SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). It's right next to the train tracks on Hoover. The band goes right by it on their way to the stadium, which is cool. Say hi.
FORMATION NOTES: Michigan was content to roll out the base defense against Wisconsin despite the radical change in approach the Badgers are from Michigan's previous spread-oriented opponents. Hudson was omnipresent. There was one tweak on passing downs, with Michigan replacing Gil/Ross with Josh Uche to present a five-man front:
Uche lurking to the bottom of the line; Bush kneeling near the umpire
Note also that Michigan has their three cornerbacks on the field and just one safety. This still comes out as 4-2-5 in my 'package' column but should be something else and will be if it continues.
Just one 3-3-5 snap on a run down in this game, a six yard run.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Winovich and Paye were almost omnipresent; Hutchinson did get a dozen snaps spotting them, mostly late. Kemp, Marshall, Mone, and Solomon got about equal time at the DT spots, with Dwumfour a bit further behind. Michigan tried to confine him to passing downs.
Bush and Hudson omnipresent; Gil and Ross split their snaps about down the middle. Uche played in the package above; Furbush and Glasgow made cameos.
Secondary is what you'd expect save for Kinnel missing some snaps with what looked like cramps. Hawkins got that time.
[After THE JUMP: a lot of running and almost no passing.]
10/6/2018 – Michigan 42, Maryland 21 – 5-1, 3-0 Big Ten
Take the box score. Eliminate it. Group events in a football game. Order those groups by how weird they are—how disproportionate the amount of thing X is relative to other football games. The top of our sorted list is not quite what I want to talk about because it's "walk-on running backs wiping two people and looking for more":
This is GD beautiful.
Tru Wilson is a bulldog.
He picks up the blitz to free Shea, then goes and pancakes a D Lineman, *then* gets up and looks for more.
Michigan-Maryland had way more of that than the average college football game.
The runner-up is what I want to talk about: pointing. Michigan's defense spent large swathes of this game frantically screaming at each other, and pointing. They pointed at Maryland players. They pointed at each other. They pointed back at the Maryland players because they'd exchanged positions, and sometimes helmets. Sometimes after a good play they'd point at each other again.
All of this made the partisan observer nervous. That's number three on our list of unusual football related things from Michigan-Maryland: the ratio of observer nervousness to opponent yards. Michigan's offense struggled to turn yards into points, so when one of Maryland's knife elves ripped off a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown the ensuing Terrapin drives had an unusual amount of collar-pulling for a game in which total yardage was approximately 200-20. At that point any particular shift may have induced an insufficient amount of pointing from the Michigan defense, whereupon Maryland scores a long big touchdown and Michigan's officially in one of Those Games again.
This was not one of those games. It was one of those other games where a vastly superior Michigan team clonks the opponent and everyone's like "okay but WHAT about THE RIVALS" afterward. Randomness notwithstanding, fair enough. But since there's a lack of other stuff to talk about, a lack of soaring emotional whatnots to put down for posterity, it is worth noting that Michigan didn't get got.
It is legitimately impressive that Michigan was able to adjust to all the junk Maryland threw at them. Until their desultory final drive Maryland's long was 20 yards and there didn't seem to be many, if any, opportunities that they failed to take. There were a couple of nervous moments when the various faster-than-light dwarves got in space and shook Michigan players; there were virtually no busts.
My grading doesn't do a good job with this because it gives you nothing for not screwing up and not being involved as a result of not screwing up. The safeties came in mildly negative last week and I tried to explain that while they had some bad plays individually they were part of a unit that gave up one play longer than 15 yards and that they were "meh" at worst. I've been thinking about trying to repair that for a while.
In any case: this was a second straight week of no big plays. Michigan is hyper-aggressive and is currently tied for 13th and 16th in number of 20+ and 30+ yard plays ceded. Whatever the individual faults the safeties have when their man coverage is tested, they are part of a coherent unit that has largely cut out the One Bust Per Game we've gotten used to the past few years. (Knock on wood.) The standout example this year was Brad Hawkins getting lost against SMU, and he's a sophomore non-starter.
This is all part of the Don Brown curve, where by year three when the team really has it down things take off. The pointing on Saturday was a different sort of pointing than the stuff from the last couple years. Old pointing induced nervousness in itself, because the opposing offense wasn't going Full Matt Canada and Michigan was still frantically pointing and yelling to each other, sometimes without a suitable outcome. New pointing gets Michigan through a Full Matt Canada game without an obvious touchdown-creating screwup.
The Don Brown curve is more of a line at Michigan since they were immediately stapled to the top of most statistical categories upon Brown's arrival. But they have remained steady in the face of some stiff attrition. After Mike Dwumfour went out, three of the four projected defensive line starters were absent. It didn't matter. It may well against Wisconsin, but if you want to bet against Don Brown in year three, go right ahead. Chase Winovich is going to be pointing out your teeth on the ground afterwards.
you're the man now, dog
#1 Shea Patterson. 10.5 yards an attempt, a couple of Forcier escapes, and a dime off his back foot that didn't even count. Repaired most of the issues from last week. More in the offense section.
#2 Zach Gentry. The focus of the passing game; 7 catches for 112 yards. Yes, should have been more if he'd followed his blockers on the screen. But he's pretty much the only non-Patterson player to have, like, stats.
#3 Khaleke Hudson. Hudson made a major impact early when the game was still in doubt, with a sack and a rush that would have been a second if Mike Dwumfour didn't barely edge him out.
Honorable mention: The rest of the defense. Karan Higdon. Ben Mason.
Deep in the fourth quarter, Michigan lined up from seven yards out in an offset I-form on first-and-goal. Fullback Ben Mason took his place as the deep back and Jared Wangler, the one-time linebacker, was aligned two yards behind Shea Patterson and offset to his left. Patterson took the snap, turned to his right, and faked a handoff to Mason while Wangler ran across the front, dipped inside a shuffling defensive end, and found himself all alone on the right side. Seeing Patterson rolled to his right while Wangler flattened his route and started running for the front corner of the end zone. Patterson hit him in front of the maize “N” in Michigan’s end zone scrawl, and a game that was marked by domination in all other box score metrics finally reflected that on the scoreboard.
Scoring out of a two-fullback set was extremely BIG TENNNN enough to justifiably grab the attention of Michigan twitter, but the catch was more than a novelty: it was a sign of what Michigan’s offense can be. The athleticism of Michigan’s fullbacks allowed them to play two at once without tipping run or pass, the offensive line gave the backs and quarterback time and space, Karan Higdon made smart cuts that helped keep the offense on schedule, the receivers brought in almost everything thrown their way, and the tight ends were Patterson’s go-to chain-movers. The Wolverines scored on seven of their 10 drives, including their final six.
With the exception of a flubbed kickoff that Ty Johnson took 98 yards for a touchdown, Michigan shut Maryland down, full stop. Maryland’s run game was a test for Michigan, particularly with the perfectly timed handoffs off of jet action that Maryland deployed; excising the 78 rushing yards Maryland racked up on a garbage-time drive down 28 points with four minutes left, the Terps rushed for 69 yards on 31 carries. 133 of their 220 total yards came in the fourth quarter, as did 101 of their 147 rushing yards. Maryland converted 38.5% of their third downs, which is only surprising because their average distance to go on third down was 9.3 yards and Brandon Watson's pick-six came on third down. The defensive standout today was the defense as a whole, though Tyree Kinnel, Devin Bush, Josh Ross, and Khaleke Hudson also get special mention for knowing when to fill and for holding down big gains; unsurprisingly, these four were Michigan’s leading tacklers.
SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). Food trucks, beer, TVs, and a large bus you can honk the horn on. This is not a metaphor. It is a literal true thing. You'll be able to find it at Northwestern if you get lucky.
FORMATION NOTES: Nebraska was all gun and almost all single back, single TE. There were scattered snaps with another blocky/catchy type on the field. The only thing of note were frequent snaps with a covered slot receiver:
Uh. The idea is that the two outside guys are on the LOS and the #3 WR is not. This was a bad example but I forgot to grab a screenshot of it and the only clip is the failed RPO. Michigan did this on offense some as well. I've never been a fan since you're telling the defense a bunch of stuff about what you're doing and hoping they aren't prepared for your thing. This hijink has been around long enough that you should have a plan.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: A super quick hook for many defenders. Kemp, Mone, Gary, and Winovich all sat for the entire second half; Gary did come off a little sooner than the rest of the D but Winovich only got a few more snaps than he did—could just be a rotation thing. Second team line remained as you'd expect (Paye-Marshall-Dwumfour-Hutchinson); Rueben Jones, Donovan Jeter, and walk-on Carl Myers also got a fair number of snaps late.
LB level lasted much longer on the field for obscure reasons. Hudson's was less obscure, I guess. Bush and Ross played deeper into the game than any other non-Hudson starters. Ross is starting to assert himself as the starting WLB, with about a 2:1 snap ratio vs Gil. Furbush is still ahead of Uche, who got maybe a half-dozen snaps, and when Bush finally went out it was Jordan Anthony who replaced him.
DBs the usual. Hawkins, Kelly-Powell, Hughes, and Ambry Thomas all got significant backup snaps; absence of Myles Sims (and all other DBs) means redshirt is coming.
9/22/2018 – Michigan 56, Nebraska 10 – 3-1, 1-0 Big Ten
In the aftermath of an implausible beatdown there is always a race to identify the most emblematic stat of the day. I have participated. I have scoured the box score. I have consulted with the learned elders. This one takes the cake. Prepare thyself. Ensconce. All right: Adrian Martinez had 22 passing yards with a long of 32.
Those 32 yards came when a hunted Martinez hurled a 500 ball skyward that one of his receivers was accidentally in position to come back to. Michigan was one arm punt away from a statistic that would implode the fundamental nature of football. Alas.
At least they won? And Martinez finished with negative total yards?
The strangest thing about a game like this is how the goalposts move in the middle of the first quarter. If Nebraska had been moderately feisty and the defensive tackles had been a major factor in a 3.0 YPC day from the Cornhusker ground game, we'd be talking about how they passed a major test against a couple of senior guards who Big Ten coaches thought were pretty good. Instead Michigan held Nebraska's top three backs to ten yards total.
Nebraska now proves nothing. It might prove something later, if the tough-luck Nebraska that outgained Colorado by 150 yards but conspired to lose thanks to Laviska Shenault making absurd plays re-emerges. If Michigan also continues looking like a juggernaut instead of the sad mess that took on Notre Dame, this game will be retroactively upgraded from "accidentally played another MAC team" to the turning point when the Warinner hit and the corner got turned.
For now this was the sort of game where your sack celebration is ripping out and eating your own heart, because nothing else is going to be a challenge.
Precisely calibrating exactly how much to take from an unexpected hamblasting of a Big Ten team is far more pleasant than many things you can do after a football game. But we have been here before. With the exception of last year Harbaugh's Michigan teams have paved lower-tier teams flat. This is good! This tends to fling you up very far in predictive ranking systems. Michigan is now 5th in S&P+, like they seemingly always are, and S&P+ is designed to tell you who will win football games in the future. Paving people flat is a characteristic of very good football teams that win many games and leave you with a rich satisfied feeling that we are assured is something football fans can feel after the conclusion of a season.
But because of Certain Events and Certain Circumstances Leading To Third-String Quarterbacks all that feels hollow even if you're gripping onto the random, bloody-minded universe theory with everything you've got. We've been taught that paving folks doesn't correlate with winning the games that might cause the most annoying people in the universe to shut up for at least three seconds. That's not rational, but it sure as hell is sports.
The goalposts are going to keep moving until someone, probably Devin Bush, tackles them and glues them to the floor. Michigan has one more friendly double-digit spread next week against Northwestern, and then we get to play the games that will determine your state of mind, and, perhaps most importantly, the tenor of the takes we will have to endure for eight months of barren, dumb offseason.
Have fun storming the castle! Or paving it! Please pave it.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Devin Bush. Bush's main accomplishment was getting up to nine tackles on a day where Michigan's constant rotation and Nebraska's inability to stay on the field spread defensive stats incredibly thin. Michigan's next highest tackler had four; 12 different guys had TFLs. Bush had 2.5 of his own, a sack, and got sideline to sideline to blow up Nebraska's perimeter run game. He is reaching the Mo Hurst level where he is so consistently excellent it's hard to find new talking points about him.
#2 Rashan Gary. Just a half of play from him but it was a monster half. He's got his own section below. Felt terrifying in the way we were hoping he would before the season.
#3 Karan Higdon. The holes were there for him. He took advantage. His power was welcome after some YAC struggles last week, and if he hits the open field he'll outrun a lot of angles. Also he was the only offensive player to, like, feature.
Honorable mention: Will Hart is gonna get on the board if Michigan ever punts six times in a game. DPJ had a punt return TD. The tackles didn't give up a pressure? Is that true? I think it might be. The 10 guys with TFLs not mentioned.
Khaleke Hudson is ejected on a dubious targeting call and will miss the first half against Northwestern.
Honorable mention: Injury worries for Gary, who was holding his shoulder, and Kwity Paye. Harbaugh passes on a potential program-record field goal. Four commercial breaks in the first eight minutes of gametime.
SPONSOR NOTE: If you need a tailgate location and a mortgage at the same time there's only one place to go: the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). Food trucks! Beer! A home lending expert! TV! Watched Nebraska lose to Troy there last week, which was certainly a thing of relevance this week.
FORMATION NOTES: Just 15 3-3-5 snaps versus 51 with four DL, and almost all of those 3-3-5 instances were passing down exotics. All but two, in fact. And they got gashed on one. Thus explaining the lack of that.
I should probably stop noting "press" since every single Michigan snap is press coverage, but the split between one (slash zero) and two high is a good proxy for zone snaps versus man snaps. Michigan was in a two-high look for about a third of its snaps.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Less rotation on the DL, which was in its new normal setup of Gary/Mone/Kemp/Winovich backed up by Paye, Hutchinson, and Dwumfour. Dwumfour's snaps in this game were almost exclusively pass rush DT in the 3-3-5. Without Solomon there was no real backup NT; Donovan Jeter only got in on the last drive. Marshall dressed IIRC but did not play.
The usual at LB with Bush omnipresent save injury and Gil and Ross splitting snaps approximately down the middle; Jordan Glasgow came in for Hudson after the targeting call. Furbush was the extra guy when Michigan added a pass rush LB. Uche did not play.
Usual CB rotation with Long ahead of the game in snaps slightly; Ambry Thomas got maybe a dozen snaps late. Brad Hawkins rotated in behind Metellus and Kinnel, with reduced playing time after the big bust. Jaylen Kelly-Powell, who's been quietly hurt, got snaps on the last drive.
SPONSOR NOTE: Hey folks. In addition to providing mortgages, Matt also tailgates. You can hang out and support a good cause by going to the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). Go around back to the MGoBus and say hi.
FORMATION NOTES: Increased emphasis on four-man fronts, with about 2/3rds of all snaps featuring four DL. That's up from about 50/50 in the opener, and with almost half of Michigan's 3-3-5 snaps on passing downs standard downs were heavily 4-2-5. WMU spent almost the whole day in a three-wide shotgun featuring The Biggest Boy at H-back. He featured on this play that I still find hilarious almost a week later:
Odell Miller is listed at 270 on the roster and that is a lie, a lie, a lie. Harbaugh had to admire WMU running out a nose tackle as an offensive skill position player.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: With Marshall out, Carlo Kemp got the start and did well. Rest of the DL rotation was similar to the first game, with Bryan Mone getting even more snaps because of the Solomon injury and the reduction in 3-3-5 snaps. Paye and Hutchinson semi-frequently spotted Gary and Winovich, with Rueben Jones getting a little time late. Donovan Jeter got some late snaps as well. Dwumfour rotated in semi-frequently but was a clear backup to Kemp and not in a platoon.
LB level was Hudson and Bush for every snap and a rotation of Gil and Ross at WLB, with a slight Ross bias. Jordan Glasgow and Jordan Anthony were the late replacements for Hudson and Bush. The usual CB rotation between the three guys, with Watson being more prominent than the other two—a change. Kinnel omnipresent; Metellus got pulled for Hawkins after his personal foul and somewhat frequently after that.