Thoughts on your career as a Michigan quarterback?
“It means a lot. It means -- it’s hard to put into words what this means to me. Just being a leader on this team and being one of the guys that was picked by the team to be a captain and a leader. It’s kind of hard to swallow right now because it’s coming to an end.”
What have the past three weeks been like? When did you find out that you would be able to play today?
“I’ve been getting treatment a lot. They’ve been telling me a lot of this stuff, and I’ve just been getting treatment, and I’ve been day by day and been getting better. Once I got a chance to get the go-ahead, I went out and started practicing and started playing a lot.”
How desperately did you want to play in this last game? Did you have to lobby to get in the game?
“Oh no. I think everybody knew -- if they know me, they’d know I’d do whatever it takes for the team. I’m the kind of the person that if I go, I’m going to go. I’m not going to hold back because I do whatever my team [needs]. That’s my family.”
One of my early complaints about the Denard-Borges fusion cuisine was the grab-bag nature of the offense. By that I mean the sense that Michigan's plays were generally unrelated to each other and worked because they were new or the opponent was poor, not because they put the defense in a bind trying to defend one thing while another was happening. You can only run throwback screens out of an ace set a limited number of times when you don't roll the pocket out of an ace set effectively; you can only run a quick pitch that plays off a FB dive a limited number of times when you never run the dive.
That complaint is increasingly invalid as Michigan refines what it does. Full Minnesota disclaimers apply, but the most encouraging thing about last week's game other than everything was the series of gotcha plays that gashed Minnesota. BWS did a great job of showing how Michigan's long-overdue deployment of the sprint draw* (in this case a bonafide counter with a pulling LT) looks just like the QB run game that has been the heart of Michigan's offense for a year and a half. The sprint draw is a constraint play that punishes you for cheating on the offense's bread and butter.
That's one example. The Fritz package is another example. Michigan got a speed option blown up the first time; when they came back to it they ran a quick pitch that played off that option. This is what it looked like:
Check that safety on the far left hauling ass to the presumed option side. He gone. By the time Toussaint hits the corner ain't nobody here but us chickens:
Minnesota is exceptionally bad at all things but this is the kind of stuff that gives defensive coordinators hives. That looks just like OH CRAP DENARD OPTION until it's too late.
But wait, there's more! If you were surprised when Michigan opened up its second drive with a lovely touch pass from Denard to Stephen Hopkins, that makes twelve of you. He'd set Minnesota up for it on the previous drive.
*[I do have a slight disagreement w/ that post, FWIW: On that play it's clear Huyge is expecting to kick out the DE. When that DE comes inside rapidly Huyge looks like he's losing him. Lewan is supposed to hit the backside B gap, which has a marginally blocked guy in it. If Lewan doesn't block the DE there's a chance he shoots up into Shaw for a loss. I think you leave the safety for the RB.]
Play The First: New School Iso
It's first and ten on the Michigan 38 on the first drive of the day. Michigan comes out with what is for them a power set: shotgun with two backs and a tight end. Minnesota rolls both safeties to 7-8 yards and plays way off the WRs.
They're going to run an iso off the right side of the line. Iso kind of looks like inside zone—no one pulls, you try to combo defensive linemen—but you get a lead back roaring up in a designated hole. On an inside zone a blocking back will usually flare out or head backside to provide another gap on one end of the line and the running back will read his blocking and pick a hole.
Here it's straight upfield, hole or no. This train is headed A-gap.
It's Minnesota so there is a hole. Schofield and Molk send the NT to his knees. Omameh locks out the other DT and Denard holds the backside end with the threat of his run. A crease forms in the intended spot:
Hopkins thunders into it and lowers the boom.
And that's all she wrote. The two DTs getting annihilated and Hopkins thumping the MLB such that he provides a crease away from the Gopher free hitter—visible in the left frame above and stuck behind the Hopkins block in the second—gives Toussaint a free pass into the virtually nonexistent secondary.
Note that Molk is still waiting for someone to block. Minnesota is not good.
Toussaint runs through a diving tackle attempt and is eventually run down because he has to break his stride to do so. 35 yards.
Items of Interest
Minnesota is awful. I award them no points, God have mercy on their souls, etc. Not much else to say.
On this play three separate Minnesota defenders are crushed by their Michigan counterparts and Molk is just like hanging out because the Gopher LB is hanging around on Robinson when Robinson is being contained by a DE. Against a real team this is an eh gain.
This works for a lot of reasons but the paramount one is the Hopkins block. This is awful Minnesota play, but Hopkins makes it count by getting a driving block on the LB that kicks him out of the lane. If the guy gets inside of Hopkins Toussaint cuts out into an unblocked safety and picks up five or so yards unless he makes him miss; even if he manages that the process of making him miss will probably get him tackled by the backside DE.
But Hopkins lowers his shoulders and lifts the LB out of the hole, eliminating two guys and turning this into a big gainer. Without one guy eliminating two you can't pick up a bunch of yards when an extra safety is in the box*, especially on an old-timey quien es mas macho play like an iso.
*[And by "an extra safety" I mean two extra safeties; Denard + shotgun == extra guy in box is standard. Here both safeties are rolled into the box.]
Don't get down about Toussaint's speed because of this play. Yes, tackled from behind by a Gopher, but the ankle tackle he ran through put him off balance and slowed him up; without it this is likely a touchdown.
In the depths of Michigan's worst season ever (if you can't divide) or in a damn long time (if you can) they travelled to the Metrodome to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Michigan was 2-7 and without the services of their starting quarterback. Minnesota was 7-2 and in possession of a functional offense. I was posting pictures of Death because Nick Sheridan was going to play the entire game. We were going to hit rock bottom when the Gophers picked up the jug they see once a decade, if that. "Henry Kissinger" was amongst the things projected to be more fun than the Jug game.
Because football is strange, Michigan waltzed into Minneapolis and annihilated the Gophers. The final score was 29-6; total yardage was 435-188. Nick Sheridan completed 60% of his passes and almost eclipsed 7 YPA. Justin Feagin averaged 7 yards a carry.
It was a crazy exception to the nigh-unrelenting misery of 2008. Yeah, they fluked their way into a win over Wisconsin despite getting outgained by 100 yards. Minnesota was different. If you had no knowledge of the context you would have thought it was a year like any other, a Michigan team like any other. Michigan did what they do to Minnesota: beat them without a second thought.
This week multiplenewspaper folk took the time to tell people the Jug doesn't matter, but when that awful Michigan team locked arms and walked over to Jon Falk to lift up the only thing they'd held onto, it mattered. Paul Bunyan, the bowl streak, most people's sanity, all of the street cred, and huge chunks of the dignity were gone. The Jug remained.
Martin, Koger, Molk, and Van Bergen were freshmen on that team. Molk started. Koger, Van Bergen, and Martin played but didn't acquire stats. Recruited by Carr, they stuck it out under Rodriguez. Many of their teammates didn't.
As a reward the four above started down a path towards the least rewarding Michigan careers in decades, through little or no fault of their own. You can win Big Ten championships with those four guys as prominent starters. You have to have other people to play football around them, though, and maybe a coach or two who can tell the difference between a stuffed beaver and a 4-3 under. Michigan didn't.
In 2008 they had little on the field and even less off it. According to John Bacon's Three and Out, Lloyd Carr signed off on Justin Boren's transfer to Ohio State and upstanding citizen Jim Tressel. Morgan Trent half-assed his way through the season and tossed bombs at Rodriguez afterwards. Toney Clemons and Greg Mathews would act as sources for the Free Press jihad shortly after the season. Given the result of that investigation it's clear they did so entirely out of spite. Brandon Minor would rail on about how leadership was going to happen in 2009 as people whispered that he was a major source of its lack in 2008. There's probably never been a more dysfunctional Michigan team, and it started from the top.
Freshmen learn from seniors. This is the way of the world. Usually they learn how to be, how to maintain the standards of the program they walked into. The four guys above did it a different way: they learned what not to do. When it came time to meet for the first time in the Hoke era, they decided not to repeat the recent past. Mike Martin:
"‘What are we going to do as a team? Where are we now? We can either not be all in and do what we need to do, or we can work hard together and make sure we’re successful.’ ”
Hoke was also in the room. He remembered Robinson being upset at the media speculating his departure. He remembered fifth-year senior center David Molk getting up in that same meeting and telling everybody the team was going to stick together. …
“When (Robinson) came to us, he was addressing that we as a group — including him — need to make sure that none of the younger guys have doubtful thoughts or might want to stray away,” Martin said. “We didn't want there to be a repeat of last time there was a transfer of a coach.”
Meanwhile, Van Bergen called out the program alums who'd drifted away when times got tough. The message was clear: this is our program. We've been here for four years and gotten nothing but crap. We've paid more dues than anyone in the last 40 years of Michigan football, and now we'd like some payoff.
That payoff was going to be an Alamo Bowl at best. But the seniors' effort, Greg Mattison's expertise, Denard Robinson's existence, the Big Ten's complete horribleness, and Brady Hoke's rectal horseshoe now tempt hope.
Michigan State can't run or stay within three scores of Notre Dame. Nebraska can't throw or keep a good running offense under 30 points. Iowa can't beat Iowa State. It may be a division race on par with one of those years Wake Forest won the ACC, but by God there is a tinny flimsy division championship there to be acquired. Even if it wouldn't be much—in all likelihood it would be a historical footnote after a curbstomping at the hands of Wisconsin—it would at least somewhat fulfill a promise Bo made when he arrived in 1969.
No one's deserved it more than the four guys above. It's relatively easy to be a "Michigan Man" when it's handed down to you. Koger, Martin, Molk, and Van Bergen had to figure it out on their own. They stayed, and figured it out when available evidence suggested being a Michigan Man was endorsing transfers to Free Tattoo University, telling recruits to go to Michigan State, and selling out your own program to a couple of hacks.
A few years ago on the eve of the Ohio State game that ended to that miserable 2008 season I wrote a thing about being an anchorless mid-20s person who is uncertain of where to go or who to be and is sad as a result. In that piece I envisioned Michigan's coaches telling their charges how to get out of this hole:
Some of you will stay. And you will go insane. You will work, and you will work, and we will build something here from nothing. Because, make no mistake, this is nothing. You will build something out of this. If you're a senior next year and you teach some freshman something, you will build something. If you're a freshman and you refuse to quit on your stupid decision, you will build something.
What you build will be yours. Few in the great history of his university have had that opportunity. Everything came based on what came before. They were part of a great chain, now broken.
Those of you who stay will forge a new one, starting today. When we are done we will fix the last link to the broken chain, and break the first link, and tell those who come after us to live up to it.
Whether or not Michigan manages a championship, flimsy or real, Michigan's seniors have done this. This Is Michigan again because they stayed.
The two QB formation thing. So that was something. That and the double pass touchdown reminded me of that Indiana game prior to Football Armageddon (IIRC) when Michigan dumped out a zillion trick plays to force the opponent to prepare for extra stuff. I didn't like it then and hope that's not the case now, not least because after the first play the thing seemed pretty effective. Gardner implied that was not the case:
“It’s really, really dangerous. We’ve also got Fitzgerald Toussaint back there and Vincent Smith," he said. "You’re going to have to wait and see. It’s going to be pretty dangerous.”
What to call it? Hoke refused to answer a direct question about what we should call it, so it's up to us. Vincent Smith suggests "two," which is a little bland. Ace got a "diamond of doom" suggestion on Twitter; while that's catchy it's also long and jinxtastic. Naturally, Ace wants to extend it to "Denard and Devin's Diamond of Doom" because it abbreviates to DDDD and if there's one thing Ace likes it's repetitive hexadecimal numbers.
But that's long and a bit awkward. Since it's a goofy, misdirection-heavy everyone's-a-QB thing that reminds people of the Mad Magicians I propose calling it "Fritz." It's not exactly what Crisler used to do…
…but what "Fritz" lacks in outright accuracy it makes up for in Getting-Itness.
[BONUS extreme history nerdBONUS: This has set frequent correspondent John Kryk alight with references to not Crisler but Notre Dame's Frank Leahy, who deployed a T formation with a close resemblance to Fritz.
Michigan sort of ran the above. Kryk actually has a diagram in which the T looks identical to Fritz:
I'm pretty sure we'll all way too abuzz about a formation we'll see maybe a half-dozen times the rest of the season, but old-timey football is always cool to see in the flesh. It's why Georgia Tech games remain an abiding fascination.]
Why does the outside pitch not bother me so much in that formation? When we run the I-form fake-dive-to-pitch it's just asking the opposition to key on the running back flying out to the corner because Michigan never runs the dive, and even if they did defenses are like "BFD." When we ran it from Fritz it played off the earlier speed option.
Is it a tenable package against real opposition? If the wildcat can work I don't see why this can't.
Triple option? May be on the way.
Records. Some happened. Smith's touchdown cycle had not been accomplished in the modern era:
It was the first time a player has ran, thrown and passed for a score in modern Michigan football history (post-World War II).
That seemed like a given. I'm waiting for MVictors to dig up the dude who managed it in 1923, because I know it's happened and I know he will.
Our helmets have wings… and numbers! Let's avoid the inevitable Rodriguez tradition rehash. It's already been done. Personal opinion of them: whateva. On a scale from 10 to –10 where 10 is Denard, –10 is Pop Evil, and 0 is total indifference I'm a –0.1. I'd rather not have the uniforms futzed with but the numbers have some history to them, don't look terrible, and are a minor adjustment.
I think Hoke should say he'll yank 'em if they lose, though.
On-field takeaways. Minnesota is very not good—we were playing a pretend game where the Gophers got a touchdown every time they crossed midfield and a point every time they succesfully fielded a kickoff and they still lost by 30. So disclaimers apply.
That said: Denard throwing to his receivers—and getting the opportunity to hit some short, confidence-building throws—was encouraging, as was the almost total lack of I-form even deep into the third quarter. That seems like an abandonment. If they were still working on it they would have pulled it out just to practice it, no?
Short stuff. AnnArbor.com's Kyle Mienke notes that of Michigan's first 11 passes, eight were five yards or less. He categorizes that crazy seam to Hopkins as "another was over the top to a leaking fullback," which is a goofy thing to try to lump into easy passes for Denard confidence. That was pure DO.
Patrick Omameh. Some evidence he might be struggling in the new offense: he was left on the field much longer than any of the other starters save Schofield, who was forced into the starting lineup by the Barnum injury and was granted time at tackle late.
Possible liberation society addendum. I'm so over the rollouts. It seems like the only way to get Denard Robinson pressured is to roll him out into unblocked contain defenders, which Michigan does plenty. If you leave him in the pocket people are terrified to get out of their lanes and he usually has a lot of time. If you put him on the edge against defenses keying on him he doesn't get outside and he has to make rushed throws on the move that seem to be more inaccurate than his usual ones.
I guess the rollouts do open up the throwback stuff, which has been very successful. And they did insert a heavy dose of sprint draw (AKA That Goddamned Counter Draw), something I've been pleading for since Rodriguez's arrival. So they might be developing a package there. They've got to figure out how to block it.
FWIW, I wasn't a fan of showing the sprint draw against an incompetent opponent. I'd rather Michigan's future opponents not prepare for a potentially game-breaking play. But I've got no evidence behind that.
It is not hard to see the qualities of Bo in Brady Hoke. At first I cringed at his seeming overconfidence, at his seeming overuse of Bo-isms, and wondered if he was trying too hard to win Michigan fans' hearts with his bravado. I don't doubt the man any longer. Brady Hoke has a Bo-like level of expectations for those he leads. He has expectations of effort, execution, and yes "toughness" that no coach since Bo has required from both his players and his staff. Hoke isn't making Michigan great again by being an innovator on either side of the ball; he is acquiring the best available parts, constructing a beast-machine, and driving the thing to eventual domination.
This is the section where I discuss turnovers and other momentum changing plays. There was one burst of impetus in this game. Minnesota kicked off to start the game. That's it. They were never in it. I bet that "adjusted winning percentage" diary shows us pegged at 100% for the duration.
Media, as in unwashed internet rabble. I have no idea what "Everybody pants now" means, but if you watch Parks and Rec you probably do. Amongst Adam Jacobi's things he learned in the conference this week:
So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.
Jacobi's still not banking on Michigan "surviving" our "brutal November," but if not surviving means not winning the division instead of collapsing to 7-5 I don't think Michigan fans are going to be too peeved.
Blake Countess is the next Leon Hall. Yep, I said it. Minnesota doesn't have the greatest talent in the world, but Countess has looked pretty darn good for two weeks in a row. Courtney Avery had a nice 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but Avery has been getting beaten more regularly than any of Michigan's other corners this year. He's still not bad, but it looks like Countess will grab a starting spot sooner rather than later.
The Hoover Street Rag notes it was appropriate that Michigan tried a transcontinental-type play on the same day they honored John Navarre, though in that case they were attempting a double pass, not a run. Was anyone else OUTRAGED that the Navarre highlight package didn't include the Buffalo Stampede? That's like having an Alan Branch highlight package without the Morelli elimination.
That was an old school Michigan blowout, like the ones you'd watch on ESPN Plus (memory lane, you are there now) back in the day, where nothing was ever in doubt and The Law was that Michigan would average a billion yards a carry under a grumpy Michigan sky. It's always the ideal of overindulgence, and if anything it's a reminder of how far we've come since 2008 when beating Minnesota on the road was considered an upset.
f and when Minnesota can get back to being competitive in the Big Ten, the Gophers can use Saturday's game as a motivational tool.
Hopefully for them, they'll remember this as rock bottom. Because Michigan blew the doors off Jerry Kill's team in a 58-0 humiliation at the Big House. The Wolverines have dominated this Little Brown Jug series for the last 40 years, but Saturday's margin of victory was the largest in the long-running semi-rivalry. It was the fifth-largest win in Michigan history, and that's a lot of history there.
For Michigan, this game was a chance to flex its muscles offensively and defensively, add a few wrinkles and give as many players as possible — in this case, 71 — an opportunity to play. Michigan was 8-of-9 in the red zone against the Gophers and is now 21-of-22 for the season (17 touchdowns and four field goals).
The three field goals were each career longs [for Gibbons] at the time, starting from 25 yards and going to 32 yards and to 38 yards. In five games this season he’s missed just one field goal — a 40-yard try against San Diego State.