Devin Gardner play. He was at Inkster; Inkster was in the Big Day Prep Showdown. We even live-blogged it. The cadre of grizzled preps guys sat a few seats down. Their silverback called Gardner "high school superman" and Paul taped him from the sideline.
In an eerie prefiguring of Denard Robinson's career, Gardner had a ridiculously high percentage of Inkster's yards and made everyone feel ill when he got knocked out of the game. Inkster was on a grinding fourth quarter drive with Inkster down two. They had no kicker, so on fourth and seven from the eight they went for it. Gardner did a Vince Young impression down to the one and did not get up.
The backup came in to guide Inkster to minus three yards on the next three plays. Gardner was reinserted for fourth and the game. He rolled out into heavy resistance, drew coverage to him, and threw a weird mechanics-free jump pass that scored the go-ahead touchdown. His teammates celebrated; he laid under a defender. Defender removed, Gardner got up like a glacier tired of gouging lakes out of mountains. Weary. A thousand years weary.
In the press box, the preps silverback spake thusly: "and on fourth down, he rose again."
With Gardner on the sideline, Pioneer went 68 yards in 49 seconds to win. At halftime, the Free Press had launched their Rodriguez jihad, sucking any attention his Lazarus comeback may have generated out the airlock.
That's just how being Devin Gardner has gone. He arrived with an armload of hype and fell prey to an avalanche of it wearing dreads. He didn't even get to preserve his redshirt year thanks to Tate Forcier's inability to keep on the sunny side of life and Denard going out in about 2/3rds of Michigan's games. He moved to receiver, but called himself a quarterback. He saw the Nebrasaka game up close and personal. What was he thinking then about where he had ended up?
Things happen and you feel certain ways about them and you can only figure out why you felt the things you felt in the moment later, after. From distance I think my extremely complicated yesssnononononoyessss response to Gardner's rolling out stopping neh neh neh no lets turn around and run the other way touchdown heave was comprised of these three things:
Seeing that Dileo had broken open by twenty yards.
It was third and seventeen and Michigan hadn't been able to move the ball a lick against Minnesota, so that colored my expectations as well.
Mostly I expected that something hilariously bad would occur and I would tweet out gallows humor while scouting out Goldy for some Ohio Bobcat action. This expectation got much better when Gardner cleared the containment and broke to the backside of the play. It got worse again when Devin chucked it without setting his feet, and then it was a touchdown and I'm just like…
…oh. That was madcap. That's not happening again but at least we're seven points closer to not losing this game. I wonder how we will get any more? I think we should try the triple reverse throwback bomb to Lewan. Works every time when the universe has turned into a cartoon.
Michigan went with "fade route to 5'8" receiver in jet boots." Close enough. No one adjusts to the laws of physics going all looney tunes like the Michigan Wolverines.
Yeah, Minnesota is just a high school team with a nice stadium that disguised their pass defense in the wreckage of 2012 Big Ten quarterbacking. Yeah, everyone is getting way ahead of themselves praising Gardner when his performance seemed split about 50/50 between yakety sax (but good!) and receivers bailing Gardner out on balls they have no business catching. Yeah, Gardner's mechanics still look bizarre. The main takeaway from that game was uh-oh, Ohio State. Sure.
I don't think Devin Gardner cares after years of being a two-snap sideshow. That ridiculous heave was the first hint that he might be able to hack it next year, and that's a huge relief for everyone. It took three years and third and seventeen, but Devin Gardner got up and recaptured some of that old magic.
A close race this week. I did tweet "JMFR" after that and meant it. Nine tackles, five solo, three TFLs, various other things that don't show up on the scoreboard but let other people make plays. However, Jake Ryan got edged again and I'm pretty sure he was the guy who let Minnesota's tight end get so wide open on their touchdown.
So… Wide Receivers As A Unit, come on down! Drew Dileo: I'm not even laughing at the inevitable Wes Welker comparisons. Jeremy Gallon: separate like a boss, leap like a man with rocket boots. Roy Roundtree: Devin Gardner TARP. If those three guys don't collectively play out of their minds the narrative about Gardner is quite a bit different today.
Honorable Mention. Devin Gardner, about whom more in a bit, Jake Ryan(beastmode on several plays), Jordan Kovacs (damn you fluck), Desmond Morgan (when he hits you on third and short stops happen).
Coach Brady Hoke said after the game Gardner now is entrenched as Michigan's backup quarterback while Bellomy deals with an undisclosed injury, although he was guarded about what exactly is ailing the redshirt freshman.
"Russell's situation is a little different," Hoke said. "Not one I want to discuss."
Asked to clarify whether the issue is injury related, Hoke said "Most likely. Yes. A boo boo."
There's an art installation about the nature of truth and reality in Hoke press conferences. UMAA, get on that.
The Michigan Athletic Department delivered the sobering news minutes before kickoff: senior quarterback Denard Robinson would not start against Minnesota due to an “undisclosed injury.”
Hoke is "very optimistic" he'll be back next week. Amazing thing: that was the first game Denard has ever missed with injury.
Obligatory Gardnertake. Obviously he'll be the backup QB the remainder of the year what with Denard being even more fragile than normal and Russell Bellomy being both injured and the primary author of the second half of the Nebraska game. And he's finally done something other than worry everyone about his future not living up to what people were hoping it would be. This is major progress.
I still find myself way on the conservative end of reaction to Gardner's performance. Some other blog takes to set the table:
"After a frightening start, Gardner was amazing. I’m amazed that he can spend basically one week preparing for this game and do that. Yes, I realize it was The Gophers and like everyone else I’m prone to oversteer after a win, but that was remarkable. So that is the 5 star guy that everyone was salivating over out of high school."
Robinson didn't play at all, and converted receiver Devin Gardner made him look utterly expendable. Lining up at quarterback for the first time this season, Gardner was 12-of-18 for 245 yards – he had three completions covering at least 45 – and two touchdowns, good for a sky-high pass efficiency rating of 206.6.
Devin Gardner's stellar performance leads Michigan to rout
This may be an effect from sitting in the stadium instead of catching it on TV: Gardner had plenty of wide open dudes, and his throws were erratic. On the one hand, there was the picture-perfect bomb to Gallon; on the other, Dileo and Roundtree bailed Gardner out hardcore on the touchdown drive that put the game out of reach. The Dileo catch was a circus catch all the way, one that could have been made much easier.
Meanwhile Roundtree broke open by yards and would have had an easy touchdown if Gardner had gotten the ball to the endzone on the opposite hash. As it was he had to circus Michigan out of an interception. I'm torn on pressured completions to Jerald Robinson and Roundtree that were wobblers but did pick up big chunks.
Gardner does have a much better sense of when to run around like a lunatic than Denard. His High School Superman mode picked up the Dileo touchdown and a critical third down conversion on Michigan's second touchdown drive. He's still having trouble adjusting to what he can get away with in college, as his second attempt to reprise his MSU 2012 Yakety Sax (except good(!)) ended in a crazy whip-around throwaway that is easy to see resulting in something worse than a harmless ball out of bounds.
Compounding everything is the complication that Minnesota is Minnesota, and Minnesota, despite being Minnesota, was the top pass efficiency defense in the league entering the game. I tend to give more credence to the Minnesota bit of that given Ace's FFFF of Jared Abbrederis hand-wavingly wide open and seeing plenty of that in person Saturday. Gardner had doorwalls, not windows.
The passing game wasn’t difficult to acclimate to, Gardner said, but recognizing new protections and familiarizing himself with the ground game took some time. He called offensive coordinator Al Borges’ gameplan a “safe” one, due to the extreme lack of depth at quarterback.
“They couldn’t run the quarterback,” Gardner said. “I’m comfortable with doing that, but there was no way we could have done that, it just wouldn’t have been smart.”
…okay yeah I'm with you.
Running game, turrible. Michigan got a short-yardage romp from Fitzgerald Toussaint in garbage time to make the final numbers look okay. Extracting the final two drives (four Thomas Rawls runs for 6 yards and four Toussaint runs for 50), suck out sacks (three for 23), and Michigan's run game did this:
30 carries for 122 yards.
That is a hair over four yards a carry, and suuuuuucks. Even if you add in the garbage time they only get up to 4.7 YPC, which is almost two yards worse than Minnesota's best performance to date in the Big Ten.
Kids, it's sackcloth and ashes time. I had a little fit in the stands when Michigan ran an iso on one of their first couple drives and it went for three yards because it was Rawls running into an unblocked linebacker instead of Toussaint running into an unblocked linebacker and getting two yards. Things got marginally better from there, but only marginally. Michigan's long run other than the Toussaint TD was a Gardner scramble. Their next two were 1) a Gallon end-around that didn't require much blocking, and 2) the Rawls counter pitch that required none. I'm guessing that when I do the UFR the offensive line won't come out much better than they did against Nebraska.
That's mystifying after they did pretty well against a rampant ND defense and throttled a couple bad Big Ten teams. Minnesota and Nebraska aren't much better than Purdue and Illinois on defense. Michigan crushed the latter two, and essentially got crushed by the former two. Denard's absence has a lot to do with that; it's still depressing to think of Michigan's rushing offense as the worst in the Big Ten minus #16.
Hagerup dup. Will Hagerup, please report to the garage for a tuneup: three punts for an average of 29 yards each. Yorp.
Minnesota trip report section. The Gophers' new stadium is nice, as you would expect. Unlike Northwestern—the Big Ten stadium of comparable size I've been to—even the far reaches in the corner are pretty good seats, and the video board is far superior to Michigan's. I looked it up on the wikipedia: their main board is 5184 square feet to M's 3,991 and has a higher resolution. Michigan's down to 14th on their list of biggest screen things; kind of feels like the boards installed just a couple years ago are already dated.
I was on the aisle. I spent most of the game looking around people going up or down, because 1) they serve beer and 2) Minnesota fans in our section made Michigan students look like ruthless drill instructors with their punctuality. I guess it was an 11 AM local start. Even so my strategy as a Minnesota fan would be to show up for the part of the game where you're competitive and exit early if and when that ceases to be true. At least they were nice. I didn't see a single negative interaction between Michigan and Minnesota fans.
The chintz factor was pretty high, largely because the announcer would prompt everyone with "THAT'S ANOTHER GOLDEN GOPHER…" and then a variable number of fans would say "FIRST DOWN." The PA guy's mood shifted wildly with the fortunes of the game, too. By the end of it he was almost surly. The Minnesota marching band is 350 strong and the only thing I remember them playing was the Mortal Kombat theme sometime in the third.
Logistically, the stadium is in a good spot. We tailgated at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul, which was a ten minute bus ride from the stadium on a private university road. That last bit is key: no traffic. After the game I went to a sportsbar to watch an epic Sparty No moment with various folk; another set of companions went right back to the car. The bus line: about ten minutes and then you're out of all traffic.
Oh so Sparty. Oh, Sparty. You sonsabitches. First you have to run out to a two-score lead and then salt the game away before getting their world-class Sparty No(!) moment in on a personal foul on a pick six—one of like six you sonsabitches took after being on your best fairy godmother behavior against Michigan because really you're just misunderstood—and then getting outright screwed in a fashion that I couldn't even enjoy because you needed to win that game.
It took exactly two weeks to go from "where's the threat" to Same Old Spartans. Well, okay. I actually hope you sonsabitches make a bowl game because thanks to the ineligible teams you'll get sucked into a NYD thing against an SEC team and lose by 600.
BONUS BONUS BONUS
Kid's got a future with Vince McMahon if the football thing doesn't work out.
The player is trailing the play, looking at what's going on. He's Kenny Bell—he's fast. There is a possibility the play cuts back to where he's relevant, and Adams doesn't hit him in the head, he just shoulders him to the ground. It's not dirty or excessively violent. It's the equivalent of the PF Michigan got last week for hitting Martinez late—overprotective busybody stuff done in the name of PR. Unlike last week, it swung the game.
AND I DIDN'T EVEN GET TO LIKE IT ARRRGH
Fake field goal thing. Minnesota folk were livid at it but after seeing it on replay I think Kill almost got us.
Kill had something up his sleeve and used it, getting his quarterback wide open on the sideline with no one covering him. If he'd run downfield and the guy had thrown downfield, touchdown. Bizarrely, despite setting this up and getting a quick snap in the throw was on the LOS and Michigan could recover because they were not rushing seriously. It didn't seem like it was a screwup by the guy throwing the ball, either: Nelson just sat on the LOS instead of running downfield.
I don't get that bit, but the idea worked. The execution/play design was busted.
Side note: if you're wondering how that happened after the rules were changed such that anyone checking into the game has to do so between the numbers: Nelson was already on the field and just stayed on as the rest of the offense jogged off. I'm not sure why you'd put Nelson out there instead of a receiver in that case, another strange thing about that play.
So… yeah, everything that happened after the snap was weird and bad. The gamble itself I can get behind when your kicker is .500 on the season.
A plea for pass interference sanity. I'll probably expand this into a larger post after the season but Saturday really crystallized how much I hate the pass interference rule as currently implemented. I actually thought this when Michigan got the benefit of it on the long incompletion to Roundtree on which the DB had excellent position and Roundtree kind of flung himself all over the dude's back.
IMO, if the DB is over the top of the WR, he's earned the right to slow down and prevent the guy from getting to the ball. If he's behind him and the ball is crappy and underthrown that is the offense not executing. You should only be able to commit pass interference with your arms or by actually hitting a guy. You have a right to your momentum, and to exist. Grabbing, holding, blowing a guy up before the ball gets there—all of these are legitimate calls. Running over a guy because he suddenly stops because the QB left the ball 10 yards short is not. I'm really tired of plays on which the offense is bailed out when a terribly-thrown ball turns into 15 yards.
Defensive backs are corporeal beings! Let's treat them like that! I'm founding the We're Made Of Matter Too League.
Michigan by 13.5 over Northwestern? That's higher than the opening line for Michigan vs. Minnesota.
Home/away yeah but Northwestern is competitive against teams not named Purdue. This does make me feel so much better about that game. PREVIEW PREVIEW: Not picking the spread this time, probably.
Oh, right, defense. The defense held Minnesota to 13 points and under 300 yards—though if pass interference penalties were credited as offensive yards they would have gone over—and other than some Jake Ryan chatter above this 4000-ish word post has nothing to say about it, because that's just what happens. Being seventh in yardage defense just happens. Hail Mattison.
It's Michigan versus Minnesota week, at Minnesota, which means one thing. A University of Michigan quarterback is going to have a career day. In 2008, Nick Sheridan was 18 of 30 for 203 yards and a 127.8 QB rating. In 2006, Chad Henne was 17 of 24 for 284 yards, 3 TDs, and a QB rating of 211.5. That may not have been his best performance, but I don't ever remember seeing a QB rating greater than 200. In 2003, John Navarre was 33 for 47 for 353 yards and 2 TDs. During my college years, we put up these scoring numbers at Minnesota: 49, 52, 58, and 44 ('89, '91, '93, '96.)
I guess what I'm saying is, we shouldn't have been surprised by what transpired yesterday, but after that first quarter, I'm betting that I'm not the only one that was shocked by the next three quarters. After 9 consecutive TD-less quarters, we scored 5 in the next 3.
Blog folk. MVictors also made the trip, where he took in the game from the resplendent comfort of the press box. He was also not impressed by Gopher timeliness, and reminded me that I was also astounded by how into the Kiss Cam everyone was.
QUINTON WASHINGTON – To me it seemed like every time a Golden Gopher ball carrier got up from a run up the middle, Big Q was at the bottom of the pile. There may have been some questions about the strength of UM D-Line, but Washington is starting to clog up the middle, making it tough sledding for opponents to run on Michigan this year.
I think one of the hardest things college football fans have to reconcile is the ephemeral nature of players. When you consider depth charts, redshirting, and the like, we may get about three years with them at most, four if we're really lucky. We get to know them, we come to appreciate them for what they can do, and then, like that, as quickly as they came, they are gone, leaving only memories, and occasionally questions of what might have been.
Gardner looked like a Jim Tressel-led Terrelle Pryor: an athletic, tall quarterback being forced to play under center and make plays only when he's asked to while allowing the defense to carry the load. In this game, Gardner was able to do so, but this was against a Minnesota team that allowed 44 points to New Hampshire and 28 to Western Michigan and Purdue. Does Gardner's obvious improvement actually resemble a sustainable winning offense? That's debatable.
There is a flowering of "no QB controversy" posts, BTW: Maize and Go Blue has one, and the MZone leads with:
Repeat After Me: There is NO QB CONTROVERSY
After Devin Gardner's amazing game (minus the 1st quarter), I joked on Twitter that the easiest way to identify a so-called "Walmart Wolverine" on sports talk radio this week will be the guy calling in asking if there's a QB controversy now in A2.
There is not.
Devin was outstanding (minus the 1st quarter). He was outstanding by any measure, but more so since he hadn't gotten any meaningful game reps at quarter back since... Illinois 2011? But as soon as he's 100% again, Denard is Michigan's QB this season. Period.
When Michigan has needed to scramble this year, it has turned to Gardner.
Gardner was never really given a fair shake. He came in as a five-star recruit marooned behind a once-in-a-generation talent. Next year, he’ll have to compete with another hyped recruit, Shane Morris, who better fits Michigan’s pro-style system.
This year, he was asked to move to receiver, though it’s unclear whether he had a choice. The extent of his protest was to say he still considers himself a quarterback.
On Saturday, Michigan thrust him into uncharted territory: a wide receiver given one week to prepare for quarterback. There was little run game to bail him out, and even with Robinson, Michigan hadn’t scored a touchdown in two games. Gardner had taken reps at quarterback in his first two years, but he had to learn new protections and run packages in days.
“I was pretty nervous coming in to know how I would handle that,” Gardner said. “But I feel like I handled it pretty well.”
Devin Gardner has been taking most of the snaps at QB this week. Denard is obviously limited during his recovery, but I think it's curious that Bellomy has gotten only "a couple," regardless of whether he's the No. 1 or No. 2 backup. You'd expect Gardner and Bellomy to split reps equally and compete for the top backup spot. Plausible explanation: Bellomy is also limited by some undisclosed injury. (I don't know for sure, but it's an educated guess.) Either way, it sounds like Gardner is the bona fide starting QB until Denard recovers.
As of now, Denard is expected back for Saturday. Hoke says the final call on the quarterback situation will be made just before game time. If you have been paying attention to Michigan's football program over the last season and a half, however, you have surmised that Michigan is highly unlikely to make this kind of decision just before game time. That decision will probably be made very soon if it has not been made already.
If the distribution of QB snaps (see above) and Michigan's track record for saying things that turn out not to be true (e.g. previous injury reports and recovery projections, most notably during the Nebraska game, "Michigan says Denard will return to the game in the second half ...") are any indication, I would guess the probability that Denard plays on Saturday is around 50%, maybe less. In the absence of real information though, anything is possible; I'm not optimistic, but I never am.
Amara Darboh and Joe Reynolds have gotten the reps at receiver that Gardner is now missing.
“Thought we came out yesterday and had a really good practice. That’s good to see. We didn’t play as well as we’d like to. I think everybody understands that, but I think we’ve moved forward and did a lot of things as a team very well. Competed very well. We’re pretty physical with each other, which is always a good thing. You don’t have guys feeling sorry for themselves, so the intensity level was good.”
Can you talk at all about the division of snaps at quarterback?
“You know, I couldn’t give you an exact number, to be honest with you. You know, Denard took some, Devin took a lot, and then Russell took a couple.”
Will Denard play on Saturday?
“We’re planning on it.”
Does he have any physical limitations?
“Not really. Not right now. He’s better. It’s not all the way cleared up yet, but it’s better.”
You had to be happy with how you were moving the ball in the first quarter until you got into the red zone …
“Yeah. We got in sync pretty good. We had three drives of ten plays or more. Mix of run and pass was pretty good. I felt like we were starting to really get into sync and it was unfortunate. We’re not doing a good job of finishing drives. That’s our main focus for this week, particularly in the red area. This is not the first time it’s happened.”
Seemed like some plays were there to be made in the red zone, though.
“Yeah. There were some opportunities. There’s some opportunities, but it’s -- we have to run the ball better in the red area, too. I have just found in my experience as a coordinator that the best red zone years we had are the years we were able to rush the football for a touchdown probably about 60% of the time or better. That’ll really improve. It gets increasingly more difficult to throw it down there, obviously, because of the condensed field.”