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]
Clark started seven games at cornerback in 2015 and three in 2016 before tearing his ACL against Penn State. The former three-star safety recruit was a critical component to the last couple secondaries, battling Channing Stribling to a relatively even draw for playing time until the injury.
Without Clark, Michigan will be very inexperienced at cornerback in 2017. Redshirt junior Brandon Watson, who's seen scattered snaps at nickel, is the only upperclassman at the position. Sophomore Lavert Hill and David Long are the favorites to earn starting spots; they'll compete with redshirt sophomore Keith Washington and freshmen Ambry Thomas and Benjamin St-Juste. Unless Michigan picks up another corner in the 2017 class—it looks like they'll get one more—that is the entire group of scholarship corners for next season.
CB Jourdan Lewis. Two-time All-American has case for second-best cover corner in school history. Various excellent stats, none better than this: over his last two years throwing it in the dirt and throwing at Jourdan Lewis were equally productive in terms of QB rating.
DE Taco Charlton. Rampant in the second half of the season against both run and pass and destined for the first round of the draft. Charlton was the rare WDE to play at 280 pounds and gave Michigan's run defense oomph it will miss even if his replacement keeps up the pass rush productivity.
SAM Jabrill Peppers. Massively overrated nonentity will be mysteriously drafted in first round this April and have decade-long NFL career. Absence in bowl game went completely unnoticed and did not pave the way for almost all of Dalvin Cook's yards.
NT Ryan Glasgow. Robot Viking finally started getting appropriately rated as a senior, when he was again an excellent penetrator and disruptor of all things run and pass.
SDE Chris Wormley. TE obliterator and utterly steady; maybe a hair less than explosive. Pass rush not a huge strength, but that went unnoticed since everyone else was picking QB out of their teeth. Elite run defender capable of playing inside or out.
CB Channing Stribling. Outstanding year in coverage; if he was any easier to hit with a completion than Lewis it was a narrow thing indeed. Run support an Area For Improvement, as they say. Should still go early in the NFL draft, as he's a legit 6-foot.
Safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Close to interchangeable, so addressed together: capable of deep zones and slot coverage, these two kept Jabrill Peppers out of coverage almost all year. Tremendous luxury to be able to do that and flip 'em on motion. Thomas did bust a few times for big plays (most prominently against UCF and FSU), but as safety tandems go this might be tops in recent Michigan history.
ILB Ben Gedeon. Sideline to sideline ILB who couldn't carry wheel routes downfield. Consistent tackler who showed up in the right spot almost every time; took on blocks with aplomb and shed them with authority. Lack of playing time early in career got more inexplicable every game.
DT Matt Godin. Played well enough early in the season, when Hurst was laid up with a minor injury, to maintain that status for the duration. Was solid in his role; provided little pass rush but effective run defender. Least productive rotation DL by some distance but still meaningfully positive per PFF.
get in his belly [Fuller]
DT Maurice Hurst. Technically not a starter but whatever man. Per PFF, the most productive interior pass rusher in the nation. Huge grades to both them and this sites UFR; with serious uptick in snaps should have breakout senior year and contend for AA status.
ILB Mike McCray. Resurrected career after long-term injury threatened it and was about 80% revelation. Superior blitzer, tough customer on the inside. Struggled to contain edge runs for much of the year; late improvement in that department.
CB Jeremy Clark. Injured in game four and Michigan will try to get a sixth year for him. If that comes through Clark is a bolt of experience in a secondary that will otherwise have almost none. Lost his starting job to Stribling but started anyway since Lewis was out for the first three games; has a year of solid starts under his belt and should be a draftable guy.
DE Rashan Gary. Snaps limited by guys in front of him; impressive and productive when he did get on the field. Physical potential limitless, and should take The Leap as a sophomore.
DE Chase Winovich. Crazy productive pass rusher who'd show up for a handful of snaps in big-time games and come away with a sack anyway. Per PFF had 27 pressure events in 277 snaps, which is almost precisely the same rate at which Charlton racked them up. Run D occasionally wobbly. Potential breakout player.
DT Bryan Mone. Second straight injury-plagued year. As a result barely got over the 100-snap threshold that we're using to distinguish "new" from "what's left." Struggled when he did get snaps much of the year, hopefully because he was not 100%. Flashed ability against OSU.
FS Tyree Kinnel. Promising safety candidate was dimeback for much of the year and did well in that role. Had a couple of Kovacsian TFLs where he'd fly up from outside the picture to kill a guy dead. Coverage, which was reputed to be a strength when he was a recruit, didn't get tested.
CB Brandon Watson. Nickel corner was beat with some regularity when tested. Doesn't seem to have much upside.
WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY
dread level: rising [Patrick Barron]
Everything! Almost everything, anyway. The DL has some guys who have established a certain level of performance, to the point where only one of them is even sort of "new," that a redshirt junior who would be old except for terrible injury luck.
Dudes flanking McCray. Devin Bush figures to draw into the starting lineup next to McCray since he was the clear #3 ILB last year. That should push the bulkier McCray to MLB and give Bush WLB. Hopefully that would allow McCray to focus more on getting vertical instead of lateral. Bush is very much a spread ILB.
Meanwhile at SAM/Viper(!!!), many different things could happen. Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow got Don Brown praise for their work at Viper(!!!) during bowl practices; Noah Furbush is a more traditional LB option at the spot; Khaleke Hudson still seems like a perfect fit as an emphatically box safety; if Michigan can get Willie Gay, recruiting types report that he is an instant impact player.
Either all of the secondary or all but one guy in the secondary. Michigan has a ton of cornerback talent pushing through at a spot where you can get by decently on athleticism. Safety has guys with scattered snaps a year ago and really needs a couple of players to come through.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977
omar comin' [Fuller]
Still the defensive line. Michigan graduates all four starters but this is very much a reload situation, not a rebuild. Michigan figures to start:
Maurice Hurst, who produced just as much as last year's top starters in 60-70% of their snaps. He is going to be elite.
Rashan Gary, who was +13 in about 300 snaps as a true freshman and is a holy lock to be real good as the #1 recruit in the country.
Chase Winovich, who would be coming off a double-digit sack season if he had as many snaps as Charlton, in his first year as a WDE.
Bryan Mone, who had a series of injury struggles the last two years but flashed his ability on a critical third and short stop against the Buckeyes.
Those guys are very much in contention for the best line in the conference.
Probably cornerback? If Michigan gets Clark back that's a veteran who will be of interest to the NFL as a Sherman-type jumbo CB; I thought he was a B+ guy in 2015 and should get better if allowed to return. Surely Michigan can find Lewis 2.0 from the pile of recruits in shiny wrapping paper they've accumulated.
Don Dang Brown. Brown lived up to the hype and then some. Michigan LBs totaled 43 TFLs as he solved problems with aggression; Michigan is at or near the top of any defensive metric you care to look at. While the copious talent had a lot to do with that, those guys were around last year and Brown still just about halved S&P+'s expected points allowed metric from 13.7 to 7.7.
While there's going to be some regression, Brown's defenses tend to take a year before kicking in to high gear. Increased familiarity with the system should help mitigate the personnel losses.
WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017
Is Kemp ready to play? Is anyone? [Fuller]
Defensive line depth. Seven different guys saw 250+ snaps last year, with Bryan Mone getting 117 of his own. Four of those guys are gone. There is a shortage of gentlemen ready to step in. This site constantly says that nose tackle is a spot with two starters. Starter #2 at NT is...?
DE is probably fine. Between Reuben Jones, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall, and Ron Johnson Michigan can find a couple guys to spell the starters. The only DT on the roster other than the projected starters is Mike Dwumfour, a middling three star coming off an injury redshirt. Michigan's bringing in a ton of DT types in this recruiting class but even if they get a top guy like Jay Tufele or Aubrey Solomon, relying on a true freshman in the two deep is alarming. Michigan might have no choice but to move Gary to DT.
Going from Peppers to Not Peppers. The silver lining of his absence almost certainly costing Michigan the Orange Bowl is that I don't have to spend much time explaining why Peppers's departure will be costly. Yes, he tended to go on a ride when he got blocked. Michigan was delighted to take that tradeoff if it meant that you could not outrun Michigan's front seven with Usain Bolt.
WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY
Safety. You know, I'm almost sanguine about safety these days. After a solid decade of safeties topping out at "eh, he hasn't set his head on fire" and frequently dipping into "welp, he set his head on fire again," Michigan's on a run of guys who are actual positives. It is at this moment that we must have maximum vigilance, for this is when Angry Michigan Safety Hating God loves to strike.
Michigan clearly likes Kinnel. Unfortunately they have few alternatives; it looks like both Hudson and Metellus are tracking towards hits, but are both of those guys box safeties who you don't want to see in deep coverage? I dunno. Mental issues for a couple of true sophomores could pop up as well.
Outside linebackering. Bush will probably be at least all right and could verge on good by the end of the season. SAM/Viper(!!!) could see just about any level of performance and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.
MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS
What looks like another excellent starting DL and cornerbacks that should pick up the departed's mantle without too much trouble is a good baseline to work from. And while the unit is going to be young—just three seniors are currently projected in the starting lineup—it isn't going to be troublingly so. The only spots at which freshmen are likely to contend are backup DT and maybe somewhere in the secondary.
So while they aren't going to be this year's outfit, which was neck and neck with Alabama for the nation's best, neither are they going to drop off to average. Unfortunately, this is not a fully Harbaugh-ized program so there are some sore spots at which one injury could radically reshape the outlook—someone please wrap the DL starters in cotton until fall—so I reserve the right to repeal the prediction if the wrong guy goes down, but this should be a top 15 S&P+ defense and top 20-ish in YPP and the like.
9/24/2016 – Michigan 49, Penn State 10 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
Two years ago this game featured Dennis Norfleet dancing, a lot of bad football, and a series of increasingly boggling in-game decisions. Brady Hoke and James Franklin engaged in bad decision tennis, lobbing ever more ludicrous balls over the net and daring the opposition to top it. There was no winner—there is never a winner in bad decision tennis—but Michigan did not lose. They won the game, and the tennis match was called on account of forgetting to breathe sometimes.
Fast forward two years and things are a little different for one of these teams. Jim Harbaugh's taking timeout in case Jabrill Peppers can get a punt return in and asking to review a legitimately dodgy fourth-down spot despite being up a gorillion; James Franklin sees a fourth and goal from the two down 28-0 and decides on a field goal... wait, no, he's taking a timeout because he realizes that is a terrible decision. And now he's sending out...
Still the field goal team.
So this is a dumb fake—nope they kicked it.
Now they are down four scores, which is a notable improvement from being down four scores. James Franklin has lobbed this one good and high. This is an Eschaton-worthy parabola.
After they kicked it the camera cut to Jim Harbaugh on the sidelines, looking equal parts perplexed and offended on behalf of the game of football:
I had a similar look on my face. This is not good hard friendly competition. This was turtling. Signaled by their coach, Penn State promptly laid down. According to Wilton Speight, Michigan ran the same play eight consecutive times at one point Saturday. While that doesn't seem 100% accurate—there was a sweep in there—the bit in the box score where Penn State lays itself on the altar and hands the squiggly knife to Harbaugh is obvious:
Franklin told them to quit and they quit. I'm not surprised. One year ago this column was all about how pleasant it was to watch a Penn State game and not be stupefied by the things occurring in front of my face, and Penn State's held up its end of the bargain in that department over the last few years.
But I am also kind of surprised that James Franklin, who made Vanderbilt decent, would just roll over and die. You'd think that the kind of person who could stare the history of Vandy football in the face and make the Commodores one of the feistiest teams in the country would at least spit in his executioner's eye, for what little that would help him. Not today, and thus Michigan entered to the "win with cruelty" portion of the proceedings.
And, lo, it was cruel. Michigan acquired 13 tackles for loss and six sacks; they ran for over 300 yards with a carousel of running backs. Michigan threw to Eddie McDoom with less than half the fourth quarter to go, because a rep is a rep is a rep. It's not that Michigan was trying to embarrass or humiliate Penn State; it's just that they didn't care if that happened. Lo, it did. Meanwhile across the country in Autzen Stadium, a Colorado quarterback who was 0/7 with –4 rushing yards last week was spearheading a stunning upset by accounting for 500 yards of offense by himself.
Remember spinning around in circles about this defense last week? You should continue doing that, but for the opposite reason. Lost in the piles of viscera that are all that remain of the Penn State offense: PSU was an efficient, prolific offensive team headed into this game, with 39 and 34 points the last two weeks. It was even one seemingly well-suited to mitigate Michigan's advantages, with Trace McSorley throwing a ton of passes close to the line of scrimmage and completing 80% of them.
It didn't matter. Nothing mattered. James Franklin woke up this morning in a Cure shirt and eyeliner, because halfway through a game against Michigan he decided life wasn't worth living anymore. Just, like, whatever, man. Three points, seven points. It all leads to one place: the grave. First, Arby's. Then the grave.
#1 (tie) Chris Wormley, Maurice Hurst, and Taco Charlton nose ahead of everyone else on a defensive line that set the tone early and never let up, racking up six sacks and a trajillion TFLs. Hurst turned in the most impressive individual play of the day when he came from a nose tackle spot all the way around a guard and got in McSorley's business for a sack; Wormley was the most consistent entrant into the backfield, and Charlton's return helped seal the rush lanes that UCF exploited shut. Also he got a sack and a half. Welcome back.
#2 (tie) De'Veon Smith and Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon and Chris Evans were all between good an excellent as they combined for 40 carries for 318 yards, with seemingly nobody getting consecutive carries. Each guy ripped off a 20+ yard run; each guy made big chunks of yards for himself with good vision or broken tackles. Easy sledding but Michigan maximized their opportunities in ways that had not always been the case early this year.
#3 Ben Gedeon was the closest thing to a one on one matchup Michigan had with Saquon Barkley and that went all right. Gedeon tracked PSU RBs in space repeatedly, had a couple of impressive sideline-to-sideline tackles, and got in the backfield for 1.5 TFLs amongst his 11 total tackles. Barkley got his yards mostly on screens and shovels and the like, a couple of them on Gedeon. This was still a win against one of the top backs in the country.
Honorable mention: The right side of the offensive line was the main area Michigan attacked on the ground. Khalid Hill had another solid all-round FB performance. Channing Stribling and Jourdan Lewis helped shut down the PSU receivers on the rare occasions PSU managed to target them.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado). 3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF). 2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU). 1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU), Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU). 0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU), Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Taco Charlton and Chris Worley combine to sack Trace McSorley on the third play from scrimmage:
That set up the ensuing Peppers punt return and was an emphatic declaration of the way the game was going to go.
Honorable mention: Karan Higdon rips off an offset draw touchdown; Peppers decoy sends Smith into the secondary, where he goes stomp. Any one of Michigan's 12(!!!) other TFLs. Peppers returns a punt and windmills down to the nine.
Jeremy Clark suffered an apparent ACL injury and is likely out for the season
Regarding players raising their fists during the national anthem, Harbaugh said he supports his players’ right to speak their minds, and added that the country is a team and that if something isn’t good for someone we talk about it and fix it as a team.
Karan Higdon getting in early and often was Tyron Wheatley’s suggestion.
Five running backs scored today; five touchdowns from inside the three; over 300 yards rushing today; you had five runs of over 25 yards; can you just talk about the overall run offense effort today, because it looked highly impressive from our end.
“Yeah, I was really impressed with the running backs. All of them contributed in big ways, starting with De’Veon. Again, heck of a game. Broke loose, got the tough yardage. Ty was good again. Very elusive and good. Chris Evans, he had long gains and Karan on the same play got a touchdown. Khalid was good. Thought our line was blocking well. It was a job well done in the running game.”
Just following up on that, the drive where you got the 37-yard run, kicked the draw out, then an incomplete pass and seven straight runs. Talk about what that does when you can just hand off the ball and have success with it.
“I mean, it’s—moving the chains and breaking some big runs is a good way to move the ball. That’s what we want to do is move the ball and put the ball in the end zone and score points. I thought our offense was very effective in doing that today.”
You went for a lot of fourths instead of the long field goals today. Was that just a feel type of thing or you wanted to set the tone?
“Yeah, just especially the one where we were into the wind, felt like the odds were better going with the fourth downs. Seems to be happening more and more these days, so we got into it, experimented a little bit and it worked out. Worked out once.”
On the sideline interference call, do you normally get a warning on that? Did you get an explanation on why you didn’t?
“Yeah. One of our coaches was in the white and bumped into his arm. That’s the rule. Can’t be out there. It’s really tight over there on our sideline. We don’t have a lot of room to operate, so we’ve just got to do a better job of staying back. But guys get excited, especially when the ball’s being run back for a long punt return and people were…gotta know where they’re at. Just gotta stay out of that white lane.”
SPONSOR NOTES: Got a couple of requests to re-record the podcast commercial featuring Matt and his kids because it sounds like Matt has dragooned his offspring into this. Well, yeah, that's what offspring are for. Matt is a man who will dragoon for you. That's not something everyone can say, because not everyone knows what that word means. Matt does!
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
IDIOT DIRECTOR NOTES: This goober zoomed in so close to almost everything and provided zero high-angle replays, so I'm doing a lot more guessing about coverages than I usually do. As a result some plays of interest aren't clipped because the interesting bits I remember from the game aren't actually on the screen.
FORMATION NOTES: Okay, I separated front and cover look, and am still not satisfied with the results. "Press" was anything with hard corners on guys on the LOS:
Off was off. This was two high, and also the post TD.
One high version of same:
Still a work in progress.
Michigan and Colorado didn't do anything too weird except for some offset three man lines I'm just piling in as "exotic."
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Again a tight rotation, which makes yet more burned redshirts puzzling. Wormley and Glasgow led the way on the DL with 53 of 71 snaps; Godin, Winovich, and Garry all got around 40. Hurst got 27 and since he played well I'm guessing they're trying to keep his workload light as he continues to recover from whatever held him out of the opener.
Linebacker was as you'd expect, with Starters getting the whole game minus some personnel package items. Gedeon is the guy who stays in when Michigan has just one true LB on the field.
Secondary was also low rotation, with Thomas, Stribling, and Clark playing every snap. Hill got dinged up and missed 16; Kinnel saw 20 snaps, most meaningful; Watson had 18.
WTF burned redshirt of the week goes to Carlo Kemp and his four snaps.
Let's say you're on the sideline of a football game. You've got a job to do, and you're doing it. This job involves looking at things other than the field, so you rely on your colleagues to let you know when the action threatens to spill over into your area of the sideline.
This is a fine system. You've honed it over the years. People move at a certain speed, you see, and when you hear "heads up" you get your head up, evaluate the situation, and avoid the brunt of the contact. Tried, and true, this system. Damn near infallible, in fact. At no point have you looked winged death straight in the facemask.
Then, this Saturday. Just after your team has taken a very unexpected second-half lead, the system kicks in. "Heads up." Head goes up. This is a process, though, and as you are in the midst of this process your brain starts signaling to you that something is wrong. The tone of voice, maybe? An ominous breeze? What's that thing with the sirens going by? Doppler effect? Whatever it is, the hairs on the back of your neck stand up straight. The process is complete now. Your head is up.
The system has failed.
The system was designed with certain tolerances and Jabrill Peppers has just blown through all of them. You are now staring winged death straight in the facemask. What a terrible time for it to be, now. Before is good. Later is good, assuming that there will in fact be a later. Now… now is bad. You spin the fight or flight wheel and land on "soil yourself."
And who can blame you, really?
Sphincters are also designed with certain tolerances. In your own way you've just blown through as many of them as Jabrill Peppers has in the realm of physics. So you've got that going for you.
There is a certain kind of person—usually a rival fan with a brain that could be cooled down to meat-locker temperatures without any discernible ill effect—who spent most of the offseason bleating about excessive hype for Jabrill Peppers. Peppers didn't have a bunch of shiny counting stats, you see, and therefore he was worse than other people who did.
This argument, already dead in the water to any slightly objective person with eyes, is now beyond repair. Peppers has a decent season's worth of linebacker stats three games in: 9.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, three QB hurries, and a forced fumble. He leads Michigan with 28 tackles, 19 of them solo. He's got 173 punt return yards—an average of 22 yards a pop!—and has just started contributing on offense.
Linear extrapolation of these numbers gets to territory so uncharted that Captain Janeway and her crew of morons show up to survey it. We probably shouldn't do that. Spicy stats will get rarer as the competition level increases… insofar as it does. Rutgers is still on the schedule, after all. Maryland—which just went to double OT with Central Florida—is also on the docket. Penn State and Wisconsin have offensive lines that are, uh, in flux. Peppers might not might meet significantly more resistance except in a few games.
So screw it! Linear extrapolation: 112 tackles, 38 for loss, 10 sacks, a thousand return yards and however many touchdowns, and whatever he chips in on offense. Ahahahahahaha.
PICTURED: THE BIG TEN CONFERENCE
This was a concerning game for several reasons, not least of them the fact that a middling-at-best Pac-12 school was driving to go up 28-7 in front of a shocked Michigan Stadium. Post Traumatic Hoke Disorder was in full effect amongst the 110,000 gathered. Personally, I was not having a real good time. I went into emotional shutoff mode, as is my wont, and contemplated how I was going to break it to MGoBlog readers that I was moving to Bolivia, as is also my wont.
Peppers didn't rescue that himself. I had a fist pump after Rashan Gary came around the corner and a ragged exhalation when Amara Darboh dismissed a couple tacklers to turn a tunnel screen into a touchdown. Michigan's rebound from a game they certainly lose in the previous regime was a collective effort. That collective effort was mostly accepted on mute.
The one guy who pierced right through that attempted stoicism was Peppers. Because BANG he's thumping some dude in the backfield and BANG he's just slashed upfield through the first wave of punt defenders and BANG he has sacked the quarterback before he's even finished his drop. Even when you're trying not to feel anything in case the feelings are horrible, it's impossible to see Peppers and not think OH HELL YES SOMETHING 'BOUT TO BE ON FIRE I CAN'T FEEL MY FAAAACE LET'S GO PUNCH A LEOPARD WOO.
Offense or defense, doesn't matter. He's the best lion. He sinks his meaty claws into anyone with the temerity to test his edge. He's the best gazelle. He slashes through a line of claws without ill effect. He is sui generis, the scourge of sphincters, and someone put him in a winged helmet to rouse the inert from their stupors and send them to their local superstores in search of an axe appropriate for crazed berserking. Check.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Jabrill Peppers is an easy selection after 3.5 TFLs, a sack, two rushes for 24 yards, a kickoff return to the Colorado 45, and four punt returns averaging 25 yards a pop including the game-sealing touchdown. Peppers has been everything he's been hyped up to be so far this year. The busted coverage is a demerit, and this is still an easy pick.
#2 Jake Butt was the one consistently positive target in Michigan's passing game, with seven catches for 87 yards; I also caught a couple of positive run-blocking events on Michigan's big plays.
#3 Ben Gedeon had 12 tackles, a critical sack early in the game, and was a major component of Michigan's interior run defense. Pop pass issues may have been on him and McCray but asking LBs to respond to RPOs like that is asking for trouble; I'm assuming those are on the safeties.
Honorable mention: Khalid Hill would have made it if I wasn't pretty sure he got Speight killed on the sack/strip. Rashan Gary, Chris Wormley, and Ryan Glasgow were key components of a stout interior run defense.
5: Jabrill Peppers((T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado). 3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF). 2: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF), Jake Butt(#2 Colorado). 1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Ben Gedeon(#3, Colorado). 0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Peppers finally gets his return touchdown and seals the game.
Honorable mention: Matching 45 yard touchdowns down the edge by De'Veon Smith and Amara Darboh; various other Peppers things.
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In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
FORMATION NOTES: Okay. I added a column. "D Pack" is short for defensive package and lists the personnel. 4-2-5 is Michigan's standard with two ILBs and Peppers on the field. Peppers counts as part of the 5 because he can play CB and S, which he did in this game. 3-2-6 lifts a DL for (currently) a safety. There was one 4-0-7 with Peppers at LB and six other DBs on the field.
I'm still sifting through what I want to do with the other columns. I'm probably going to split Front into Front and Coverage, but given how complicated coverages are these days and my lack of ability to see downfield sometimes that'll be noisy data.
Anyway. Most of the stuff wasn't crazy. I called this 4-3 SAM slide, as it's a 4-3 even with Peppers on the end of the line:
This was a more standard 4-3.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Almost zero rotation in this game. Starting defense when the whole way, with all 68 snaps given to the starting DBs. Kinnel and Watson got 10 and 7 snaps in various dime packages; Lavert Hill got in for that 4-0-7 play.
Peppers, Gedeon, and McCray all missed one snap. The DL rotated six guys close to evenly. By snap counts: Winovich(55), Glasgow(47), Godin(40), Wormley(36), Gary(33), Hurst(33). Marshall got 13 and was the only other DL to play.
It's been a while since Michigan fans set to grumblin' about 37 point wins, but here we are. That one track guy ran a long way and quarterbacks set to scrambling and a bunch of guys jetted into the backfield. These are bad things that a remorseless juggernaut would not allow in its vicinity, and thus it's open season for crabbers.
This is not necessarily a criticism. Your author joined with the Ann Arbor Pincer & Exoskeleton masses at halftime:
Not super happy with the blitz pickups. Even if they're blitzing you gotta pick up the guys coming up the gut.
What can I say? I expected Michigan to pave these dudes and they did not. While UCF did stack the box and blitz its little try-hard buns off, I rather thought that wouldn't matter. I did not expect UCF to rush for an uncomfortably large number of yards themselves.
I don't place anywhere near as much emphasis on these things as Scott Frost—"we outrushed them, we outhit them, and in the futuristic game of run-hit-ball, those are the only factors"—but in the middle of a live football game you're winning by a zillion points the only thing that keeps your interest is taking the data in front of you and projecting it down the road, when Michigan will face teams that can rush for 300 yards and not lose by 37… or at all.
After a rewatch and a little bit of time to reflect, the things that happened were things Michigan can clean up. Blitzers coming free because Michigan didn't get off their blocks fast enough. Defensive ends too gung-ho about getting around the edge because their careers are still in the tadpole stage. A bust here and there probably related to the new defense.
There wasn't anything that set off alarm bells except one bad fill by Dymonte Thomas against a 10.3 100 meter guy who was such a niche player that his 87-yard touchdown was his only carry of the game. (You know you're a specialist when you run 87 yards on your first opportunity and your coaches are like "great job, eat bench.") Per folks who look at these things closely, Michigan did mostly pave them, and declined to do things that would exploit UCF's blitz-happy approach on the ground.
What they did instead is let Wilton Speight go to work. Whatever ground game hiccups have increased the worry factor should be more than offset by Speight looking like a Harbaugh quarterback immediately. Michigan saw stacked boxes and responded by passing over and over again. Up 31-7, Michigan got the ball on its own 13 and threw five straight times to open their drive. After halftime they indicated they were not inclined to take the pedal off the metal by opening up a touchdown drive with back to back completions to Butt for a total of 40 yards.
I have seen some quarterbacks this year. I have seen LSU fans go bonkers because a Purdue transfer went 6/14 for 100 yards against Jacksonville State. I have seen Clayton Thorson rack up seven points against Illinois State. There's a ton of collar-pulling across college football when new quarterbacks step in, no matter their age or hype level. Harbaugh has none of that with Speight. UCF set up to deny the run so Michigan rained it on their heads.
There wasn't an ounce of hesitation, and I was reminded of the quarterback press availability a week or so before the season. Speight sat down and told the assembled reporters that he flat-out expected to start. That was a confident read. It went with his spring performance, and now 50 throws into his starting career we have a bonafide trend. Wilton Speight is a man who knows where he wants to go, and would like us to come with him. Even if we are a crusty, crustaceous people.
#1 Wilton Speight completed 68% of his passes despite three drops on routine balls, cracked 300 yards, was still super accurate on everything under 20 yards and good on longer throws, and dealt with an unfortunate amount of pressure with aplomb.
#2 Ryan Glasgow had a dominant defensive game on the interior, sussed out a dangerous screen for a TFL, and just about ran down a track star on the 87 yarder. His range is completely absurd for a nose tackle.
#3 Jabrill Peppers led Michigan with eight tackles, two of them TFLs, added two hurries on top of that, returned a punt 35 yards, and was not responsible for much of the scramble or screen yardage ceded.
Honorable mention: Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh were locked in and excellent. Erik Magnuson and Grant Newsome shut out the men trying to rush on them.
3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF). 2: Jabrill Peppers (T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF); Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF). 1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii). 0.5: Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii), Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii).
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
No sir, no Early Season Jake Rudock this year.
Late Season Jake Rudock… ask again later.
Honorable mention: BLOCK ALL THE KICKS; Peppers forces a fumble with authority; Rashan Gary flashes end product on impressive sack; Speight hits Butt on a sweet corner route for a TD in tough circumstances; Michigan inserts Chris Evans at upback so they can't pop it up and UCF panics and kicks it out of bounds; Chase Winovich sack/strip results in a turnover.
Dymonte Thomas gives everyone the heebie-jeebies by failing to tackle a dude for like 20 yards and instead he goes 87. Also worrying about this play: the eerie similarities between it and the late season problems last year's defense had.
Honorable mention: Michigan Stadium has collective hallucination that Jake Butt dropped not one but two passes; various QB scrambles caused by bad contain; Kenny Allen drops the snap on a punt; several run plays are thunked in the the backfield.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again. UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
[After THE JUMP: SPEIGHTDOWN, also bad thing discussion]
SPONSOR NOTES: Homesure Lending returns to sponsor this post, and as a bonus he's sent the blog to Iowa by finding us a block of five together. This will create glorious road trip content. (Matt has stipulated that I clarify he is not to blame if the Iowa game turns out like that stupid triple overtime Penn State game; we have agreed to collectively blame the first commenter on this post.)
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, he is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
PRO FOOTBALL FOCUS NOTES: Good news, everybody: we've purchased PFF's Michigan and opponent data for the season, which will allow us to do a bunch of things previously impractical. We've got snap counts, for one, and their grades, and some drill-down stuff I'll reference when it seems relevant to what I'm saying.
One important disclaimer: I'm not looking at this stuff until I go over the game myself, to prevent confirmation bias.
FORMATION NOTES: Normal Brian is super happy Don Brown is Michigan's defensive coordinator. UFR Brian is frickin' pissed. I'm going to split the next UFR's "Formation" column into "personnel" and "formation" because I give up trying to jam that all into a few words. Even that figures to be insufficient.
About halfway through this game I decided that:
Michigan is a 4-2-5 defense.
Sometimes they run a 3-2-6.
I need a "box" column denoting persons in said box with maybe a .5 for gray area guys.
I need to stop bothering with even-odd stuff since that's not actually important for this level of analysis.
And then momentum carried me through. You improve the most between week one and week two; I'll endeavor to do so.
Anyway. I'm going to try to call out safeties and depth, insofar as this is possible. This is nickel one-high:
And this was 4-3 over two high:
These are the same personnel packages. Hill is the gray area guy kind of over the slot and Stribling has dropped to be the nominal second safety. Everyone in this secondary has to be able to play multiple roles.
Nickel two high:
And honestly I don't know what to term this:
That is two "safeties" at like six yards. Peppers would bail into a deep zone until he read run, FWIW. Nickel two low, I called it. /shakes fist at Don Brown.
I don't even want to get into the various fronts yet.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Deep breath. The back seven was pretty static and has a clear depth chart. Without Lewis, Stribling (45 snaps) and Clark(51) went just about the whole way until garbage time. Ditto Thomas(54), Hill(54), Peppers(54), McCray(44), and Gedeon(54). Brandon Watson (28 snaps but most of those late) had scattered snaps as a nickel corner on passing downs. Usually Michigan lifted a DL when this happened. Tyree Kinnel did get five snaps before the backups came in en masse.
The backups at all these spots are also clear: Kinnel and Hudson at safety, Long and Lavert Hill at corner, Devin Bush and Wroblewski at LB, File Not Found for Peppers.
The line started out with Wormley, Glasgow, Mone, and Charlton across it. Once Mone was out Michigan played a lot of Matt Godin, and they yanked Chris Wormley early. Gary actually got 32 snaps to Wormley's 27. Winovich went the whole way after Taco exited and actually racked up more DL snaps than anyone else with 40.
About midway through the third quarter Michigan unearthed Lawrence Marshall, Michael Dwumfour, Michael Onwenu, and redshirt junior walk-on Garrett Miller. Miller actually played 21 snaps and graded out well per PFF but at 271 on the roster it is highly unlikely he's going to be a contributor going forward unless things are in the darkest timeline. I didn't grade him well, FWIW.
[After THE JUMP: Viking raiders from across the sea / they've come to plunder you and me / oh no i've been stabbed / but our defense makes me glad]