SPONSOR NOTES: Also at the Marlin tailgate I met a guy who had refinanced with Matt and was now hanging out with him pregame, because they're buds. I didn't judge. Maybe I judged a little.
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: Michigan spent a lot of time in this formation:
Line is shifted to the TE so that's an over set. Peppers is overhanging the TE. Two deep safeties, press coverage.
They'd also put Peppers inside the end. I called that "4-3 bear".
PERSONNEL NOTES: Wisconsin's manball and constant three and outs caused some shifts in the DL snap distribution. Charlton played every snap—although there were just 53. Wormley and Glasgow were close behind with around 40; Godin and Hurst just about split the other DT spot. Gary (13 snaps), Mone (7), and Winovich(2) rounded out the rotation. Mone's just getting back, obviously; the other two are either freshmen getting their first taste of manball in a game situation or much lighter than alternatives.
The back seven starters never came off the field except for a few dime packages without McCray. Watson(7 snaps) and Kinnel(3) got a little bit of PT on passing downs as extra DBs.
No matter how many times you look, it's hard to choose. Charles Woodson jumped so high he caught a pass intended for the sideline. Jourdan Lewis long-jumped ~17 feet while backhanding a pass intended for an actual receiver after sticking with him on a dead sprint. Woodson loses minor degree of difficulty points for helping secure the football with his second hand; he regains them and then some by having to toe-tap inside the sideline to complete the catch. Lewis never needs the second hand; he also has the luxury of diving about as far from the sideline as possible. Woodson's came in a rivalry game; Lewis's in a game situation of much greater importance.
Here's the good news: you don't actually have to choose.
10/1/2016 – Michigan 14, Wisconsin 7 – 5-0, 2-0 Big Ten
I was scared once.
Let's dispense with the I ain't scurrred talk: football is terrifying and brings you to your knees and you can either admit this to yourself or embark on a life of chest-puffing Brandon stuff. Michigan hadn't won a game against a top ten team in 12 tries. When they're tied deep into the second half after spurning a pile of opportunities to make it a contest that's only kinda-sorta competitive you're goddamn right the idea they'd lose a game to a team that might as well have started drives on third and eight was bowel-shaking.
Anyway. Channing Stribling fell over and Alex Hornibrook heaved the ball at his receiver. It seemed long from the get go and turned out to be long, but you never know. As that mortar arched back towards earth my annoyance momentarily morphed into terror, because this was the kind of game where 7-7 is a war and 14-7 is a surrender. That ball clanged harmlessly to the turf. Wilton Speight's deep shot to Amara Darboh did not.
Hornibrook negotiated terms shortly thereafter, and hello it is October and it's hard to see a loss on Michigan's schedule until what's looking a lot like Football Armageddon II. Bill Connelly's fancystats have Michigan a two-touchdown favorite in every game before The Game, and it's not hard to see Vegas issuing double-digit spreads until then. This is the elite team it is supposed to be, even if someone needs to hit the field goal kickers with a frying pan until they remember to put it through the uprights.
This is because of the defense. Many expectations were piled upon it this offseason, and all have thus far been redeemed. You've seen it with your personal sensory organs. I have as well. I have seen other defenses, many of them, and the sense of serene calm when Michigan punts has only been matched by 1997 and 2006 in my experience. Michigan passes the eye test. They pass the scouting test. PFF has seven different Michigan DL with 100 snaps charted and a grade of 75 or above, which is bonkers.
The gap between them and #2 Florida is bigger than the gap between Florida and #10 Washington. They are first or second in any capacity you'd like to name, and complaints about schedule strength start to ring hollow when Colorado is lighting up everyone they come across with a backup quarterback who netted –4 yards against Michigan and Wisconsin ends up with half the yards they did against LSU or MSU.
Michigan's supposed weakness on defense isn't one, and everything else is coming in at or above expectations. People used to say things like "punting is winning" and mean them as something other than shots at Kirk Ferentz. That's because football used to look a lot like Saturday's game: trench warfare punctuated with one or two seismic moments. I have an old feeling, and a good feeling, about this football team.
With Iowa playing competitive games against Rutgers and Indiana going toe-to-toe with Michigan State, thoughts inevitably turn to the roadblock at the end of the season. The team has to take things one game at a time. I don't. I can take them six or twenty at a time. I can know the names of a couple of large men in the 2019 class at Belleville, because it's never too early to think about 2023.
So. This defense and the great roadblock. One of those previous defenses had a fatal flaw. One did not. The 2006 defense had one and a half excellent cornerbacks and no nickel package. Leon Hall would go on to a long NFL career. Morgan Trent had a cup of coffee in the league. Michigan went up against an OSU spread offense with Chris Graham as their spacebacker. This was part poor roster construction and part horrendous gameplanning; Michigan was put to the sword by Troy Smith.
You'd think that's in the past now, but just last year a good, if depleted, Michigan defense entered the OSU game with a plan to do the exact same thing they'd done the rest of the year and got ripped for 300 yards on the ground, yet again. The failures linger and give you pause when you project down the road, especially since this does not seem like a rebuilding year for the Great Satan. Worry, worry, worry.
Still, Jabrill Peppers is not Chris Graham. Michigan just crushed a manball team without taking their 210 pound linebacker-type substance off the field. They are not running a defense that tells you which guy is not going to play the run presnap. They have survived the first five games with a just couple of injury scares on the defensive line. I am thinking Michigan might be able to punt a lot and win, even down in Columbus.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Ryan Glasgow forced Channing Stribling's second interception by hitting Hornibrook as he threw and spent the rest of the day tossing UW's poor center to the ground, whether it was run or pass. He didn't rack up many counting stats because of the nature of the Badger offense but he's in line for a big-ass UFR grade.
#2 Kyle Kalis was a pile-mover in a game that needed to move many piles. Michigan's run game was decidedly right-handed in this one, and Kalis didn't have the protection issues Magnuson did. The repeated zone reads with Peppers were an impressive demonstration of Michigan's ability to shoot a very good defense off the ball.
#3 Jourdan Lewis was only targeted twice. One was incomplete. One has been photoshopped into a nouveau Jumpman logo. In addition to those two incidents, Lewis had two excellent plays in run defense that shut down Wisconsin attempts to get to the edge.
Honorable mention: uh, everyone on defense. Amara Darboh was the main target on Michigan's second touchdown drive.
5: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado), Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW). 3: Mike McCray(#1, Hawaii), Wilton Speight (#1 UCF). 2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW). 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), Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW). 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.
Speight bombs one over the top to Darboh for the winning points.
For the second consecutive week this is a key piece being knocked out, probably for the season. Grant Newsome took a cut from a defensive back that resulted in a knee injury "as serious as a knee injury can be" and Michigan has to find out what they've got behind him now.
Honorable mention: Wisconsin scores an actual touchdown; any of three different makeable field goals go awry; Speight gets picked off; Michigan takes 34 consecutive penalties on special teams.
PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs
Hawaii: Not Mone again. UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy. Colorado: Speight blindsided. PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury. UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured.
I don't say this too often, but props, BTN. This time-lapse shot already looked great; then the director slowed it down for Jehu Chesson's kickoff return touchdown and the ensuing reaction. I could watch this all day.
Then again, Jim Harbaugh and his poor hat lurk after the jump, so...
10/10/2015 – Michigan 38, Northwestern 0 – 5-1, 2-0 Big Ten
It was one fan, maybe two or three, in the south endzone. He or she or they wrote themselves into a corner of Michigan lore with one of the simplest chants in sports. It's the one that gets deconstructed into the letter D and the outline of a fence at NFL stadiums across the country. It is about as unique and special as "Seven Nation Army" at this point, but life is all about timing.
I have been to every Michigan home game in the last 18 years and I have never heard that. It is alien, the kind of thing I recoil from because it represents the melting of our special Michigan snowflake.
And holy shit, man. The little pin-pricks all across your scalp; the tremor in the hands; the flush of sweat; the welling of tears manfully suppressed. I could not participate myself. I was too gob-smacked to do much of anything at that moment. Michigan was up 38-0 with time about to expire. It was 4th and 17. If you had asked me to draw a card from the deck at that moment I couldn't have managed it.
Since the podcast started I've looked at a lot of lyrics from songs I love, and on the page they're flat nothings. This was the inverse of that. Two syllables; one word; and yet, poetry.
This is it, already. The building process turned out to be a single offseason of four-hour practices and competition over everything from starting positions to the most elegant mashed potato sculpture at dinner. Brady Hoke may not have been able to point his team in the right direction given two tries, but he could recruit, and the fruits of his labors have been honed molecule-thin by a man who can get hat-displacingly angry up a billion points in the second half.
Michigan fans were dying for this. Barely anyone left until deep into the fourth quarter, and there were still enough people ready to run through a wall with 29 seconds left, enough people to rattle the press box and send electricity up your spine.
The recent Harbaugh-to-NFL flare ups caused Michigan twitter to once again latch on to the pant leg of anybody who dared assert that Harbaugh would ever leave the confines of Ann Arbor (save for road games, of course). In the aftermath, media members got rabies shots and quietly conferred about how Wolverines fans are low key the most annoying on the internet.
They are not wrong. We take after our mascot: outwardly innocuous, secretly vicious bastards with a pipe-crushing grip. Anyone threatening the precious will be verbally berated until they give up in exhaustion. After the last eight years in the wilderness even the thought of a diversion enrages.
In that column I talked about how the most appealing bit of Kids In The Hall was always that theme song, titled "Having An Average Weekend"; I went back and listened to it, and now I think that song is genius. It filled me with a sense of contentment and optimism. That's an average weekend, just a year after things were so bad they spawned the first and only Wolverine Revolutionary Popular Front.
An average weekend ends with a stadium full of people exhorting Michigan to finish burying their opponent, with two syllables ringing through the nation's biggest stadium, once again full to the brim. With belief.
#1 Jourdan Lewis had a spectacular YOINK pick-six in addition to generally being Jourdan Lewis. Gypsy seems real good with him currently.
#2 Jabrill Peppers annihilated the option several times, had 3 PBUs when tested in coverage (though one of them should have been an INT), laid the final block on Jehu Chesson's kickoff return, got the key block on Lewis's INT return, and fair caught all manner of short punts, saving Michigan dozens of yards of field position.
#3 Jake Rudock was efficient and capable; called into action on the ground he left a Northwestern LB in the dust on a play reminiscent of Tate Forcier's "I Saw Cover Zero" touchdown.
Honorable mention: All DL were excellent but Henry and Glasgow in particular stood out. Jehu Chesson's KO TD was more scheme than magic but dang he is fast and added a few nice plays on O. De'Veon Smith only had eight carries but had the entire Northwestern secondary on his back for one of them. AJ Williams led the team in catches and blocked well.
6: Jourdan Lewis (#1 UNLV, #1 Northwestern) 5: Chris Wormley(#2 Utah, #1 Oregon State) 4: Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU, #2 Northwestern) 3: Jake Butt (#1 Utah), De'Veon Smith(#2 Oregon State, #3 BYU), Ryan Glasgow (#1 BYU), Desmond Morgan (#1 Maryland), 2: Ty Isaac(#2 UNLV), Jabrill Peppers(#2 BYU), Maurice Hurst (#2 Maryland). 1: Willie Henry (#3 Utah), AJ Williams (#3 Oregon State), Channing Stribling(#3 UNLV), Blake O'Neill(#3 Maryland), Jake Rudock(#3 Northwestern)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
This week's best thing ever.
Jehu Chesson wins the game in the first 15 seconds.
USA-Mexico. Seriously, I got nothin' from the actual game.
Honorable mention: Blake O'Neill's second touchback. I guess one of those third and fifteen conversions?
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
[After THE JUMP: this week's ways in which Harbaugh out-schemed his opponent, Happy Iowa Rudock, John Baxter's first BANG, and more defense defense defense.]
FORMATION NOTES: By this point the defense is pretty well established. We got a few glimpses at what Michigan intends to do against pro-style formations; this is a 4-4 with the line shifted over (to the strength of the formation), Ross at SAM, and Hill threatening off the weakside:
Wilson, the free safety, is about 20 yards downfield.
I'm calling the thing where they drop the buck off the line like so…
…"30 nickel buck" to distinguish it from an actual 3-3-5.
This is what I mean by "triple stack" on UNLV's part; Michigan is in their standard nickel even:
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Line was close to the first two games with Henry/Glasgow/Wormley backed by Charlton/Hurst/Godin except that you could replace Henry in the starting lineup with Godin based on snaps played. Henry got cut a bunch on the backside of zones and didn't see much time in the middle of the game.
WDE/buck was the usual 70/30 split between Ojemudia and RJS.
Lawrence Marshall got in on the last drive, as did Brady Pallante.
Linebacker was the same; a little more James Ross at SAM in this game; Gedeon and Ross also got a couple drives as ILBs in the nickel.
Secondary saw the same rotation as per usual (Lewis/Peppers/Wilson/Hill with Stribling or Clark in the nickel) except that Wayne Lyons was the dime back. Brandon Watson got in on the last drive as well.
Peppers, and the nickelback spot in general, are addressed in the safeties section.
This is a spot of unexpected alarm. Michigan gets Jourdan Lewis back off an outstanding sophomore year and expected to pair him with either Blake Countess or Wayne Lyons. The winner of that battle was going to be a fifth year senior with a ton of experience and probably all right. Michigan was confident enough in the outcome of that battle to stick Jabrill Peppers at nickelback and never look back.
Fast forward to now and Countess is at Auburn, Lyons at safety, and the corner opposite Lewis is very much in flux.
But have I told you about Jourdan Lewis? And that the worst case here is probably just throwing Peppers out on the other side?
The long outside completions were also a problem. Not the first one, as Lewis gave Akron's QB about a six-inch window, which he hit:
It's not perfect coverage—ideally Lewis forces the fade route closer to the sideline—but that's a one in a hundred throw from the QB.
He didn't like it much, so he went to the darkest parts of the swamp, seeking out the forbidden knowledge. He had heard Michigan State cornerbacks passed this way. The weird bronze scat they deposited in obscene patterns confirmed it. The hut loomed ahead.
In it, Lewis learned terrible and wonderful things.
When Raymon Taylor got hurt in the Notre Dame game, Lewis moved into the starting lineup. Lewis took a couple of quick pass interference calls—probably due to nerves more than anything else—and then locked down his spot. After ND I said he was "the best CB by some distance" despite the PI calls, and soon after that was not a remotely controversial opinion. Hell, after Lewis picked up a nice PBU in zone coverage Notre Dame decided they were done testing him:
…that was the end of targeting Jourdan Lewis. Literally. The only other UFR mention of him comes when he gets too deep on a zone and Golson dumps it off to a running back for profit. … Lewis committed two silly pass interference penalties on his first two tests and Notre Dame stopped targeting him three minutes into the second quarter.
With Will Fuller showing Blake Countess his own intestines the whole game that could have been interpreted as faint praise. Even if it was intended as such, by the end of the year it was clearly not.
That is Lewis against Michael Thomas, who Todd McShay has as the top available receiver in the upcoming NFL draft. That is probably ridiculous, but Thomas is a very large and leapy man who succumbed to swamp knowledge.
Here's Lewis against Leonte Caroo, the other popular pick for best wide receiver in the Big Ten:
On cornerback Jourdan Lewis: "Our receivers really thought he was pretty good. They said he got his hands on your really early in the route, but they were complaining to the officials all the time too because he never let go. He was messing with them the whole time. That's good if you can get away with it, but it'll probably cost you a couple flags every game also."
…bitching about interference. As a person who has done his fair share of bitching about interference, I can testify that means you have arrived as a cornerback.
This is the bit where I come up with problems, so: Lewis isn't the biggest guy. He could end up with his fair share of flags by the end of the year. There's not much else.
Are you worried that we might see a devolution similar to that of Countess? Doubtful. Countess went from a good, crafty zone corner to a guy exposed by man press coverage. Lewis excelled in that same scheme a year ago. As a bonus, the cornerbacks coach is not a former linebacker who'd never coached the position before.
Lewis just about maxed out expectations for him a year ago and doesn't have that much farther he can go without suddenly becoming Patrick Peterson. He should have another year like 2014, except now everybody knows about him and will avoid him more. Maybe he can aim for more interceptions—to go from a guy who is dangerous because he'll get a PBU to a guy who's dangerous because he will turn you over.
Either way, Lewis will be one of the best corners in the league.
[After THE JUMP: And now for something completely different.]
Ace: We're halfway through the season, and I'm in no mood to ask the standard "how is the team doing compared to expectations?" for obvious reasons. Instead, for a more positive outlook, let's keep our eyes on the future: Which player on each side of the ball has exceeded your expectations for them heading into the year? Has anyone, in your opinion, gone from question mark to potential star?
Seth: There has been so little good news from the offense that Jack Miller's play has gone largely unnoticed. I was ready to write him off after last year to the point where I was writing off the entire OL because Miller still had a job on it. Mea culpa; there's no whiff of Rimington in his future, but it appears the dude can ball.
Miller seems to be involved in much of the offense's little bursts of running competence. [Fuller]
We haven't had a UFR for awhile, but when those do come out I bet you'll find the run game's quiet progress can be largely attributed to Miller pulling off the occasional block in a gap nobody but Molk has any business getting to. Even earlier in the season there were Miller-generated holes that the RBs just missed. Did you hear me, People of Earth Who Lived Through the Neg-Two and 27 for 27? THERE WERE HOLES! Upperclassmen are nice, and also a nice reminder that most OL take a long time to develop.
On defense it's Ryan Glasgow, with Jourdan Lewis running a close second. Remember what you thought when you first heard Glasgow was atop the depth chart? You thought "Oh dear, Pipkins is still damaged and a walk-on is ahead of everyone else." That seems like forever ago; it was six weeks ago.
It took just a few games for Glasgow to earn the Order of St. Kovacs, his asterisks packed away for his eventual NFL destination to do human interest stories. I remind you even the Great and Mighty Kovacs spent a season as the opposite of Ed Reed (and went out, miserably, on a play that reminded us how much he wasn't Ed Reed). Some decent run outfits haven't been able to get anywhere against Michigan except when Glasgow rotates out, and there have even been a few GRrraaaarrr plays of brute strength to hint at a higher ceiling.
His game could use some pass rush, but has exceeded expectations to the point that I want Adam to ask the coaches where was guy this last year when they were playing Jibreel Black at nose? I'll say this for Brady Hoke: when he's gone, I suspect I will dearly miss the Heininger Certainty Principle.
[jump for people saying positive things about offensive players, perhaps]
“Hello, everybody. I almost didn’t make it today. I was kind of busy over there trying to get ready for this next one. Somebody had to tell me to come but it’s good to see everybody. Go ahead.”
Greg, the run defense remains a strength. I know that the secondary needs some work, though. Overall, what’s your assessment of your defense through four games?
“I don’t look at four games. I always look at the last game. We didn’t win. There’s a point when you become- and that’s our goal, to become a great defense, is you do whatever you have to to win. You do whatever you have to. And that in a lot of places means don’t even let them get in the end zone in any way. Am I proud of these guys? I’ve told you from day one I really like these guys. I mean, I like how they work. I like what they bring to the meeting room every day. I like what they bring to the practice field. I like how they compete. Do we do it perfect all the time [and] have we? No. And do we have to keep working to do that? Yes. Until we do whatever we possibly have to do to get the win then we haven’t totally reached the mark.”
Coach, I’ll have you comment on a couple of things. One, the breakthrough on producing a score on defense, but then the drive that they had coming out of the second half.
“Getting the score, that’s a guy playing hard in practice every day. That’s a guy doing the things [he needs to]. That’s a guy improving, Willie Henry. That was a guy making a play that he had to make a play and we’ve talked about him, too, [and] what he’s done since the day he got here. His improvement. Becoming mature, practice habits, all that and that’s great to see that happen for him. Same thing for Frank [Clark]. That sack he got was a big league sack. Those things happen because you work hard and you practice hard.
“Coming out in the second half at half time…they got us on two plays that were corrected immediately after that happened. It’s a shame that I didn’t see it quicker. It’s a shame that I didn’t do something after the first time to eliminate- it was the exact same play that scored a touchdown on it and that’s where maybe I need to see that quicker from what happened and stop that one touchdown and, again, that’s my job. But they adjusted then and that’s how they got there. That’s what happened after [the] half.”
Jake Ryan had a career-high 13 tackles. He has an unorthodox way of doing things sometimes but gets the job done. Talk about the essence of Jake Ryan as a defensive force.
“Well, Jake and Joe [Bolden]. I’ll put them together. Your linebackers in this defense have got to make a lot of plays because you’re getting very good play out of the front in front of them. When the front demands double teams and when the front does what they’ve been doing then there are so many times when a linebacker, if he does what he’s supposed to do with his footwork, with his keys, with his recognition, is there with nobody blocking him. Now make the tackle. And their effort, Joe and Jake, their effort, their toughness, their playing what I consider linebacker, that’s been good and we’ve got to keep getting better.”
But Jake in particular. I touched on his unorthodox manner sometimes in getting the job done. Can you talk about him in particular?
“I don’t know what unorthodox is. To me, it’s when the ball carrier has the football and you tackle him, you’re playing linebacker. Sometimes they’re not picture-perfect tackles. Sometimes you may not be perfect with your footwork, stepping down and all of a sudden coming back. Jake’s been unorthodox since the day he got here. You know, that’s Jake and that’s why I love him but I can’t say it enough: Joe being in there with him, Joe doing what he’s doing- I mean, I don’t know what you had him for tackles but I had him the same way with pretty close. And we’ve just got to keep them both doing what they’re doing and it’s the front that’s helping them do that.”
[After THE JUMP: playing euchre, wrestling Hoke, and other tales of a 30-year friendship]