Looking at what John Baxter’s done on special teams this year, obviously you guys opened against Northwestern with that kickoff. What has he brought to special teams for you guys?
“John’s done a great job. He’s a really detail oriented coach and puts guys in great position. Everywhere he’s been he’s always been top quality on special teams. There’s three phases of the game: offense, defense, and special teams so you’ve got to be clicking on all three to have a good football team.”
Jim says the approach is going to be the same as any other game in terms of preparation and how you go about things, but is there a little extra energy in the building this week?
“I mean, anytime you’re getting ready to play any game you’re excited. I think there’s a lot of things going on. Everybody’s thankful for Thanksgiving; their families are coming to town. We’re going to get a loaded stadium. But in terms of preparation, this is just a normal week for us. We’ve got our next opponent and we’re trying to get these guys read to go and perform at a high level.”
Does having gone against a really good pass rush last week help you in any way in preparation in being able to look at what you did against them?
“Yeah, that’s- I think the last couple weeks we’ve had good pass rushers. That helps us quite a bit, just helps us in preparation for that. And being in those hostile environments like Penn State’s a loud place, very good rushers- I think they led the nation in sacks. So, I think confidence level will be up because of that. When you’re performing at a high level it makes you feel good, makes you feel that you’re doing a good job at it.”
[After THE JUMP: How to make your offense dimensional]
This Thanksgiving I am thankful for many things, like Harbaugh, and family, and Harbaugh, and some more family. Also I have a mortgage that was easy to get and has an excellent rate that will save me a ton of money over the life of it. And Harbaugh. And a decidedly pants optional lifestyle. Also Harbaugh.
FORMATION NOTES: Penn State played most of the game in a 4-3. Passing downs saw a nickel. I may have missed a few nickel snaps since 11 and 15 can look similar. This was a pretty typical alignment:
Note the PSU player to the top of the screen is a corner and Brandon Bell, their nickel LB, is over the slot. PSU's defense is superficially like MSU's, but they sit their safeties back a lot more and are generally less aggressive.
Michigan didn't do much out of the ordinary other than line up Peppers at RB, frequently in a shotgun 4-wide setup I dubbed "Baylor" because obviously.
This one was a WR screen since PSU elected not not to put two guys near the stack to the bottom of the screen.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Mostly the usual. Slight variants:
Kalis got knocked out for a snap, so Dawson was inserted.
Bunting returned to the field for a few snaps.
Hill is getting a fair number of snaps behind Poggi and Williams.
Peppers got a number of pure RB snaps and handoffs that were in no way frippery.
11/21/2015 – Michigan 28, Penn State 16 – 9-2, 6-1 Big Ten
I have seen things when Michigan plays Penn State. I have seen boggling things. Things I should not repeat but am about to anyway.
I have seen a free Hail Mary handed the opposition. I have seen a timeout just before an intentional safety. I have seen 27 runs for 27 yards. I have seen Michigan's slot receiver left alone, all alone. I have seen a slot receiver wonder if any of these 100,000 people can see him, especially the offensive coordinator. I have seen a slot receiver's constituent atoms disperse as he convinces himself he must not exist after all. Then I saw some more runs for one yard. Somewhere in there Dennis Norfleet dances in a loop for all time, because sure that makes as much sense as anything.
I have been baffled. I have been enraged. I have been morbidly entertained. I have been stupefied, watching Michigan play Penn State.
Things have been a bit frustrating the past few weeks, what with an avalanche of procedure penalties, offsides calls, and special teams mishaps. But when presented with a situation where they did not expect to and could not run the ball much, Michigan did not repeatedly bang their collective head into a brick wall.
Michigan's final drive featured five De'Veon Smith runs and one kneel-down. Five Jake Rudock attempts were sacks or scrambles. Once those are put in the appropriate bins, Michigan ran just 19 times to 43 passes.
Two years ago in that very stadium a complete wreck of an offensive line took on an equally stout Penn State defense. They didn't throw one wide receiver screen. Fitzgerald Toussaint ran 27 times for 27 yards. This year before garbage time time, De'Veon Smith had 8 carries; 6 went to Chesson and Peppers.
Michigan's going to be a good rushing offense. Probably great. But even though that's what Harbaugh wants to do, he adapted to the situation he was presented with. That's terrific.
Coaching can be divided into a few different categories. Development, recruiting, and tactics seem to cover the bases. While Michigan is still struggling with the near-total lack of the former under the previous regime, the latter was totally on point here. Can't say that about two years ago. Or a year ago. While Michigan remains a bit wobbly, a bit rickety, the things they are doing make sense.
Michigan played Penn State on the road and the only stupefying things that happened came from reliable sources like Big Ten referees and James Franklin trying to manage a game. Meanwhile Ohio State played Michigan State in the most stupefying game of the year. Now is the time to sit back and appreciate the fact that things more or less make sense.
It ain't perfect and it'll never be, but Michigan tries a bunch of things and takes what the opposition gives and if something isn't going great they stop doing it. The only time I've gotten really twitchy about tactics was against Indiana when Michigan ran play action on second and twenty that led to an interception. (I was mildly twitchy about Michigan's passivity on Indiana's go-ahead touchdown drive.)
In a world where Ohio State throws 16 times against Michigan State, where Tim Beckman is seen as a viable hire for a position more involved than vending machine*, where every coach in America seems to need a 14-year-old kid who plays Madden nonstop on the sideline, "more or less makes sense most of the time" is gold. Michigan's coaching staff has not punched itself in the face for four hours on any given Saturday, and in the cold light of dawn two days after a stupefying weekend of college football that warms the ol' cockles right up.
#2 Chris Wormley was the most consistent and dangerous of Michigan's defensive linemen, racking up 1.5 sacks and another half TFL. Wormley and the rest of the DL gave up one big Saquon Barkley run (mostly on Willie Henry and the linebackers) and shut everything else down, leaving PSU relying on the tempestuous Christian Hackenberg to move the ball.
#3 Jake Rudock threw one ugly interception. When not doing that he completed two-thirds of his passes for 256 yards. 6.7 yards an attempt isn't electric but since a half-dozen or more of those were wide receiver screens that Michigan used in place of a running game that may understate things. Also, Penn State has had one of the best pass defenses in the country to date.
Honorable mention: Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson had 66 and 69 receiving yards, respectively, and along with Darboh have established Michigan's receiving corps as a very good one. Henry, Hurst, and Taco Charlton helped out immensely, minus the Henry cut. Jourdan Lewis remains Jourdan Lewis; his KO return also helped seal the game.
Jourdan Lewis rips off a 60-yard kickoff return after Penn State draws within five, setting up a short field that Michigan drives for a game-sealing TD. Better is that he called his shot with Harbaugh beforehand.
Honorable mention: Darboh's tip-toe catch. #Buttdown. Harbaugh strippin' rage. Any number of sacks and TFLs.
Ohio State tests Michigan State's secondary twice. In a game of football. Against Michigan State. What are you even doing?
Honorable mention: Punt blocked. Any number of offsides or false start penalties. The touchdown Peppers allowed. Any number of infuriatingly bad calls. That fourth and ten conversion against great Lewis coverage.
Utah: circle route pick six. Oregon State: Rudock fumbles after blitz bust. UNLV: Rudock matches 2014 INT total in game 3. BYU: BYU manages to get to triple digit yards in the last minutes of the game. Maryland: Slog extended by deflected interception at Houma. Northwestern: KLINSMANN OUT MSU: Obvious. Minnesota: The bit where the lost it until they didn't. Rutgers: KO return given up. Indiana: run run run run run run run run run run run run. PSU: OSU's WHAT ARE THOOOOOOSE gameplan against MSU.
[After THE JUMP: defense back, Rudock maintaining.]
There were shades of the dark, recent past. A non-existent running game. An ugly interception. Catching seemingly all the bad breaks.
One particularly bad aspect of that past was missing, however. While James Franklin cost Penn State a chance to win by kicking a field goal from the one and mismanaging their timeouts, Jim Harbaugh stood opposite him, competent and then some.
Michigan won this game due to coaching and finishing drives, and the two were inextricably linked. Both teams had one touchdown from outside the red zone, Michigan's a 26-yard pass from Jake Rudock to Jake Butt before PSU responded with a 25-yard fade to Saeed Blacknail. The Wolverines converted all three* of their red zone chances into touchdowns. Penn State also had three, but ultimately settled for three field goals, stymied by a stout Wolverine defense and their own conservative playcalling.
James Ross laid some licks. He wasn't alone. [Upchurch]
While the game remained close throughout, Michigan controlled most of the action, outgaining PSU 343-207. Outside of a bad pick, Jake Rudock continued his pinpoint ways of the last couple games, throwing for 256 yards and a pair of scores on 36 attempts. Amara Darboh moved the chains and earned a hard-fought touchdown on a steady diet of wide receiver screens and added a remarkable sideline snag; Butt found open spaces for 66 yards; Chesson stretched the field and chipped in M's best run of the day on a 20-yard end-around. While it was a frustrating day on the ground, the weapons in the passing game again proved their steadily increasing worth.
On the other side, Michigan allowed an early 56-yard run to standout freshman back Saquon Barkley and otherwise limited him to 12 yards on 14 carries. The defensive front beat up quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who managed just 131 yards on 37 attempts and took four sacks among many, many hits. By PSU's last-gasp drive, Hackenberg seemed out of it—quite possibly injured—and even started trotting off the field before barely getting the play off on fourth down; his final throw sailed harmlessly out of bounds.
If you're looking for the moment that turned around the game, the muffed punt that Chesson recovered inside the ten, setting up a one-yard Sione Houma plunge for a 21-10 lead, is the simplest answer. But if you'd like to say it's the moment Michigan hired Harbaugh, whose timely aggressiveness got the Wolverines a critical score late in the first half for the second straight game, it'd be hard to argue.
Ultimately, that's why this game will be fondly remembered—if quickly lost in the excitement of the week to come—instead of another nightmare in Happy Valley. Be gone, ever-fuzzier recollections of McGloin and Floyd and 27-for-27 and missed overtime field goals. Michigan is one Ohio State victory away from playing for the Big Ten East.
-------------- *Not including the game's final drive, when Michigan kneeled out the clock while inside the PSU five.
I was going to tell a story about how Matt invented the mortgage in 1745 but given the persnickety legal details that come with being a broker I think that might actually be heinously illegal, so I'll have to skip it. When Matt talks to lawyers about running within the bounds of the law it seems like he gets tossed a dusty 500-page tome and is told to memorize it. So our story dies before it can even live. But at least you can be secure in your decisions when it comes to owning a home, amirite?
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan didn't do much that was out of the ordinary for them. Indiana was very aggressive.
They had a standup end similar to the buck spot; I still interpreted him as a DE.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Pretty standard at this point. Smith, Houma, and Johnson got the only tailback snaps. Bunting has fallen out of the TE rotation. When they need a third guy they go with Hill or Poggi. Newsome only on goal line plays.
Ways got a few snaps but it was almost all Darboh and Chesson plus Perry in three wide sets.
So much of Michigan's offense this week was Indiana being atrocious at pass coverage, but the the one where Rudock threw Jehu open was…well it was that too but it was also a great play by a QB/WR tandem. Too often this year offense has come from schematic, or rock-paper-scissors wins. This one was just a great quarterback play. So let's draw it up:
Royce, how much did that pace on Saturday affect you guys, and is it just one of those things where maybe the pace got the better of you for one game?
“Yeah, the pace was pretty bad. We didn’t play to our full ability and we definitely are looking forward to picking it up this week.”
When you looked at it- have you had a chance to look at the film yet?
Beyond the pace, what were some of the issues you guys were having stopping the run?
RJS: “Just getting lined up. You know, everything was going so fast. Just getting lined up and getting the call since they were running a no-huddle offense the whole game. That was a big challenge. And just hitting a guy after so many plays, it takes a toll. Just had to find a way to get the W.”
Graham, coach Harbaugh was talking about how Jake [Rudock] doesn’t flinch and how he turns the page so well whether it’s a great play or a poor play. Talk about the effect that has on a team.
“It’s great to have a quarterback and have somebody who’s the leader of our offense who comes into the play the exact same as he was the play before. He’s not too high, he’s not too low; he’s unflappable. I think that gives us a quiet confidence about ourselves, and whether it was a bad play or a good play we’re ready to keep going.”
Graham, how’s your brother holding up, and what words of advice did you give him after his injury? Tough break there.
“Ryan’s doing fine. Playing a lot of Halo 5. We play a lot together. Maybe you’ll see us online one day if any of you guys play. He’s doing fine, and I just tell him that he had a great season and, you know, we’re taking it week by week. Take it week by week, he had a great season, and he’s going to come back next year stronger and better and ready to play again. You know, fight another day.”
[After THE JUMP: but does the injury affect R. Glasgow’s Halo ability? Also, more G. Glasgow, RJS, and AJ Williams]
The scoring run that Jehu’s [Chesson] on here: three receiving touchdowns in three games. Why it’s happening and how much of a weapon he is for you guys.
“Well, I would really say Jehu Chesson, Jake Butt, Jake Rudock, Amara Darboh, those four I think are playing as well as anybody in the Big Ten Conference as a group, and all four of those deserve any success or accolades for their performance that they’re achieving because they’ve really earned it all, all four, with their work ethic, with their dedication to being good and their seriousness about winning and winning performance at a very high level. It’s just wonderful, wonderful, and they deserve it because they’ve worked extremely hard for it.”
You said on Saturday that you thought that Jehu kind of looked like an NFL player right now.
Did you think that earlier in the year? What kind of changes went down where you were thinking he could play at the next level?
“Well, it was just the constant improvement in all phases of his game. I think the one thing he is improving at, the final piece, is tracking the deep ball. You watch him run, you watch him catch, you watch him block, cover kicks, the way he plays in all phases and now the deep ball. Tracking that is really coming along well. You see that improving, and I think that’s the final piece that he’s acquiring.”
Thoughts on a second straight road game and the challenge that Penn State presents?
“Uh…I acknowledge that it’s our second straight road game. Fully aware of that.
“Challenge that Penn State presents is a big challenge and our team will be prepared for it this week. Outstanding defense. Offensively, outstanding quarterback, outstanding running back, receivers that are outstanding, so…acknowledge both of those things. Formidable task, and it is a road game.”
Because you’re beat up especially on the defensive line a little bit, do you approach this week-
“We’re not beat up. Nobody’s beat up that I know of.”
Dipping into the depth chart a little bit-
“Do you know something I don’t know? We’ve got a bounce in our step. We’re ready to go.”
[After THE JUMP: “I’m like Abraham: I’m gonna die leaning on my staff. I think that’s the way Abraham said it.”]