Jim Harbaugh's offense is rare in this age of spread. He loves to use extra tight ends, fullbacks, and offensive linemen dressed as tight ends to extend the line of scrimmage, creating more gaps than the defense has competent run defenders to cover. Harbaugh also probably finds the heaviness of Paul Chryst's Wisconsin's offense excessive.
Four years into Chryst's return to Madison and the meatball transformation is complete. Its engine, as per usual, is an offensive line that averages over 320 pounds, benches more than their pickup trucks, and goes eight deep with all-conference candidates before roll call gets to the fifth letter of the alphabet. They're grabby, mean, way more intelligent than all the memes about them, and mostly impenetrable in pass protection.
Behind them is man for this time and place. A man who believes he can shoot a football into a pinhole. A man turned on by the undulations of a rill.
Behind that man, that rarest of North American endangered species: A fullback.
Behind him, a patient discerning connoisseur of bespoke gaps.
The film: Sure we'd all like to have seen how BYU pulled it off, but are we BYU or are we Kinnick at Night? Iowa could have won this too if they hadn't fumbled away two punts.
Wisconsin returned everybody but the tight end and fullback from last year. The latter had a proper heir apparent in FB Alex Ingold. The former however has been replacement by committee, which committee includes blocky-blocky-catchy TE Kyle Pennison, and catchy-flexy freshman TE Jake Ferguson (last year's quasi-second starter Zander Nueville is out for the season), and several backup offensive linemen in high numbers.
They're also facing Michigan again without their burly star WR Quintez Cephus, who's embroiled in a sexual assault accusation he's contesting as if he's either extremely innocent or extremely not. Flanker/Jet motion guy A.J. Taylor has maintained his highly efficient 12 yards per target from last year. Sophomore split end Danny Davis III is at 8 YPT and a 73% catch rate but strangely hasn't been used as much as the far less efficient slot Kendric Pryor. The real third down threat is Ferguson, Barry Alvarez's grandson, who's got 10 YPT and the second-most targets to Taylor. They also like to throw to slippery third down back Garrett Groshek, a quasi-slot receiver who seems to be reserved for shotgun snaps. When Taylor needs a breather they have RB Taiwan Deal back from the injury that knocked him out for 2017. Deal is a pure mooseback.
If it's not a passing down however, you're unlikely to see more than AJ Taylor from the last paragraph. The great RB Jonathan Taylor has started to get some use as a receiver this season, Ingold can catch more than fullbackian passes in the flat. They rarely throw at Pennison, and three different backup OL charted in this game in addition to the starting five. Play-action passes are sprinkled in with equal parts cunning and reticence, and are mostly America's Favorite Rollout to make sure your OLBs and safeties don't come down to interrupt Wisconsin's 9-minute turns.
The line is the vintage Wisconsin line. RT (Hornibrooks's blind side) David Edwards is a 1st rounder on most boards. He's a wall in pass protection, and a bulldozer on the run. RG Beau Benzschawel is a peak Wisconsin guard, a little too stiff to get NFL types excited but massive, leaning, smart, and quick enough to be a massive pain and their best run blocker. C Tyler Biadasz is a thick run-blocker with savvy beyond his years but arms that can get him in trouble versus a serious pass rusher. LG Michael Dieter has finally found his home inside after playing C and LT over a long starting career. And LT Jon Dietzen is a punishing run blocker who splits time with promising sophomre LT Cole Van Lanen, who's as grabby as any Badger OT I've seen. Not that it matters against Michigan but they all have their hands outside their defenders' arms pretty much every play. The Packers do this too. Other states should legalize it since it seems to be working.
[after THE JUMP: Randy Rivers and the Tight, Tight Windows]
[Guest author update: Since I nailed Maryland’s offense and was certainly the main reason Minnesota didn’t bother to block Khaleke Hudson, I’m removing the cyan circle from around myself. Also, as a wife in the comments pointed out, I was using last year’s weight. Still not Ace though]
It must have been very weird for Wisconsin when Gary Andersen was running zones out of ace formations using naturally born human beings from Earth. Having observed their bouts against Maryland* and Iowa, I’m happy to report things are back to normal in Madison again. Not only did they get the cheese factory that produces 6’6”/330 offensive linemen back online, but they’ve also made great strides in DNA splicing. We’ll talk about the three-assed “Watt-On” linebackers tomorrow. More frightening by far is what they’ve managed to come up with by combining every Wisconsin running back ever:
IT’S ALLLLIIIIIIIIIIIVE!!!!!!!! AND IT ONCE COMMITTED TO RUTTTTGEERRSSSSS!
*[Okay fine, I admit I looked past last week’s opponent. I take full responsibility for that 3rd quarter]
Personnel: My diagram expands to 1080p if you click it.
Wisconsin has some Dudes, and they’ve got some Pals, but precious few Guys. RB Jonathan Taylor is plausibly as good as Saquon Barkley, and given Michigan’s lighter defense he might be more of an issue. TE Troy Fumagalli is the best tight end in college football: an excellent blocker and Hornibrook’s primary target.
FB Austin Ramesh is projected to be the first round pick of the Chicago Bears when Jim Harbaugh takes over next year. Ramesh will sub in and out for a jet motion receiver, usually A.J. Taylor with Jazz Peavy out. As a nod to the last 80 years of football history Wisconsin always has at least one receiver on the field, and until recently that was Quintez Cephus, who was getting Fumagalli-level targets and catching them at a 79% rate (he was awesome vs. Maryland). Now Cephus has been replaced by true freshman Danny Davis, who’s averaging 13.6 yards per target with a 2/3rds success rate.
The line is getting Wisconsin-y but an injury to redshirt freshman C Tyler Biadasz could be a big deal. Biadasz, who’s listed as questionable, is thick and spry, and gave the Badgers’ power offense an extra dimension as they loaded up tight ends on one side to change the balance of the line then pulled Biadasz like a guard. When he went out against Iowa they skipped last year’s crummy starter, nominal backup OC Brett Connors (Jr*), for 6’6”/337 lug Jason Erdmann. The result was something like what you might imagine Ben Braden at center would look like.
If Biadasz can’t go, they could shift LT Michael Deiter back to center—Deiter was a star interior lineman the last couple of years but at tackle he’s Mason Cole minus a crucial notch of pass protection. The problem is like every other team in this conference they don’t have any viable OTs—RT David Edwards is Juwann Bushell-Beatty except not as consistent as a down-blocker—I ticked him for seven negative events in 20 pass plays versus Maryland’s crappy pass rush; very good Iowa DE Anthony Nelson turned Edwards-Beatty into silly-putty.
The guards are also 6’6” and Ben Bradenesque—RG Beau Benzschawel murders tackles and linebackers on downblocks and zone plays, and makes heady decisions when pulling. LG Jon Dietzen is a line-caver. The whole line is top-heavy and can be burled backwards.
I used to be really good at slaps, that game where your opponent puts their hands over yours and you try to whack them before they can pull away. My best trick was I’d make my elbow twitch on one side then *WHAP* the other side. I’d get so many in a row with this that my siblings stopped wanting to play.
Tom Allen probably doesn’t want to play slaps with Harbaugh anymore.
This was a beautiful play. I thought so. Brian thought so. Jon Duerr thought so. James Light thought so. Harbaugh apparently liked it enough to call it three times in a five-play drive. We all guessed Michigan would have preferred not to put it on tape before the Penn State game but since it is let’s dive into it.
It’s early in the 4th quarter. Michigan is up just 13-10 over Indiana and gets the ball back on their 16 yard line after Indiana punts on 4th and 1. The first play is a split zone off the same look with which they’d successfully run a TE motion crack sweep, and it goes for 8 yards when Onwenu and Bredeson beat their respective DTs (Bredeson’s guy got up crying for a hold that was probably legit and is never called).
Then out comes this:
It’s a trap play, which itself isn’t very weird. On a trap the backside guard (Bredeson, #74) pulls and the frontside starts blocking down just like on a power play. But instead of having the DE kicked out by a tackle or tight end, they leave the edge guy for a moment and the puller then plows into him. The erstwhile kicker meanwhile is heading downfield hunting linebackers and safeties. The running back then charges through the hole, with a lead blocking fullback if that’s your style.
In this instance Hill didn’t even bother to block Tegray Scales, the WLB, because he’s stumbling over his buddy—Scales managed to right himself and make the tackle, else Higdon is following Hill into the secondary. That’s on Hill for going for a big gain and given the situation (2nd and 2) I’m fine with taking a shot when the worst result is still a first down. Anyway that’s not the interesting part.
The interesting parts are the path that Hill took, and the way they blocked the playside tackle. There are a lot of arrows in a tight space so let me show you who’s blocking whom with colors:
Let’s examine the two really cool wrinkles in detail.
If you guessed "the one Harbaugh/Drevno were coaching got yards and the one from Hoke/Borges didn't" you win a running theme of the 2015 offseason. The results are certainly stark; why that's true is what we're interested in.
The Power Play
These are both the same play by the offense, and the same play Brady Hoke promised to make into Michigan's base because it is the manliest of plays. It is Power-O, the one where you pull the backside guard and try to run between the tackles.
You can click for biggers
The play is relatively simple to draw up and complex to execute because it uses a lot of the things zone blocking does, including having the blocking and back react to what the defense does. For all the "manball" talk this isn't ISO, where you slam into each other quickly. Depending on how the coach wants to play it and what defensive alignment you see, the basic gist is to get a double or scoop of the playside DT and kick out the playside DE, then have an avalanche of bodies pour into that hole—if the defense is leaping into that gap you adjust by trying a different hole further outside. Leaving two blockers to seal off the backside, one blocker, usually the backside guard, pulls and becomes the lead blocker—it's up to him to adjust to what he sees when he arrives.
You can run this out of different formations with different personnel, and the one immediately apparent difference in the above diagrams is Michigan was more spread—a flanker (Z) is out on the opposite numbers and the strongside is to the boundary; after the motion this is an "Ace Twins". Stanford ran this with a heavy "22-I" formation, meaning two backs (RB and FB) and two tight ends (Y and H) in an I-form. The benefit Michigan gets from its formation is the guy Stanford would have to block with its fullback Michigan has removed from the play entirely by forcing him to cover the opposite sideline.
What Stanford gets in return for its fullback is matchup problems: the open side of the field is going to be two tight ends and a fullback versus two safeties and a cornerback. Run or pass that can go badly for the defense as these size mismatches turn into lithe safeties eating low-centered fullbacks, and dainty corners on manbeast TEs.
In War of 1812 terms, Michigan is the Americans, sending the fast-sailing frigate Essex in the Pacific so the enemy has to move ships to the Galapagos instead of harassing the Carolinas. Stanford is the British, parking 74-guns ships of the line where engaging them cannot be avoided and trusting the outcome of any forced engagement should turn in their favor. The point is both work to the advantages and disadvantages of the talent on hand. (In this analogy Borges is a guy trying to use Horatio Nelson tactics with a Navy of sloops and brigs).
That being said, it still works as well as anything—people did in fact score points before the spread, and those who scored a lot of them could do so by keeping defenses off balance and with good execution. As we'll see both of those factors played a big role.
Next time you see this you'll know what's going on
In previous layman's discussions on how fancy newfangled anti-spread defenses function I've talked about how Quarters works, and how MSU used aggressive alignments with it to dominate the run game at the cost of greater risk of getting beat over the top. Each time I alluded to the fact that Saban's defense is similar in concept except where Quarters is a Cover 2/Cover 4 hybrid, Saban's is a Cover 3/Cover 1 hybrid.
We will see it this year. Every defense uses some Cover 3 and Cover 1 as a changeup, but Saban's base system, now all over the SEC, has spread into various Michigan opponents. Penn State kept it around while transitioning to Bob Shoop's version of Quarters. Maryland had it last year; not sure if their 4-3 transition includes a coverage shift. I think BYU (which is going back to 3-3-5 with Bronco Mendenhall overseeing it personally) is expected to as well. Michigan State has played with it, since it's similar to what they do normally. Anyway I thought it'd be fun to get into it now, so we'll have it to reference later.
Pre-emptive thanks to actual football coaches who post in the comments and point out where I got something wrong or over-simplified.
I'm Not a Coach Disclaimer
I'm not a football coach. I'm a guy on the internet who read a lot about football.
Basics of One-High Defenses
Cover 3 is probably the most basic defense in existence. It is the defense you learn on Day 1 as a high school freshman, if not before. At that level it is a "go to this spot and then find work" scheme, past that there are techniques coaches teach to cover the gaps. Here are the two basic versions that Saban uses against standard 2x2 formations:
If you picked up on the fact that "Liz" and "Rip" begin with the same letters as "left" and "right" (or you know your port and starboard colors) you have my permission to eat a cookie.
Joe Paterno used variations of this (Rip is very close to his base defense*) since the Chatelperronian, and like Neanderthal toolkits it only looks crude until you see it in the hands of a master.**
Some things to know that we'll use later:
The receiver numbering system is the same as in Quarters: start from the sideline and work your way in until you're at the center. It's where they are at the snap, not before, in case motion messed with that.
The path you take to your zone matters a great deal. Note how guys running toward their zones are actually going through weak points in the coverage. This is for "routing" purposes: if you're there a receiver can't be.
The latter is true for all zone defenses, but it's a stress point for Cover 3 because the holes in the zone are places the offense can attack either quickly (7-9 yards downfield in the seam) or easily (deep downfield once the free safety has committed). Cover 3 coaches teach defenders to be in the way so receivers have to re-route to covered places.
The tradeoff is natural coverage strength to the middle of the field, to the detriment of the flats—if you've ever watched an NFL defense that seems to constantly be tackling fullbacks squirting out of the backfield, that's why.
The problem with Cover 3 is the same problem with Cover 2: those frikkity vertical routes:
The problem remains with pretty much any set of routes that stem from a vertical release.
The old-fashioned answer to this is play more man defense, and certainly Cover 1 (example diagram) is a complementary coverage to any Cover 3 team. In Cov1, aka "Man Free" defense, corners stay on the receivers, the erstwhile "curl/flat" guys stay on the #2's, and the middle linebacker over the RB takes the RB.
But if you're playing man-to-man defense, you'd better have men who can win their battles 97%+ of the time against theirs. If you need to activate that free safety to double up a dangerman, now you're giving up "front"—how many defenders are participating in your run fits, and once it's not an 8-man front anymore you're weak against the run. Offenses will also use rub routes, or exploit matchups, e.g. have a quick slot receiver sprint across the formation until he loses the linebacker trying to keep up.
These were problems for Saban to a much greater degree when he was dealing with the kind of talent the Cleveland Browns drafted during his DC days. By the time he got to MSU he already had his Rip and Liz and his Cov1 amalgamated into a hybrid scheme he called "pattern matching."
[After the jump]
* The Paterno-era "Hero", and "Sam" in the linked diagram were early examples of hybrid space players, and the zone-blitzing 8-man front it spawned was the basis of Rocky Long's 3-3-5 defense.
** …who discovered children were being sexually abused in his locker room and didn't tell the police because football reasons.
That's a young-looking Lloyd Carr from the 1990 recruiting pamphlet that Bauglieve found on Ebay. In case the photos come down from there eventually I put them on the MGoServer for posterity (click for each):
The comments have mined all sorts of nuggets from these. Count my vote with those who want to see Harbaugh bring back one-handed, shirtless pushups on the Diag. The football fans would feel more connected to the players, and I'm sure the student body would appreciate the peck show way more than the usual entertainment in that space.
Team 138 offers its sarcastic gratitude. Originally posted in the forums, I moved Qmatic's walk through the wasted redshirts on Michigan's roster to the diaries because this is something we're going to be referencing all too often for the next few years. Morris is on there although he had to play once Bellomy tore his ACL because Gardner's ribs were becoming…you know what, let's not get into what Hoke did with Gardner.
I can show you how Hoke's redshirting practices compared to his predecessors because it's tracked on my spreadsheet:
Circumstances played a role in this certainly, but by Hoke's third year the rate of redshirting should have shown a climb into the 70s that a healthy program has. I'll probably address this in a Jimmystats sometime this offseason.
How to Man Your Baughlls
Just a glance at his formations screams old-school, smash-mouth, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust SPARTAAAA: Thing is, these offenses are notorious for being predictable in an era of S&C parity. So why does it work?
Deep head trauma is bad. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a horrible, progressive, degenerative disease of the brain long known to the sports world as "punch drunk." The provable link between it and repetitive brain trauma (specifically deep trauma, i.e. not all concussions) is meaningful to football especially because there is a clear moral dilemma in rooting for people to do a thing that can do that to them.
Neurologists released a study awhile ago that linked the age of first exposure to football and cognitive impairment. As happens with released studies, a few people who read the peer reviewed journals pour over it, and media folk read the title, decided if it fit their favorite narrative, and either canonized it or ripped it.
Wolverine Devotee decided to use this as a reminder that we have traditional songs beyond The Victors. Hot Time might have been relegated to history, but we still sing Varsity during the pre-game, and Let's Go Blue!, and the cowbell cheer, as well as several covers the band has adopted (Blues Brothers, Temptation, Hawaiian War Chant), and the alma mater. If, like me, you've been singing "Denard Robinson, Robinson oh Robinson" to Varsity since Brian suggested it, maybe it's time we all learn the lyrics. They are (music):
Men of Michigan onto victory, Ev'ry man in ev'ry play. Michigan expects her Varsity to win today! Rah! Rah! Rah-rah-rah! Win for Michigan!
Varsity, Down the field. Never yield, Raise high our shield. March on to victory for Michigan, (And the Maize and Blue) Oh Varsity, We're for you, Here for you to cheer for you. We have no fear for you. Oh Varsity! (repeat)
At the risk of moving myself incrementally rightward in the douchechart, I posit that Michigan's second fight song is a better composition than 90% of fight songs.
COYLE V. SCHEMBECHLER
Michigan House '75 has a brother in law who played from '69 to '73 with, among other legends, 1972 captain and right guard Tom Coyle, who passed away in 2012. This was how Coyle was recruited to Michigan:
He and Tommy had just gotten back from a job and were covered in paint. This and twelve other kids running around when Bo and Malony arrive. Old Man Coyle proceeds to pass beers around to everyone including Tommy. Bo is shocked, turns to Mrs. Coyle and says, "Excuse me Mrs. Coyle," and then turns to Tommy - "If you drink that beer, I'm going to kick your ass!"
Bo was no teetotaler, but he did refuse to do Michigan Replay if Budweiser was sponsoring it. So guess what happens then, or read on.
Your Moment of Zen:
via Dr. Sap
"I think we'll always run the option because what it can do to defenses." –Jim Harbaugh
META: Okay hivemind, I think I'm gonna break the Tuesday column formerly known as Hokepoints (and Museday) into different columns, alternating between stat stuff and Xs and Os stuff. Gimme name ideas. Jimmystats and Jimmypens? I'm at a loss.
In his profile in heroism on Harbaugh yesterday, Brian mentioned that THIS pro-style offense at least sometimes does things other than what the defense wants/expects/prepared for:
Those 5.2s [rushing YPC in 2009, 2010 and 2011 at Stanfard] are crazy given the context—on par with Rodriguez's Denard-era run games minus, you know, Denard. This is not a scheme that's just "run it until you stop it"—Harbaugh is trying to screw with your run fits every play.
I thought I'd get into that screwing just a bit because one thing we haven't seen much of at Michigan is someone who knows how to run a power offense correctly. We've seen DeBord and Borges run it poorly, and we've seen Nussmeier try to mold it onto a horizontal spread while still fulfilling Hoke's mandate that at least one tight end must be doing something he's bad at every play.
For something approximating what I expect Michigan will run I went back to the last game Harbaugh coached in college, the 2011 Orange Bowl. Stanford faced Bud Foster's quarters defense, which is helpful since VT's scheme is from the same tree that Michigan State and Ohio State now run.
This was an evisceration. Stanford called 27 running plays and got 300 yards (8.6 YPC) from them. You can remove garbage time (optional since Harbaugh was still running his offense full-bore at 34-12) and it's still 182 yards on 22 carries, for 8.3 YPC. A lot of those were deep gashes—60 yards, 26 yards, 56 yards—which is what you'd expect against a defense that usually gives its safeties gap assignments. I'll show you how the first of those gashes was set up.
Step 1: Scissors.
The first play from scrimmage Stanford came out in a standard I-formation: inline fullback, tight end off the line. Anyone who's scouted Stanford would guess they're going to run their bread 'n butter play: Power-O. We've been over that one before: the backside guard pulls, everyone else has to pin defenders in their spots, and then that pulling guard and the fullback and the RB all come downhill at the MLB, and the resulting yardage is determined by the resulting collision.
Harbaugh showed it without running it with a clever counter that sold the defense on Power-O then had the FB reverse direction and head into the flat, where the rolling out Andrew Luck had essentially a vertical option play on the isolated DB (I labeled him the BCB but I think I got him and the FS confused on the diagram):
He ran a West Coast play from the shotgun on the ensuing 1st down, and then on 2nd and 4 tried to put a power run on the backside with a pass look:
This was blown up by the MLB shooting the gap abandoned by the pulling right guard. A third down pass attempt was blown up when a blitzer wasn't picked up.
[After the jump: how to make the defense eat rock.]
[ED: Yes, yes I called it the Western Michigan Liveblog. I thought it was 2011. Can't wait to see what Tate new Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison can do [ED to the ED: I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue]]
11/17/2012 – Michigan 42, Iowa 17 – 8-3, 6-1 Big Ten
M. Ward – Helicopter
A couple years ago Carl Hagelin lasered a wrist shot off the post and in directly in front of my seats at Yost. It was senior day; there was a second left in overtime. I saw the puck rise all the way and knew its path was true. In the aftermath I wrote about a kind of envy I have for old-timers who have only their burned-in memories of these titanic events:
…while I've been craving video boards at Yost for years there's something beautiful about not having the thing you just experienced altered by someone else's perspective. Since the Werner goal isn't on youtube no one can tell me he wasn't wielding a scimitar, wearing an eyepatch, and screaming "hhhhhyarrrrr" as he swashbuckled towards the net. I'm pretty sure the unicorn he was riding was named Steve.
Those days are over but thanks to Carl Hagelin Yost got one last opportunity to walk out of the building buzzing about the thing that just happened in your head, and only your head.
I feel aftershocks of this when I'm on the radio with Craig Ross and the topics get twisted around to 1970s basketball refereeing and Craig gets a little frothy and a guy calls in to froth a bit with him. I love this. You don't even know. I have no idea how much of it is accurate but I've double-checked my brain with Youtube enough by now to know that the things we have in our head are a lot further from the untrammeled gospel than it seems.
When you have this presented to you directly, it's unsettling. You think you remember everything about these blazing moments in your sports fandom and it turns out not to be so, and you wonder about all the other things you may not have right. Before anyone could check their brains, the tower in your head could go unchallenged.
A part of me wishes that Denard turning Tanner Miller into a chasing ghost was gone, extant only in all of us who saw it, slightly different but equally validating and valedictory and satisfying in all of our heads. I mean obviously not, this would be terrible, I can recite Keith Jackson's call of Charles Woodson's OSU punt return (Woodson's got one block… he's got another block… one more and he's gone!) from memory and hear the three separate roars from the crowd without even cuing it up. Obviously not. Despite the memorization I just watched Charles Woodson return that punt eight times. This site is dedicated to archiving the events and the feelings behind the events. Obviously not.
But… maybe a little. If that was just there and gone, well, seeing that would be something. Like watching Tom Harmon. Like experiencing the rage of playing Indiana in a dusky, mustachioed 70s basketball arena where television was just a rumor and your brain the only repository of a precious thing—the life you lived.
"It still haunts me today to not play your senior year," said Smith… "To work that hard at something and have that happen is devastating. It could have led me the wrong way."
It was not particularly reassuring. At some point I thought I realized I'd seen the last of it, and I started thinking one of the things stuck in my head that calls itself forth at times: "And I sat down on the grass, on the burnt grass, on the black, burnt, dirt and grass, and I can admit this now: I wept. I cried big, old, giant tears."
Because memory is unreliable I had to plug it into Google and got two hits and realized that this was the Robert Earl Keen story I'd warped into a column about Michigan hockey losing the national title game two years ago after staying up all night editing my now-wife, then-fiancée's dissertation. I did this just now, and read it, and yeah. This is what I felt when I thought about the black burnt dirt and grass:
At some point Michigan is actually going to win another goddamned national championship and some of this will be redeemed. Not all of it, though. Shawn Hunwick is never going to do that again, and nothing's ever going to match the Swedish flag and my complete failure to get people to replace all words in the goal cheer with "bork" when Hagelin scores. Things come and go; this one has gone and I'm stunned at how much I miss it already.
Except the stunned part, because obviously not stunned more like openly dreading forever.
Denard got a ceremonial snap, and ran for three yards, and then got another, and ran for four yards. Collectively they are the Michigan fanbase's favorite first-quarter plays to set up third and three ever. It became clear that we had been granted a reprieve from the future.
The sun was out, shining on Michigan's present and future as each senior took a bow. Vincent Smith hacked down men much larger than him and scored on a throwback screen. Jordan Kovacs took a quarterback escaping into space and turned it into a tackle for loss. Roy Roundtree was Worst Waldo open for a touchdown.
And on another option play, Denard eschewed a pitch that was there, accelerating outside of Thomas Rawls to the corner, where he faced down an Iowa safety. One juke later, he was tearing down the sideline. A hundred ten thousand took it and put it in their memory. I was there. I saw it. I can tell you about it, but it's something you have to experience for yourself.
As the day descended into a blissful victory lap, Denard audaciously reversed field for another big gain en route to exceeding 100 total yards on 15 touches. On each play, you could feel the stadium burst with anticipation. Please give me one last thing to have here. He did, twice, and the cloud that dogged Walter Smith evaporated.
After, I walked down to the tunnel and watched him go, young and old alike reaching down for one last moment.
Brady Hoke Epic Double Point Of The Week. You can no longer be denied, Devin Gardner: 18/23, 314 yards, six total TDs. I be like dang. More about Iowa being the worst thing ever a bit later; setting that aside, it's remarkable that Gardner throws an out and you're just like "this is extremely likely to be on target and moving fast when the WR catches it." His accuracy and comfort with the offense grows weekly, and when he needs to have his legs bail him out those are still around.
Honorable Mention. Jeremy Gallon (133 yards receiving without getting a gift long TD, let's not think about the punt), Roy Roundtree (gift long TD but hey 83 more yards), Denard Robinson (8.1 yards a touch), GERG Davis (your QB completed 19 of 26 passes for 7 YPA), Jordan Kovacs (I just like Jordan Kovacs), Will Hagerup (did not wander off to Ypsilanti at halftime, wondering if he should transfer to a school at which he would see the field).
Brady Hoke Epic Double Fist-Pump Of The Week. It must be Denard Robinson juking Tanner Miller to the ground. Yes. All of the that.
And then he felt he was being unfair so he ran out of bounds.
Honorable mention: Denard reverses field on dinky flare pass, Gardner to Gallon for a juggling 50 yard catch, Roundtree goes Worst Waldo on third and seventeen, Vincent Smith throwback screen for old times.
Epic Double Fist-Pumps Past.
11/10/2012: Mattison baits Fitz, Kenny Demens decleats Northwestern, game over. 11/17/2012: Denard WOOPS Tanner Miller in Big House finale.
Iowa caveats apply. Large Iowa caveats apply. Several plays were comically wide open as Iowa's secondary was ruthlessly exposed for the clown college it is. Only the incompetence of Big Ten passing attacks obscured it previously. Meanwhile, Devin Gardner is now eligible for social security after one particular goal-line passing play.
Late in the game, Iowa quit. Caveats apply. Large ones.
Let's ignore all caveats! Holy pants. The combination of the Devin Gardner-oriented slick passing game with spicy deep bombs combined with Denard Robinson carrying the ball to annihilate Iowa's defense utterly. Michigan scored touchdowns on their first six drives and were going in for another when Micah Hyde made a pretty badass interception on what would otherwise have been first and goal for Michigan.
Gardner's accuracy is getting creepy—a couple of underthrown deep balls were short only because their targets were so vastly wide open that the only way to not score a touchdown was to miss them, and the corner routes he's throwing are consistently on the money. This was the third straight game he hit Gallon in the numbers on a deep bomb—on this one Gallon had a guy draped all over him and still brought it in.
More than that it seems like Gardner just has a certain je ne sais quoi about him. The scrambles are a big part of this. There's more to it, though. In this game just having the patience to sit and wait a million years on that play where he could was an asset, and then he had that brilliant improvisation fling at Roundtree…
…that caused Dave Pasch to manically exclaim he was "JUST TOYING WITH THE DEFENSE!!!" He was.
As we go along here I'm moving away from thinking things like the yakety sex touchdown against Minnesota are not sustainable items you can count on to keep your offense going game in, game out. Gardner has kept a ton of drives alive with his scrambles and his ability to adjust on the fly—neither of which are Denard assets.
Horrible defenses all, yes. Inability to run for two yards without a quarterback involved, yes. Still.
Inability to run for two yards without a quarterback involved. …looked like it might be going away as Toussaint popped a couple nice gains—one of them on a real live successful option pitch from Denard—but then Toussaint sustained extreme damage and it was back to the salt mines. Rawls, Hayes, and Smith combined to acquire 35 yards on 13 carries, 2.7 per. Yeah, a number of those were short yardage. Still, a long of eight yards was acquired, and that was when the entire Iowa defense freaked out about Denard only to get the counter pitch in their face. Runs on which offensive line blocking was relevant topped out at six yards.
This is just something that must be accepted. Michigan is not going to get much of anything up the middle against Ohio State, and must be able to throw effectively. It'll be interesting to see if Ohio State tries to match John Simon up against Michael Schofield or lets the Lewan/Simon throwdown go down. Either way, Whoever Versus John Simon is the single most important positional matchup in the game.
Rawls hype level descending. Not very far from a low baseline since the Purdue blip up was only a couple carries, but descending. To me he seems very Kevin Grady so far and it's hard to see him getting anything against that DL and OSU's speed to the outside. I don't know what they can do about it, though. Smith is the same thing, more likely to make a man miss and far less likely to grind out YAC.
Hayes and Norfleet clearly don't have the coaches' trust, which is unfortunate because the role Michigan needs to fill when they go to that Fritz package is the darting outside guy who can tightrope the sidelines no problem when he gets that counter pitch or juke a defensive back when he gets the option. I have the feeling that sometime next year one or the other will get an extended run, do well, and leave us all wondering why they couldn't get on the field in 2012 (probably because they can't block).
Meanwhile, while I'm not writing off Rawls the trendline there is not heading towards anything more than a short-yardage guy. A short yardage guy that bounces it way too much.
Nefarious Ohio State plans. Michigan has not called more than a couple runs for Devin Gardner yet aside from short-yardage run/pass rollouts that have turned into half-scramble/half-intentional-run touchdowns. The reason has been obvious: if Gardner goes down Michigan is rolling with a one-armed Denard and Russell Bellomy. This has been a logical thing to do.
I think they have to break the seal on that in the Game.
I'm not suggesting Gardner takes off 20 times or anything, but some dose of Gardner/Denard inverted veer action seems like a big opportunity to hit something big. The problem with working Denard into the gameplan as a not-quarterback is that he basically can't block for reasons of inexperience and elbow, so how do you work around that limitation? To date, Michigan has given him the ball and used him as a decoy.
They'll continue doing that, but it's time for the Denard/Devin Mesh Point. By making Denard the tailback and running the veer, they either get Denard on the edge without contain or option someone off, thus blocking someone with Denard without actually blocking someone with Denard. Add in the potential for play action off that look and you've got my #1 must have thing for OSU.
Toussaint damage. I am probably not informing you of anything you do not know when I say he has broken bones in his legs and is done for the year. A reader pointed out this study done on 31 soccer athletes that saw the subjects with twin fractures return to competition an average of 40 weeks after their injury, which would be just before next season.
If he can't get back in time for 2013, he should be able to apply for a sixth year. His first redshirt was due to a shoulder injury.
Citizens for Dileo. If a ball is thrown at Drew Dileo and hits the ground, it is pass interference and should be an automatic flag. Now please let the man return punts.
Could have gone better. Iowa's touchdown drive was pretty alarming. And even if Vandenberg was making all the three yard passes, it's a little disappointing when the opposing QB goes 19 of 26. Some of that was inexperience, some of it scheme—on a late third and four Michigan moved Gordon down late and used him as a man defender on a TE out successfully; previously they were using linebackers making tougher run/pass reads.
HOWEVA, I don't think I'm as down as Hoke was after the game. Guy seemed downright dispirited by a team that barely scraped over the 300 yard mark thanks to a jerky onside kick and 22 meaningless yards before halftime. Iowa went three-and-out on four of their first six drives. If the ref doesn't throw a terrible roughing the passer flag on Jordan Kovacs, they would have been facing fourth and eleven at the 32 on their field goal drive. By the time they put together the 81-yard-drive that rescued their yardage from the abyss it was 42-10 and Kovacs and others were cooling their heels on the sideline. Iowa is bad and having them do anything is bad; I'm not really sure they did much of anything other than throw it at their tight end.
Weisman coming back was a big help for them. The difference in quality between that guy and Garmon was obvious, and he still only managed 3.9 YPC.
The game in a nutshell. Michigan third down conversions: 9/12 with two of those failures subsequently converted on fourth down by Devin Gardner. Iowa: 6 of 14 and 1 of 3 on subsequent fourth downs.
worst roughing the passer ever (Upchurch)
Godspeed, Kovacs. I may get all blubbery about Denard but if Devin's going to do the things he seems like he is doing, Kovacs might actually be the guy I miss more next year in on-field terms. Do you people remember that Michigan used to give up huge long touchdowns all the time? Like, weekly.
Kovacs's utter reliability has turned Michigan into a defense that essentially never gives up anything without a chance to redzone you to death. He is literally the best safety I have experienced as a Michigan player, walk-on be damned, status be damned. All hail Kovacs.
Iowa tight end cloaking device. I like it much better when Greg Davis is operating it because the end results are decidedly non-Moeaki. Mattison likely has something to do with it.
Weekly Devin Gardner lookalike photo. Not necessarily a thing, but after Hipster Devin last week it's a thing this week because…
…because it's a thing.
Brady Hoke FTW. Moments that make you think "boy I'm glad that guy isn't Michigan's coach" are flying fast and furious these days, what with Minnesota's leading receiver bombing Jerry Kill in a 4000-word tumblr post by way of announcing a transfer and Bret Bielema punting from the Ohio State 30 and Mark Dantonio punting on fourth and medium down three with three minutes left—a decision that slashed his team's chances by a third.
It is impossible to conceive of the first thing happening under Brady Hoke. Jerry Kill seems like a decent guy and doesn't have the opportunity to tell his side of the story, but it's hard to picture anyone on Michigan's team even having a side of the story. I mean, Hagerup interaction post-OSU-atrocity. QED.
And while I wouldn't put it past Hoke to freeze up in the heat of the moment (everyone does sometimes) his game theory decisions are near-perfect in two years at Michigan. Saturday, Michigan faced fourth and goal at the one, sent the kicking team out… and called timeout because Hoke was like "wait I am Brady Hoke." While the ensuing touchdown turned out to be unnecessary, it was the right move and it paid off.
Usual statement of preferred policy: all freshmen get to buy tickets; after that you have to show up by kickoff at half of the games to renew.
Iowa: home of the hyphen. Iowa's moved from Inexplicably Great White Wide Receiver—who now makes his home in Minneapolis when he's not bombing Jerry Kill and leaving—to Somewhat Good Hyphenated Name Guy. They're multiplying now: Iowa iced Kevonte Martin-Manley, Henry Krieger-Coble, and Louis Trinca-Pasat this weekend.
Best: Those Who Came and Stayed Will Always Be Champions
I know that everyone has talked up last year’s seniors as epitomizing Bo’s “Stay and Be Champions” motto, but I’ve always felt this Senior class has been given a short shrift considering the environment that existed when they decided to come to UM. The 2011 class came to UM with a fair bit of uncertainty, what with a coaching change and a shift in offensive and defensive systems, but they all arrived on campus in a world where UM hadn’t missed a bowl game since Nixon was in office and had only one .500 record over that span. Like everyone, they figured UM would, at worst, suffer through a “down” season of 8 wins before challenging for more titles.
A good idea. / Also a good idea. / Not a good idea. (Upchurch)
Before we begin, since this is a Denard/Gardner comparison post, let's get this part out of the way:
Is Gardner a palatable Big Ten QB?
Is Gardner a good QB?
Yes, I really think so.
So even if Denard is 100 percent…
NO!!! Two good starts from our 2013 starting signalcaller, albeit against two of the conference's worst pass defenses, are good things. Let's not ruin them by allowing the kind of people who see the world in Tall-Passer-Lloydball Pearl and Small-Scrambly-Spreadrod Onyx to, you know, start all that again.
But I am interested in knowing just how good Gardner has played. I'm also interested in how everything else about our offense changed when Gardner went in for Denard, and how defenses reacted to it. What did it do to the receiver corps to lose him, and what to the formations and personnel? 2012 is nice and all but I want to know what 2013 is going to look like now! Since this week was a better test and a better performance to the eye than what he did against Minnesota after one week of not being a receiver, I think we need Northwestern data. In fact I was so impatient I decided to not wait for Brian to UFR the offense this week and did it myself…in a mini version.
5 plays, 13 yards, 13 mins left in the 1st quarter. Score: 0-0
We establish a few things, like Michigan is going under center, and Northwestern is going to defend that with the 4-3 over, and even 6'4 quarterbacks get batted sometimes. Easy out to Gallon that was still open all day, one batted, one perfect downfield throw on a blitz that was dropped by Jerald Robinson. Northwestern gives up on blitzing for the rest of the day. Michigan gives up on receivers.
10 plays, 78 yards, 2:30 left in the 1st quarter. Score: 7-0 Michigan.
This is the drive when Michigan started inserting superfluous apostrophes into the snap count (Wilcat's HATE that!). Note the CA on the 32-yard pass to Roundtree. That's close to "MA" since it's behind the receiver, but not so much that it changed Roundtree's momentum when he reached back to get it. Also note that NW's cornerback is awful.
[The rest of the drives, and how this and the other Gardner game compare to the Denard ones, after THE JUMP]