Previously: Podcast 9.0A. Podcast 9.0B. Podcast 9.0C. The Story. Quarterback. Running Back. Wide Receiver. Tight End And Friends. Offensive Line. Defensive End. Defensive Tackle. Linebacker. Cornerback. Safety. Special Teams. 5Q5A Offense.
1. HOW ARE WE GONNA SURVIVE MAN? THEY'RE ALL GONE!
the dearly departed [Eric Upchurch]
Survive is easy. See Gary, Rashan. Thrive is harder. Michigan's talent drain has been significantly overblown in the national media, a land where Mo Hurst isn't a starter and there are significant question marks about Gary and Chase Winovich, but... uh... there was still a lot of it. See last year's NFL draft.
The main thing offsetting the talent drain is the Don Brown effect. His defenses have taken significant steps—sometimes massive leaps—forward in year two:
[metrics are yards per play, FEI, and S&P+; national ranks are presented. final column is the average of the three. Bolded years are Brown years.]
Forward motion for Michigan is impossible after last year's elite outfit, but the table makes it clear that imbibing Don Brown's defense is a multi-year process. Michigan has a bunch of new starters; none are freshmen, so they're actually more experienced in Brown's defense than the departed were. This resulted in a lot less pointing during the spring game, and an absence of the big safety busts that cropped up at inopportune times last year. (Except for that walk-on against Gentry.)
Bill Connelly's 2016 defensive radar tells a hell of a story:
That slice out of the circle of excellency is yards per completion. You'll note that Michigan was fantastic at preventing 20 yard passes, and just average at preventing 30 yard passes—the implication is that when Michigan busted they busted huge, as they did against Colorado early and FSU late. The above is what the platonic opposite of a bend-but-don't break defense looks like statistically.
Getting a little bit more bend in the defense will help. Michigan's going to lose ground everywhere else but if they can pull that yards per completion number up 60 or so spots that'll go a long way towards treading water. This is in fact the pattern Brown's defenses follow:
And though the Eagles had been vulnerable to giving up big plays on the back end in Brown’s first few seasons in Chestnut Hill, by Year 3 they got the personnel and the scheme to the point where they were solid on both ends. In 2013, Brown’s first year helming the defense, BC gave up 47 passing plays of more than 20 yards (tied for no. 97 nationally); in his last year, it gave up just 29 (tied for no. 10).
Michigan isn't going to be bend-but-don't-break, but they'll be moreso than last year, when they were awesome... and brittle.
The other arrow pointing in the right direction is turnover acquisition. Michigan was unlucky last year. They generated a ton of sacks (5th nationally) but did not see that pay off with a lot of turnovers. Despite having that defense above Michigan only managed 13 turnovers acquired, 67th. That's just bad luck, not dependent on coaching. Brady Hoke's first defense recovered 20 fumbles; Harbaugh's first team recovered 2. QED. They should expect to be favored by the turnover gods more this year, he said for the 100th straight time.
The rest of it is having a lot of talent. Michigan has two certain first round picks on the DL and three more guys who are highly likely to be drafted just in the front seven. The other six are too young to tell but are mostly tracking well outside of corner. These previews aren't afraid to hand out 1s and 2s when the situation appears to warrant it; Michigan is not in that situation. Some units will be average; some will be excellent, and Michigan will mostly maintain as they shift into a mode where consistency of approach and recruiting allows them to expect top defenses annually.
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