9/23/2017 – Michigan 28, Purdue 10 – 4-0, 1-0 Big Ten
POW! WHAP! [Bryan Fuller]
That has never happened before. Never in the 200-year history of the University of Michigan has a person done something so very badly for three hours, and then emerged some time later doing the same thing so well. James Earl Jones never sounded like a pimple-faced teenager. Lawrence Kasdan did not write Happy Gilmore before Empire Strikes Back. Gerald Ford was not also Dick Nixon. HH Holmes did not accidentally build a Mildly Annoying Castle.
When you progress, it is gradually, not all at once. And maybe John O'Korn has done that, away from the glare of the public. Maybe last year's Indiana game was an outlier amongst all of O'Korn's throws since he lost the starting job at Houston. Maybe we are have too little data and are making it big.
Or maybe dude got bit by a radioactive spider. Maybe he spent the offseason creating a powerful electromagnet that works on leather. Maybe he did a bunch of cool ninja stuff in the Himalayas and then brooded in a cave a bunch. Maybe there's about to be a bunch of John O'Korn sequels and reboots and superfriends movies.
Whatever it is, take it and run.
Because I am a Michigan fan I can think of players that went the other way, mostly because of Brady Hoke. Blake Countess was asked to go from a zone corner to a man corner, guided by a linebacker who'd never coached DBs. He went from an All Big Ten player to Will Fuller toast. Devin Gardner's thrilling debut as #98 against the Irish was matched only by his performance in the 42-41 barnburner against OSU; in between he was a battered shell of himself.
No one has gone the right way so suddenly and dramatically. Nick Sheridan's blip against Minnesota is probably the closest thing, but that was clearly a blip at the time. O'Korn's eventually-confident performance against Purdue looks much more sustainable.
Gone was the Madden infinite dropback disease, except once when it made sense on the Gentry touchdown. Early, rough attempts to break the pocket seemed like an inability to read what was in front of him until he spectacularly avoided a sack, formed up, and found Grant Perry over the middle:
This was the moment when it was clear Indiana 2.0 was not happening. O'Korn saw he had nothing to the outside and decided on another plan despite the likelihood someone was going to annihilate him from behind. It was a remarkably aware, mature play for a guy we last saw completing twenty-yard passes that were somehow at the line of scrimmage.
O'Korn would execute two other improvisational plays when his protection broke down, and on one scramble he dodged a tackler before plowing over another one for a first down. Michigan twitter cried out in unison on this run, because they were suddenly terrified of losing him.
When executing within the confines of the offense O'Korn was just as good, hitting a couple of deep shots to his tight ends and checking down when that was appropriate. Errors were acceptably few and mostly benign; even the interception was the kind of throw that ends up a tough catch or incomplete 9 of 10 times. The stats are in line with the performance: 18 of 26 for 270 yards, little of it cheap.
If you're not gob-smacked you're not paying attention. I don't know how or why, I only know what. And what I saw Saturday was a new starting quarterback emerging from a lagoon of nuclear slime, or being rebuilt out of old Soviet tanks, or finishing up a montage set to "Take It To The Limit."
Is it a mirage? Possibly. Will our new hero run out of spinach and flag alarmingly? Almost certainly at some point, yes. Is there anything to do but forge ahead and hope the new guy wasn't constructed of baling wire and North Korean electronics? No. So here we go, Mr. O'Korn. It's your show now.
[After THE JUMP: Devin the destroyer... but where are the bucket hats]
We're having a pre-Wisconsin event with Marlin Jackson at 1300 South Main Street. Festivities start at ten; I'll be there by noon. Proceeds benefit Jackson's excellent Fight For Life charity; you can park in the shadow of the Big House and partake for $56 or walk on over; there's a suggested donation of ten bucks. We'll have a raffle, a Q&A session with Marlin, and food provided by Tailgater Concierge and drink from Wolverine Brewing. Come on by, support a great cause, and ask Ace about Harambe!
Clark: ACL, gone. Fears confirmed, but Harbaugh did tell the assembled media they'd try to get Clark a sixth year. I'm going to be real peeved if he doesn't get one given the Ed Davis precedent.
WILTON SPEIGHT gives you WHITEST LOPING MIKE McCRAY gets you MY, I CRACK EM CHRIS WORMLEY gets you CHOWS MERRILY BEN BREDESON gets you BONES BENDER
This should be a category in not very serious game previews.
What happened in that Wisconsin-MSU game. It was a slugfest with both offenses barely cresting 300 yards. Wisconsin got the blowout because Tyler O'Conner was intercepted three times, LJ Scott fumbled for a Wisconsin scoop and score, and MSU's punter dropped a snap. In the aftermath the SB Nation MSU blog appears to have quit en masse. Gotta toughen up there, Sparty.
This was certainly not a game that required a vintage quarterback performance to come away with the win. All the Badgers really needed were a handful of third-down conversions and Hornibrook did just that. His fumble early in the game could have been a costlier mistake although the interception before the end of the half was more of a last-ditch effort than anything else.
I thought he looked good through the first quarter and a half. I haven't seen the rest of the game yet, so maybe he fell off.
On defense, the main takeaway was that Wisconsin's linebackers kick ass. Four of their top five grades were LBs and almost all of them cracked the 80 grade that appears to be the cutoff for a really good performance. Vince Biegel had ten(!) QB hurries.
On the MSU side of things, Tyler O'Connor was horrendous (52.3 grade) and their offense failed to have anyone crack 80—Brian Allen was the only guy even close. The OL allowed presser on O'Connor on more of half their snaps, largely on failed blitz pickups. (Why, hello Mr. Peppers.) The defense was about on par with expectations except that Darian Hicks was good. They've got a guy with a big blinking THROW AT ME sign, though:
If you’re looking to point the finger at anyone on the Spartans defense, it would be safety Demetrious Cox. He allowed 7-8 targets for 94 yards and a touchdown.
Can't say I'm surprised.
Michigan has a tough assignment on offense this week, but I'd expect they hold the Badger offense in check.
A spate of injuries. Bad week for season-enders in the league. Michigan has of course lost Clark. Several other important players also went down for extended periods of time:
Janarion Grant, also known as "the Rutgers offense" is out for the year after injuring his ankle at the tail end of a 76-yard run. Rutgers also lost DE Quanzell Lambert.
Iowa wide receiver Matt Vandeberg, who currently has more catches than the rest of Iowa's WRs combined, injured his foot and is out 'indefinitely.' Per Tom Kakert, it's a broken foot that will end his year.
MSU linebacker Riley Bullough kept up the family tradition by missing a game for mysterious reasons against Wisconsin. Reports have it that he was injured in practice before Notre Dame and will return sometime this season. Fellow LB Jon Reschke did something to his left leg in a non-contact situation and is out for a "significant amount of time" with what MSU is describing as an ankle sprain despite it not looking at all like an ankle sprain. Ed Davis is still being held out, probably in hopes he can get a seventh year.
Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone missed the MSU game with a back issue and may or may not be back this weekend. Paul Chryst has "no idea." Ditto OL Jon Dietzen. Gaglianone's replacement, Andrew Endicott, missed an extra point but hit a 41-yard field goal. Wisconsin played much of the MSU game as if they had little confidence in him.
Exit Les Miles. Over the past five or six years if Les Miles's name has come up on this blog it's because I'm attempting to convince people we really did not want him to be Michigan's head coach. That doesn't mean college football isn't poorer for his absence now that he's been fired. He was perfect at LSU, where he could cause the internet to devolve into a string of exclamation points without affecting my blood pressure. Keep that dour offense and the Mardi Gras surrounding it down in the Bayou. Miles was fun, and fun in a way that it seems like only college football can support.
1. Les Miles was fired from his job as LSU football coach this weekend. Getting fired four games into a season would only seem premature if time ever mattered to Miles, but it rarely did. Miles ran out of time, added time to games, forced others to work against it, and sometimes just melted the clock completely.
A one-score LSU game in the last three minutes could accelerate from full-on torpor to electric insanity, mostly because of his belief that a football game can sometimes be a little longer than 60 minutes if he needed it to be. You called people, tweeted at them, and yelled in all-caps when LSU ran shit down to the wire.
Miles at the wheel meant you were guaranteed 58 minutes of reliable, red-meat, Big Ten football. It also meant you got two minutes of off-the-rails Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride banditry that LSU might or might not survive.
Someone please hit Mack Brown with a shovel and insert Miles into his place posthaste.
Never hire an NFL coordinator. In the aftermath of the Lexit, Bill Connelly strikes upon a theme in a spate of recently-fired coaches on the successful end of the spectrum: awful coordinator hires. The beginning of the end for Les was importing Cam Cameron. Cameron was actually a successful NFL coordinator...
In 10 seasons as an NFL coordinator, Cameron's offenses had only once finished in the bottom half of the league in offensive DVOA.
...but his college offenses were 1990s-vintage NFL ones and increasingly horrendous. Mark Richt got the axe much faster after importing Brian Schottenheimer, who wasn't only an NFL coach but an NFL nepotism special. Brian Kelly isn't out at Notre Dame but his seat his quite hot after hiring Brian Van Gorder in the aftermath of Bob Diaco's departure for UConn.
Of the 40 coordinators with recent top-10 offenses, only nine had any experience at the NFL level. Only four of 40 had been in the pros for more than three years. Two of these four (Pep Hamilton, Mike Bloomgren) were hired by Stanford, so I guess the corollary should be: “Don’t worry about NFL experience ... unless you’re David Shaw.”
On the defensive side, the percentages are similar. Of the 34 coordinators with recent top-10 defenses, only eight had NFL experience, and only four had more than three years in the NFL: Vance Bedford (2014 Texas, six years), Dan Quinn (2012 Florida, 10 years), Todd Grantham (2011 Georgia, 11 years), and Clancy Pendergast (2013 USC, 15 years).
I'd like to point out that when Bedford and Quinn had their top ten defenses they were working under head coaches (Charlie Strong and Will Muschamp) who were massively successful college defensive coordinators. The list of longtime NFL coaches able to do anything in college is extremely thin.
This is why I was panicked during the defensive coordinator search when Rivals kept bringing up NFL names, and super enthusiastic when Harbaugh passed up that trap for Don Brown.
The Michigan offense has been good enough in the early going. The Wolverines are finishing drives and converting short-yardage opportunities, controlling the ball and the field position battle despite only decent efficiency.
But the defense has been the driving force. New coordinator Don Brown's unit ranks first in havoc rate and second in Def. S&P+, and Peppers has been the catalyst for such successful aggressiveness.
He was a Harvard graduate with a reputation around the office as someone who set the bar high and usually managed to clear it. He was two years into a promising career, surrounded by friends and as healthy as he had been in a long time. But Hirsch woke up restless that morning.
"So I went for a walk," he says, "and I realized that I needed something else going on in my life outside of work. Work was great, but I was lacking a major goal."
A few years ago we split tight ends from the WR post and fullbacks from the RB post, figuring that under Brady Hoke there would be enough of them to warrant it. We even split guys into various categories because a tight end is not just a tight end. Then Jim Harbaugh came in. After an internal struggle this site has decided not to split each one of these columns into its own post, but it was a near thing. Those columns are:
FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two 50 carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley, Sione Houma.
H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea.
TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: AJ Williams, Jerame Tuman.
FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Tyler Eifert, Jake Butt.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
So. These are the categories. The men who, uh, man them are many and varied and in one case the bar-none best in all the land. Let's start with him.
TIGHT END AND FLEX
opponents will call Butt dastardly this year [Fuller/MGoBlue]
In keeping with this site's tradition of dignified reserve, last year's preview claimed Jim Harbaugh called Jake Butt an "Ertz/Fleener Voltron" based on this quote:
"Jake is as good a prospect as we've coached at the college level," Harbaugh said. "We've produced a lot of great players in college at the spot and it's vital to our success."
And lo, he pretty much was an Ertz/Fleener Voltron. Per Pro Football Focus he graded out better than any tight end in the country as a receiver. Survey says: yup. I sort catch opportunities into four bins: routine balls, challenging ones, crazy ones, and uncatchable ones. Butt was a perfect 36/36 on routine balls, an outstanding 10/12 on challenging balls, and 3/3 on circus catches. Meanwhile Butt's enormous catch radius and excellent route running tend to move opportunities into easier categories. Only eight times last year did a Jake Butt target get filed uncatchable. (I don't count balls thrown away in the general vicinity of a player.) That means 83% of the time Jake Rudock tried to hit Butt, Michigan moved the ball. Butt targets averaged over 11 yards a pop. Voltron achieved.
There's still no better example of Butt's prowess than the touchdown from the opener where Jake Rudock first explored the wonders of the #buttzone:
Unless it's this sensational one handed catch against Rutgers in 2014:
Jake Butt can make your wrong-ass wrong throws of wrongness into something so right.
Even so, after eight catches in the opener Butt's production fell off. Over the next six games a struggling Rudock only hit him 14 times downfield for a measly 133 yards—there was a 44-yard screen that Harbaugh conjured in there as well. Butt's a tight end. Sometimes he's covered, sort of, and Rudock didn't look for him.
Then Harbaugh beat the stone-cold fact that a covered Jake Butt still isn't covered into Rudock's brain and production took off. Butt had 28 catches in the final six games and 376 yards. That's double the catch rate and triple the yardage. Much of that production returned to the magical land where only Jake Butt frolics:
In addition to his pterodactyl-like catching radius and Wilt Chamberlain hands, Butt's athleticism allows him to shake safeties with his routes...
...and occasionally split them after the catch:
Or just flat outrun a corner. An Indiana corner, yes. Still, this is a guy who had a 70-yard screen against OSU as a freshman and drew this praise from an anonymous Big Ten player even before his breakout junior season:
"We played them late in the year, and [Butt] was someone that was really tough to defend. He's incredibly athletic. He made a catch against us that not that many receivers even make, so he has great hands."
You could not draw up a better receiving tight end.
As a blocker... I mean... he's a great receiver. I say this somewhat seriously. Opponents have to treat him differently than a normal tight end, and the run game benefits from it. Against OSU Jabrill Peppers picked up a seven yard chunk largely because he looked like he'd throw to Butt for a moment and that was enough for two OSU players to freak out.
When it came to making actual contact with the opposition, Butt was decent. Middling. Okay. He was very much a finesse blocker, and this was good enough given the strictures his presence put on the opposing defense. This isn't a brutal finish; it's good enough:
That is kind of the cap, though. Get him soloed up against a defensive end and it'll go like "tight end versus Chris Wormley" most of the time. In UFR his run contributions came out moderately positive against the lesser teams on the schedule and negative against likes of Utah, BYU, MSU, and... uh... Rutgers. The bowl was a nice step forward but repeatedly caving in the edge of Florida's defense could be interpreted as a motivation issue for the Gators. Pro Football Focus tastefully omits mention of his blocking when they reference him because he came out negative on the year.
Remaining upside in this department is limited since he's going from his third to his fourth year. What remains is probably more about the mental side of the game than a sudden surge in ability like AJ Williams had. He'll get a little stronger and a little wiser; what you see is close to what you're going to get.
That happens to be a guy who is going to break Jim Mandich's all-time TE receiving record, a guy guaranteed to be off the board by the end of the second round of the next NFL draft. Jake Butt is a captain on a team with Jehu Chesson. I mean. Harbaugh:
"From day one, Jake Butt is an A++ guy as a player. We're in a meeting or in an install and I see him on the edge of his seat sitting through a two-hour meeting and he's communicating with guys next to him. He's interpreting for the younger guys. He has pizzazz."
Butt's about to be the best tight end in Michigan history.
This is our weekly roundtable, brought back from its offseason slumber because you really don't want to know what we are obsessing about in the offseason. If you ever have any topic suggestions, send them to seth at mgoblog dot com.
Sleeper player of the year? Who are we not talking about that we'll be talking about?
Brian: So not Wheatley then.
Ace: I’m partway into an answer that starts with a mention of Ian Bunting (not my choice) being an option because of our constant Wheatley hype.
Brian: And not Hudson then.
Ace: Options on the ground are very limited unless we’re allowing anyone who hasn’t been a full-time starter already. I was going to go with Dymonte Thomas.
Brian: I don't think I can do this if I can't talk about Wheatley and Hudson.
Ace: I wouldn’t veto Wheatley/Hudson talk even if I could.
Brian: A man needs a code. Can't talk about guys we're talking about. I will persist.
BiSB: Allow me to parse the rule: you can't talk about Hudson and Wheatley in general because your feelings are well known, but you CAN talk about them in the specific context of 2016, as such things are NOT known.
Like, Khaleke Hudson will invade and overrun Persia by the time he's a Junior, but will we see him as a true freshman toppling some minor Greek city-state?
Ace: Please let it be Sparta. #ancientdisrespekt
Seth: This is This Week's Obsession, not Nam. There are rules.
[After THE JUMP we actually do answer the question]
You mentioned at media day that year two makes things so much easier—or more familiar, I should say. How’s it feeling?
“No, not easier. But feeling good right now. Coming off of a very good practice today, so feel good about the way our guys are working. Feel really good about the way we practiced today. There was quite a bit of good scrimmaging. Feel like our team is building a callus now that bodes very well for us. I mean, it was not. It was a little more [purulent] than about a week ago, but now it’s starting to harden. Feel good about that.”
Your quarterbacks now compared to a year ago: do you feel like they’re about where they were or in the system for a year, does that help them?
“Definitely has helped them. Right now we’re—I hate to compare—but we’re better. We’re better at that position than we were eight, nine days into camp last year.”
Have you narrowed it down? Is it down to two guys? Have a rank order?
“Yeah, not just two. I mean, Shane Morris is doing good, having a good camp. Wilton Speight’s having an outstanding camp. John O’Korn’s having a very good camp. The quarterback play’s been really good in camp, right from the first day. Been very pleased with that. They’ve…they’re completing balls, they’re running the team, they know what they’re doing. They’re competing at a good, high level. It’s been good. Yeah.
“I’m trying to think through different camps. I’ve said it to myself: this group of quarterbacks is playing really well. Better than most camps that I’ve seen from the start. Sometimes they struggle with their accuracy and struggle with different things, communicating, fumbled snaps on the ground. We haven’t been seeing that. We’ve been seeing solid play that’s improving, too. It started good and it’s getting better every day. Hope we’ll be better tomorrow than we were today, but we had a good day today.”
Are there any other positions where you’re seeing as fierce a competitive battle as you are at quarterback?
“Uh, there’s…there’s some good play. Some good—young guys are playing very well. Devin Asiasi had a heck of a day today. Michael Onwenu is somebody I’m—you know, he’s one of my favorites. Doing a heck of a good job. Ben Bredeson is doing an outstanding job. Rashan Gary is a really good football player. The young linebackers are playing really well. The young receivers are doing a heck of a good job. Chris Evans is maybe one of the most outstanding of them all. Khaleke Hudson’s doing an outstanding job. Dylan Crawford’s doing a good job. So, yeah, it’s been good. Quinn Nordin’s doing an outstanding job. Those guys, some really good players in that class have heated some of the competitive waters at multiple positions. It’s a good thing.”
How many freshmen do you expect to play this year?
“Right now it’s competitive and I don’t see any of our older guys just giving their jobs away. Don’t see that happening. Not through the nine practices. Not saying that for one minute, so it’s still to be determined. There’s some competitive, heated-up waters. More than you see on really probably any team I’ve ever been on where a group of new guys…they’re showing that they’re on track to be either starters or backup players. It’s still to be determined.
“They’ve got to do it over the course of the next couple weeks, but it’ll be exciting to watch. Some of them will, some of them won’t. The best players are going to play, regardless of class year that they’re in. As I’ve said, we’ve got a lot of veteran players who like their starting jobs. It’ll be a battle.”
Last year you waited until the first snap at Utah to reveal the starting lineup. Do you imagine that’ll be the same this season, too, with the quarterbacks and rest of the roster?
“I haven’t decided yet.”
[After THE JUMP: I guess you could say this press conference was…[/puts on sunglasses] suspended.]