Picture Pages: MLB Is About Mitigation

Picture Pages: MLB Is About Mitigation

Submitted by Brian on September 3rd, 2014 at 11:39 AM


Ryan under the microscope [Eric Upchurch]

Hello. As per usual, a game against a tomato can causes me to dig up something negative because I figure that the bad things that happen against weak teams are more likely to recur than the good ones. I'm not being negative, I'm being useful!

After this opening paragraph it may not surprise you that I didn't think Ryan had a particularly good game as Michigan's MLB. There were a couple of opportunities to contrast him with Desmond Morgan on similar plays that didn't come out well for Ryan. To the stillmobile!

Taking on blockers

App State had one drive of any consequence before Michigan started throwing third stringers on the field. That was a 75-yard march on which they ran an old Rodriguez staple, the "belly," repeatedly for good yardage.

Belly is designed to attack the soft underbelly of the backside of a defense facing inside zone. The end gets optioned off and then the goal of the defense is to use the backside DT's natural desire to shoot the gap to the playside against him. This usually sees the backside tackle get a free release on a linebacker on a quick-hitting play. (A quick google search indicates that this is Rodriguez-exclusive terminology, so your local guru's verbiage will vary.)

This was tough for Michigan to defend as aligned because the backside DT saw zone action and went GRRAAAH at it, driving himself way out of the play because he's Willie Henry and he is 1) strong and 2) not yet super disciplined. This put linebackers in bad spots, facing free OL while trying to shut down a ton of space.

Here's Morgan in that situation:


It feels like Michigan is a little misaligned here, with the linebacker shaded to one side against a formation that has no TE.

On the snap Beyer is let go and must respect the keep, so he flows upfield. Henry will get his own momentum used against him and get way out of the play, which I have designated by putting a frown at the end of his line. Morgan has an OT coming at him and a problem.


Beyer plays the mesh point well, inducing a give but forming up near the LOS so he can respond to a handoff. Henry is about to leave.


Here is the the key thing for Morgan on this play: he takes the contact. He in fact initiates the contact despite not having much forward momentum (which it is hard to get on a quick hitting play like belly). He impacts the OL and rocks him back:


Note that the guy next to him is Henry, who is trying to fight back to the play by giving ground. Also note that if Henry was anywhere near where the line would like him to be, Beyer is tackling as people wall up.

The back actually bounces off the OL…


And then a bunch of guys tackle him after six yards.


This is not a good result and I think Morgan's original alignment had something to do with that. He ends up taking the block to the inside instead of square and that gives the back room to the outside when otherwise this could have been a third down coming up. But: tough job in a lot of space. I gave him a half point for slowing down what could otherwise have been bad.


[After the JUMP: Jake Ryan tries his hand.]

Of No Importance Whatsoever

Of No Importance Whatsoever

Submitted by Brian on September 1st, 2014 at 12:21 PM

8/30/2014 – Michigan 52, Appalachian State 14 – 1-0



I watched a lot of football on Saturday. I did not watch Magnolia because my then-girlfriend and current wife thought that her coping mechanism for sadness, which is apparently suffusing yourself in it until your fingers look like you've been in a pool of despair for hours, was applicable to humans. I mean:


That's what I did seven years ago. I had to turn it off because Magnolia is a movie that is unrelentingly miserable. I did not need additional resources in this department at that time.

I didn't turn anything off on Saturday. I watched twelve hours of football after getting back from Michigan Stadium. The only mention of Michigan's game before insomniac time was one dismissive sentence from Rece Davis, something about how there will not be "another seminal college football moment" this weekend. They didn't even take the opportunity to put gratuitous Funchess on the screen.

The only difference between this game and Michigan's opening-weekend romp over CMU last year: a nation's hope Michigan would blow it again. Once it became clear this would not be the case, a nation forgot the game happened before it had even ended. This was the best possible outcome.

So 1) hooray for the best possible outcome and 2) don't let that change your opinion about whether this was the dumbest scheduling decision in the history of scheduling decisions. The nation knew this about Michigan before Saturday: lol Appalachian State. This is what they know today: lol Appalachian State. On College Football Final their brief treatment of the game gave more time to 2007 than 2013. We are experiencing the maximum possible upside from this game, which is everyone immediately forgetting about it like Michigan was thumping a MAC opponent.

And thank God for that. Michigan eased out to a 21 point lead, and then it was suddenly 42, and at no point did Appalachian State look anything like a secret powerhouse; at no point did Michigan look so utterly clueless that they might blow their immense physical advantages. At no point did I wish I had a cyanide capsule handy.

So: hooray.


The one thing worth noting here is that Michigan does seem prepared to deal with the football reality of 2014. Greg Mattison's defense played in the face of the opposition all game long, featuring nickel and dime packages frequently. They shot a safety into the box on most plays. They've got the personnel they need to deal with the spread. Possibly two at once.

Contrast this to 2007, when Johnny Sears started at cornerback in the Horror, with a patently unprepared Stevie Brown at safety. The linebackers available outside of Shawn Crable were Obi Ezeh, Chris Graham, and John Thompson. Michigan spent the entire day with two safeties twelve yards deep like they were playing Peyton Manning, and were surprised when the numbers didn't work out. Their linebackers were two-down thumpers for whom space is a cold vacuum in which death awaits. They barely had one cornerback, let alone a chorus line of them.

A big chunk of my spread zealotry has been the fact that Michigan has made it look unstoppable from the drop. They validated the entire idea against Northwestern and set their program on fire in the Horror and the Post-Apocalyptic Oregon game that followed. Put a running quarterback in front of them and they will die explosively. It's happened far too often the last 15 years for it to be a coincidence.

My primary worry about Brady Hoke is that he's stuck on a vision of 1990s Michigan in a world that's evolved past that. There was no sign of that Saturday. The defense's radical makeover paired with what was not the cram-the-box cro-magnon ball it certainly could have been against this opponent felt a tiny bit like John Beilein overhauling his program to be a man-defense, ball-screen offense juggernaut.

I'm not looking for a juggernaut this year. This is the punch-the-cow-for-butter year in which any yellow semi-solid will do. I proclaim this semi-solid yellow, and thank God for that.

Now let us immediately forget this game ever happened, like everyone else.


Parkinggod's usual Michigan-centric one:

And if ten minutes isn't enough here are 20:

Also a guy noticed an eerie parallel between Blake Countess's LOS stick and one from Charles Woodson:


brady-hoke-epic-double-point_thumb_31[2]Brady Hoke Epic Double Points Of The Week. Yes, points. We're moving this to a hockey-like three stars system.

Michigan racked up 350 first half yards while holding App St to 60 en route to a 35-0 first half lead, so there are many, many candidates. It says here that Devin Funchess gets #1, because good Lord that is an unstoppable freak show.

#2 is Devin Gardner, who was on point with every throw except one, flashed that athletic ability, and stepped up (up!) in the pocket when suffering edge pressure

#3 is split between Kyle Kalis and Ben Braden. Michigan started gashing App St when Kalis replaced Joey Burzynski, with big runs repeatedly coming over the right side of the line.

Honorable mention: Basically the entire defense. There were no particular standouts, though.

Epic Double Point Standings.

3: Devin Funchess (#1, APP)
2: Devin Gardner (#2, APP)
0.5: Kyle Kalis (T3, APP), Ben Braden (T3, APP)

Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week.

For the single individual best moment.

Michigan had gotten a couple of solid 10-20 yard runs from Smith and Green already when Green took the snap on an outside zone and shot downfield untouched by man or beast until 60 yards had elapsed. Runs. We may have them.

Honorable mention: They threw a screen to Norfleet! Any of the variously unstoppable Funchess touchdowns. Hellacious Stiffarm wins by a nose over LOL I'm Tall. Tacosack, hopefully the awesome thumping cousin of Tacopants.

Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.

AppSt: Derrick Green rumbles for 60 yards.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK. That one time Devin Gardner threw way behind a blitheringly open Devin Funchess to prevent him from going 14/14.

Honorable mention: That one drive where the Mountaineers drove the ball on the ground against the second team.


AppSt: Devin Gardner dares to throw an incomplete pass.

[After the JUMP: Funchess! Holes! Teddy KGB!]

Hokepoints Goes Over: Level II

Hokepoints Goes Over: Level II

Submitted by Seth on June 17th, 2014 at 11:16 AM

Read Level I: The Defensive Line

4-3 Overunder

Click to big. Right-click to open in a separate window so you can reference it as you go.

A few weeks ago I promised to finish this piece on the differences for Michigan's personnel in the 4-3 over. Sorry.

Refresher: What's a 4-3 Over? What you're looking at are alignments of the front seven. The "under" shifts the defensive line away from the strength of the defense and the linebackers swing the opposite way to compensate. Michigan would often align this to the hash rather than the offense, shifting the DL toward the sideline.

The "over" shifts the line the opposite way, but not to such an extreme. The linebackers wind up centered over the ball, and the DL spread across the formation. There is nothing 3-4 about it except the nose tackle.

Last time I talked about how going from a base under to a base over will demand the WDE and 3-tech play a little bigger, the SDE can play more like a rush end, and the nose's job stays pretty much the same except he's now the backside DT. Now on to the second level.

Strongside Linebacker (SAM): James Ross/Royce Jenkins-Stone



IZiz vs 4-3under

The 4-3 under is tough to run against—often they wind up blocking the backside DE in hopes of getting something from a cutback, since it's hard for the LT to get to anybody else. That meant the WLB could be a free hitter

On inside zone that strongside (right) tackle is trying to get a free release. The 3-tech could get aggressive and slow him up but the danger of playing aggressively on the DL against a zone running team is you open up the backside. The faster the OT gets out to the second level the more room there's going to be for the running back to dodge around the DT. A SAM who can read IZ quickly will be all up in that OT's face, able to affect both frontside gaps without opening up the backside cut. Every half-second of delay on the SAM's part is another yard for the offense.

But the SAM can't get crazy-aggressive attacking the OT or the C gap because that tight end is an eligible receiver, and there's another receiver on that side of the formation who could be slanting or dragging. Since the guess is Michigan wants Jake Ryan to be aggressive in the middle, Ross will end up in a lot of zone drops or in man-to-man on the tight end.

The fit: The WLB in the 4-3 under that James Ross played last year isn't hugely different, but it wound up playing differently because Ross was constantly having to take on blockers thanks to Michigan's Jibreel-Black-is-a-NT stunt-a-thon. His quick-twitch reads will be an asset, and his speed and coverage ability will be also. Michigan State's defense had Denicos Allen blitz a ton from this position, and got away with it because the handsy press coverage took care of the slant/drag passes that punish it, and because they had Max Bullough to read and react at MLB. Ross will get to blitz more than he did as the backside linebacker, but I'm guessing Michigan would rather he be the read-react-hit-spill dude so Jake Ryan can go viking.

[jump for the other two spots]

Spring Stuff: Defense

Spring Stuff: Defense

Submitted by Brian on April 7th, 2014 at 11:52 AM

The spring game-type-substance maintained its downward importance trajectory, but as it's the last glimpse of one of the big three sports we'll have until fall we'll talk about it all the same. This year's edition further expanded the punting-drills-and-standing-around section of the practice, so observations are necessarily light on the ground.

It's bad when Doug Karsch can't keep the sarcasm out of his voice.

This video is in Michigan's traditional zoom-o-vision, so you can't actually tell what Lewis did to get in the position he's in for the first interception.

The tone. Last year's "I like this team" has been replaced.

“We’re doing a lot of good things, but we’re not near good enough as a team to win games in the fourth quarter, which we didn’t do (last season), and play on the road,” said Hoke, entering his fourth season. “We’re a long way from being any good."

That reflects the reality of the program.

Depth chart grain of salt reminder. Spring is a season for motivational devices and experiments and therefore places on the depth chart should be regarded as vague indicators more than anything else. Case in point: Graham Glasgow was your second-team right tackle.


Lewis is in your grill yo [Bryan Fuller]

Very aggressive /teddyKGB. Every offseason for a team without an elite defense features coaches promising increased aggression, whereupon most of them quietly drop that promise when the season rolls around and it turns out that for Defense X being super aggressive is a good way to give up quick touchdowns. The cycle repeats the next offseason.

Michigan is promising aggression, and Mattison is putting his cornerbacks where his mouth is. Lewis:

“It’s huge, just getting hands on guys and trying to intimidate them," Lewis said. "That’s our key point right there -- being physical. That’s what (defensive coordinator Greg) Mattison is always talking about, being a physical defense.”

They spent most of the scrimmage session in the grills of Michigan wide receivers, playing MSU-style bump and clutch and grab and run. Word from the coaching clinic is that Michigan is adjusting to the way the game has been called of late. Lewis again:

“He said ‘be physical’,” Lewis said. “But he doesn’t care if it’s great defense and we get a penalty.”

This was highly effective when not drawing two flags on Lewis—the second a dubious one—or that one time the offense got Freddy Canteen lost on a deep corner route. Everything else was contested, and when the ball got to the receiver the corners were making a play on it.

Lewis looked terrific after a spring in which inside practice buzz has heralded him as a major comer; hell, he looked terrific most of last year except for the bit where the opposing quarterback regularly put the ball in the six-inch window perfect coverage provides. In this game he had two interceptions and two flags along with other instances where his presence forced drops or tough catches. The first interception came on the first play of the scrimmage (0:45 above).

The video doesn't do it justice since it kind of looks like Lewis is coming over from a zone. That was pure press man coverage on which he did the one thing the gypsy promised him he'd never do: make a play on the ball after achieving his position.

Is he supplanting? I don't know, man. Usually two returning starters who had the number of excellent interceptions Taylor and Countess did have impregnable positions on the depth chart. This situation is not usual, though, as those guys didn't have impregnable positions even as they were doing that—Taylor was yanked from the starting lineup briefly, even. And the last impression Michigan's coaches have is both guys getting smoked by Tyler Lockett, an impression that Countess might have reinforced when Canteen beat him over the top Manningham-style. (Gardner left the throw short and Countess recovered.)

At the very least the competition here is a real one, unlike, say, quarterback. And corner is a position at which a lot of players will see the field. Lewis has at least claimed a spot in Michigan's nickel package, which is half your snaps these days. Even when not in nickel, Michigan rotated last year and they'll rotate this year. It's likely that Lewis gets as many snaps as the starters whether he is one on paper or not, and then you've got Stribling and Peppers. Delonte Hollowell is hanging around, delivering the occasional hard shot on the unsuspecting.

If the spring game indicates one thing, it's that cornerback is better-stocked than it's been in a long-time. Michigan doesn't have a Woodson (at least until fall, anyway), but I can say without hesitation that I'm more comfortable with Michigan's fifth corner than I usually am with their third. Remember Football Armageddon, when Michigan decided covering a first-round NFL draft pick with Chris Graham was their best option? Yeah. Not so much this year.


Wilson got over the top on a late throw [Bryan Fuller]

Aaaand safety. Much less clarity there, and very little to go on from the game-type section. Michigan spent much of the day rolling whoever wasn't Jarrod Wilson to the line of scrimmage to further their aggression goals, whereupon he would cover a fullback or something or watch as a run play did not get to him.

Wilson did have one nice PBU on a looping ball over the top. The ball was late thanks to some pressure that forced Gardner to roll around in the pocket, but that's the kind of ball a safety can make a play on and the play was made.

As far as depth chart stuff goes there was zero clarity. If you put a gun to my head I'd say Delano Hill was slightly preferred. And then I would say "but…" and you would shoot me. Let's not do this gun to the head thing when talking about Michigan's safeties.

The Jake Ryan experiment. First off, the admittedly not-particularly-meaningful spring depth chart gives me the willies. Ryan at MLB, Morgan second-string behind him, Bolden starting, Ross running on the second team at new tinySAM. I am full of the willies.

It's hard to tell much about linebackers in spring, harder yet when the offensive line they're up against is barely releasing to the second level*. On plays where I watched Jake Ryan he looked okay.  He's kind of a long, upright guy, so when blockers get into him he tends to let them under him. On the edge he would just juke a guy and explode past him; in the middle you have to take the block on because picking the wrong side of the guy means you just blew your run fit.

I'm not sure where he fits in an over defense, though, so if you're going to make a shift he has to go somewhere.

Meanwhile, Joe Bolden's ample playing time has been mysterious to me. Linebacker remains the hardest position for me to have a Serious Opinion about because there's just so much that goes into it, but the things that Bolden seemed to be screwing up were really obvious things like not being anywhere near your pass drop. Meanwhile when it comes to hitting people in the face and making them stop going forward there is no comparison between Bolden, who has been a drag-you-down tackler to date, and Desmond Morgan, who thumps you and then you stop moving. Michigan's head coach says "toughness" every other word, and Morgan is much closer to that on the field than Bolden.

As a result I've promised to eat a lemon on the internet if Bolden starts the opener over Morgan. The rules: Morgan has to be healthy, Bolden has to start, and Morgan cannot start.

*[Michigan had a great deal of uninspiring runs of 1-3 yards but few TFLs except that one time they put Henry in against the third team OL. This was in large part because the offensive line was doing its damndest to not repeat the mistakes of last year. Instead of popping off opposing DL immediately, they were maintaining doubles longer than you really should. This made life at LB relatively easy and thus many plays where a tailback crosses the line of scrimmage and encounters a pile of men.]


Poggi SDE, Hurst 3-tech, Henry nose on a second or third unit

Line ups and downs. Here the limitations of spring practice overwhelm. Michigan's first-team offensive line read Cole-Bosch-Miller-Kalis-Braden; the second team featured a left tackle with an enormous cast on his hand. Grain of salt, grain of salt, grain of salt.

Anyway, Michigan had a few guys that looked impressive: Bryan Mone entered the backfield with regularity and Maurice Hurst Jr flashed the first step that was the bulk of his recruiting profile. That they've pushed Henry down the depth chart is an excellent sign even if that particular arrangement is clearly motivational after Henry established himself a legit Big Ten player a year ago. Brennen Beyer displayed an excellent ability to discard… uh… true freshman Mason Cole on a number of snaps. Beyer has always been an active hands guy; the question with him is his ability to hold up against 330 pound trucks. A matchup with Cole is not going to answer that.

Michigan got push up the middle of the pocket for large chunks of the scrimmages and while they weren't penetrating on run plays with regularity, see the aside above. When Michigan's options were limited in the half-line drills, they ended up in the backfield more often than not. It seemed like 80% of those runs cut back behind the center, which is a win for the DL in that drill.

As for guys who had bad snaps we will extrapolate much more from than is reasonable: at 2:55 in the video above Derrick Green gets one of Michigan's better runs on the day by bouncing outside; that is there because Glasgow locked up with and drove Henry Poggi well off the ball. Tom Strobel got easily handled on a successful Hayes power play at 2:25; a linebacker wearing a number in the 40s also picked the wrong hole. Also… does anyone know where Chris Wormley was? I don't recall seeing him; I googled to see if anyone had mentioned anything was up with him and came up empty, so I assume he was there but rather anonymous.

I have to punt on other defensive end observations, as I was focusing on the linebackers and secondary for much of the day.

Tentative Takeaways

  • They're trying to make good on the promise to be aggressive.
  • The cornerback depth is terrific and the top end should be quite good.
  • Michigan has a solid young core at DT; DE is more uncertain.
  • Linebackers… ask again later.