Monday Presser 8-28-17: Mike McCray and Mason Cole

Monday Presser 8-28-17: Mike McCray and Mason Cole

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on August 30th, 2017 at 9:28 AM

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[Fuller]

Focus-wise, how is camp going? How different is it? Jim mentioned he was appreciative of you guys basically taking charge more so this year. Can you describe that a little bit?

McCray: “From a defensive standpoint, we’ve got a lot of new faces that’ll be starting, in the starting lineup and things like that. Lot of new guys, freshmen coming in and just stepping up and being more vocal on and off the field. Building that camaraderie between each other and learning things about each other to help us while we’re on the field as well, so that’s the biggest thing defensively.”

Cole: “Offensively, just like the defense, the same offense is coming in back in terms of schematically so just really pinpointing that offense really mastering it for everyone. So many young guys, and getting them ready in the offense and pushing them forward every day. As we get ready for Florida, just keep pushing them every day and as we get closer and closer guys get more and more prepared.”

Mason, how’s the right side of the offensive line progressed and how do you see it shaking out?

“Really good. I mean, we had so much competition this fall camp and the guys handled it really well. They competed their butts off every single day and so many guys got so much better, and just to see that happen through camp and going into Florida week, it’s really exciting.”

Who are some of those young guys that you’ve seen a really big jump?

“Yeah, I think just about everyone. Everyone got significantly better: guys like Mike Onwenu, Juwann Bushell-Beatty, Jon Runyan, Nolan Ulizio and all those freshmen, too. Guys came out every single day to compete and they did that.”

[After THE JUMP: linebackers who’ve stepped up, the moment they became captains, and Cole making too much sense about rosters]

Monday Presser 8-28-17: Jim Harbaugh

Monday Presser 8-28-17: Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on August 28th, 2017 at 6:00 PM

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[Upchurch]

“Hello. Thanks for coming out to Schembechler Hall.”

Can you talk about the two guys that were selected as captains and what you think their teammates saw in them that put them there?

“Yeah, first of all, it was a really good group. We looked at the seniors and the fifth-year players who could be elected captain and put it up there on the wall, on the screen. Really good leaders in that group so felt like we’d get two really good captains. We voted and we did: Mason Cole on offense, Mike McCray on defense. Both “Go Blue” guys, both poised to have big years, both starting players, both very good players at the highest level, so excited about both of our captains.

“And, as I said before, all of our seniors, our leaders, the way the leadership group is coming together.”

Are you ready to announce who is starting at quarterback?

“Have not heard Florida announce who their starting quarterback will be and we would love to have that information.”

Is that a no?

“So, uh, no, we’re not announcing our starting quarterback. As I said before, people make a big deal about our roster or not announcing a starting quarterback; I’m not seeing a starting quarterback—I haven’t seen the starting quarterback come out at Florida but never any mention of that. Very interesting. But yes, we would like to have that information from them. I’m sure they’d like to have it from us and right now neither is giving that information.”

This is typical [in that] you normally don’t name a quarterback early. Do you have a certain philosophy as to why that’s the case?

“Well, it’s been that the philosophy is it’s a meritocracy and competition is healthy and fair and productive. It’s been very good. As I said, it’s been a good camp for our quarterbacks and we feel confident in our guys. We believe in them.”

Obviously you don’t want to tell us but do you have a plan in mind? Do those guys know who’s going to be in at quarterback heading into game week at this point?

“We’re, uh, working on it, yes. It’s been formulated and we’ve communicated it.”

[After THE JUMP: a more focused offensive line, one surefire starter at corner, Florida standouts, and the deputization of leadership]

Fall Camp Presser 8-9-17: Chris Partridge

Fall Camp Presser 8-9-17: Chris Partridge

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on August 11th, 2017 at 10:09 AM

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[Patrick Barron]

You just snuck in here.

“I snuck in. Sly. It’s camp. Go under the radar.”

Your early impressions of the three freshman linebackers you have?

“Yeah, they’re all competing, they’re all athletic, they like to hit. They’re what we expected.”

Where have you seen a lot of improvement from Devin Bush given the year of experience now?

“Just a year of maturity. That’s a big, big thing. Just a year of development in the weight room [and] athletically. He’s a guy that works just as hard in the weight room as on the field. Really enjoys the game and all aspects of it so his ceiling is high and he just keeps getting better and better, and he’s obviously a very savvy football player from his background with his father playing and everything like that. We’re excited about what he’s going to be able to do.”

He said in the spring that he was working at both Mike and Will. Is he focusing more on one of those spots now?

“He’s still able to do both. He’s been playing a lot of Mike lately but he’s able to do both—Will.”

Mike McCray’s been getting a lot of praise for his leadership and what he’s done. Can you talk about that aspect as well as how he’s come along as a player?

“Yeah, Mike, like I mentioned—so Mike came in last year and won the starting spot but if you know his background the prior two years he had been coming off some injuries and stuff. I think last year he was kind of feeling it out early, started gaining confidence, and became a tremendous football player for us. This year he’s coming in having that background and he kind of imposes himself on the other guys and the young guys. There’s an aura about him that’s different than it was last year, and that’s important because will look up to him and he’s a hard worker and tough. He’s a Big Ten linebacker, and now with that aura about him and sense of leadership he’s stepped his game up.”

[After THE JUMP: First word used to describe Khaleke Hudson is “violence” and no you can’t stop the MGoHypeTrain, you can only hope to contain it]

The Top 29-40 Returning Big Ten Players

The Top 29-40 Returning Big Ten Players

Submitted by Seth on July 24th, 2017 at 3:51 PM

or in the vernacular:

Draftageddon 2017: Annual Linemen of the Plains Edition

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This is Part III. We are drafting Big Ten players to give you an overview of the guys and dudes around the conference. You come out of it with a four-deep preseason All-Big Ten. We come out of it with very strong opinions on Rutgers linemen.

Previously: The first 10 picks (Hurst, Speight), the next 10 picks (Gary, Peters), and the 8 picks after that (Cole).

HOW THE THINGS STAND AFTER 28 PICKS:

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  • Ohio State (9 players): DE Nick Bosa (3rd, Seth), QB JT Barrett (6th, Seth), DE Tyquan Lewis (8th, BiSB), CB Denzel Ward (11th, Seth), DT Dre’Mont Jones (13th, Ace), OC Billy Price (17th, BiSB), DE Sam Hubbard (20th, Ace), LB Jerome Baker (21st, Ace), OT Jamarco Jones (28th, Ace)
  • Michigan (5 players): DT Maurice Hurst (2nd, Brian), DE Rashan Gary (5th, Ace), QB Wilton Speight (a reluctant 7th, Brian), QB Brandon Peters (an obligatory 16th, BiSB), OT Mason Cole (26th, Brian)
  • Penn State (3 players): RB Saquon Barkley (1st, BiSB), QB Trace McSorley (4th, Ace), “TE” Mike Gesicki (25th, BiSB)
  • Iowa (3 players): RB Akrum Wadley (18th, Brian), G/C Sean Welsh (22nd, Seth), LB Josey Jewell 23rd, Brian)
  • Indiana (2 players): LB Tegray Scales (9th, BiSB), WR Simmie Cobbs (12th, Ace)
  • Wisconsin (2 players): LB Jack Cichy (14th, Seth), TE Troy Fumagalli (15th, Brian)
  • Minnesota (1 player): DT Stephen Richardson (10th, Brian)
  • Maryland (1 player): DT Kingsley Opara (19th, Seth)
  • Northwestern (1 player): S Godwin Igwebuike (24th, BiSB)
  • Rutgers (1 player): OT Tariq Cole (27th, Seth)

It’s a snake draft so Ace is on the clock.

    -----------------------------

    Ace: ROUND 8, PICK 1: Marcus Allen, S, Penn State

    Previously: 2016 Rnd 15 (Adam)

    Off: QB Trace McSorley (PSU), WR Simmie Cobbs (IU), OT Jamarco Jones (OSU)
    Def: DE Rashan Gary (M), DE Sam Hubbard (OSU), DT Dre’Mont Jones (OSU), LB Jerome Baker (OSU), S Marcus Allen (PSU)

    Allen is projected 15th overall in the 2018 draft by B/R’s Matt Miller, who lists him as the most NFL-ready safety in the class, the best strong safety, and the best run-stopper (Igwebuike is fifth and listed as the biggest question-mark). He would’ve been drafted last year. While he doesn’t quite have the range of a Cover 1 free safety, he checks all the other boxes:

    Allen may be strictly focused on the Rose Bowl at the moment, but after turning in his best collegiate season as a junior in 2016, it’s become a realistic option to forego his senior season as a Nittany Lion. The 6-2, 202-pound safety recorded 101 tackles, three passes defended, and a forced fumble through 13 games this season. Allen has decent size and great instincts, but may lack top-end speed which should place him as a day three selection.

    When he hits people, they stop:

    Penn State safety Marcus Allen can get bring it. pic.twitter.com/TnuQjcTiOR

    — Cole Cubelic (@colecubelic) June 26, 2017

    I’m clearly on pace for most hated team but it’s not my fault you guys keep leaving capital-D Dudes on the board.

    -----------------------------

    [After the jump: Hottest offensive linemen of the corn belt]

    Spring Items: Defense

    Spring Items: Defense

    Submitted by Brian on April 12th, 2017 at 11:47 AM

    Defensive line

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    [Bryan Fuller]

    Headline news is not at all surprising: Rashan Gary is like dang. Palpable excitement from the coaches about getting to line up Gary next to Maurice Hurst and God help anyone assigned to block those guys on a stunt. Or not on a stunt. Gary remains extremely coachable and is on track to deliver on that #1 overall recruit hype. The end. Gary talk this year == Peppers talk last year. Everyone knows he's coming so it's almost beside the point to mention it.

    Carlo Kemp looks set to back Gary up at strongside end:

    "Rashan's a great person to definitely model your game after and follow up," Kemp said. "Especially because he goes in there, sets the tempo. For me, backing him up, I want to be as close as I can that there's no dropoff. When Rashan's in, we already know what he can do, and then when I come in I try to mimic his game a lot, so that when he's in and I'm in, it looks the exact same."

    That would be nice. Kemp has impressed the coaches after a rough start that was partially because he was being played out of position at linebacker. (Remember that Michigan had a crisis at LB before the emergence of McCray last year.) Kemp on his interactions with Don Brown:

    "He said when we first started spring ball 'I don't even know who this guy is anymore, last year I'd have traded him away for two used footballs' " Kemp said. "So that felt good. Last year I might have done the same thing, traded me away for two used footballs.

    "Maybe we're up to three this year."

    Kemp has the bloodlines and good size (265 now, probably approaching 280 by fall) so backup snaps at the anchor should be relatively productive. Early-enrolled freshman Donovan Jeter is also impressing, and right now he and Kemp are both wearing #2. Winner gets to keep it, I guess?

    At the other end, Chase Winovich has added another chunk of weight as he attempts to replace Taco Charlton; hopefully this will allow him to hold up against the run while not sapping his ability to get around the corner. All weight gain or loss is good in the spring. Haven't gotten anything about the folks pushing Winovich on the depth chart so that might be a spot of worry. Jeter is probably more of a SDE/3T than a weakside end.

    DT starters are established and I cannot tell you anything about them that you don't already know. Mo Hurst should be an All-American with increased playing time and the shiny stats he racks up. Everyone is waiting for Bryan Mone to finally display the potential people have chattered about for years. Chatter remains the same on Mone, and he did flash talent late in the year. If he can stay healthy dot dot dot.

    Very thin on the interior with few of the freshmen on campus yet and Michael Dwumfour frequently limited with minor issues. As a result Michigan is experimenting with redshirt freshman Ron Johnson on the interior, which is very much a work in progress. Johnson arrived as a 245-pound edge rush type. I would interpret that as distress about backup DTs. Lawrence Marshall is also on the interior and has not drawn much buzz.

    Depth is a concern. Starters should be bonkers.

    Linebacker

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    [Fuller]

    Mike McCray is an obvious starter and looks like you'd expect. Leader, thumper. Michigan's offense isn't of the variety that frequently tests McCray's main 2016 weakness—operating in space—so I assume you're going to get a lot of very positive reports on him that are about the stuff he was already excellent at, and we'll have to wait for live fire this fall to see if he's made progress on the downsides.

    The other spot was presumed to be Devin Bush, but don't sleep on Mike Wroblewski, who keeps getting brought up by Don Brown for a reason. Wroblewski is an "A-gap player," which means he's a guy to take on fullbacks and hammer the interior run game but might be limited in sideline-to-sideline range. He's taken over some of the calls from McCray, which is quite a thing to do when you're taking them from a returning starter and fifth year senior who is presumably going to be a captain. He is on the two deep, legitimately.

    Bush is also very much in the mix and will at least rotate through a la Gedeon when he was the third guy behind Morgan and Bolden. He could start, as well—he seems a much more natural fit for Michigan's forays against spread offenses.

    FWIW, one report that Ben Mason "looks the part" at LB, so they are giving him his shot there and he may yet defy this site's oft-stated opinion that he's destined for fullback. Redshirt freshman Josh Uche Is "laying the wood" a lot and should get some playing time this year, possibly as a pass rush specialist, with a productive career in the offing.

    The VIPER(!!!) spot is addressed in the next section because it should be.

    Safety

    Michigan looks set to go with a three safety look again—the defense is a bonafide 4-2-5 and we should get used to it—in a slightly different configuration than last year. This is not insider chatter but rather something the coaches have directly stated:

    "We'll see in the Spring Game how those guys line up in live competition, but right now Tyree Kinnel and Josh Metellus, those guys are leaders of the pack [at safety] in my eyes," Smith said. "They've done a good job from a leadership standpoint. I think Tyree has done a good job with communication -- getting guys lined up and making checks. I feel comfortable with him in the game right now."

    Tyree Kinnel is your free safety and will play the Dymonte Thomas role; Josh Metellus is the strong safety and will replace Delano Hill. Both are heady and "kind of going Jarrod Wilson," which is music to your author's ears. All hail boring safeties, with a side of Metellus thumping people in their earholes.

    Meanwhile many reports have it that Khaleke Hudson is your leader at VIPER(!!!) and will seek to replicate Jabrill Peppers. Hudson was a bit slow picking up coverages per a couple people; he is physically capable of the slot coverage that Hill was so good at a year ago, and as he gets increasingly comfortable people in his vicinity have a tendency to get "jacked up," as the kids say. One report notes he's making a number of spectacular, freaky plays. As we've asserted about Hudson since he popped up on our radar, he's not Peppers but he's basically Peppers. The emergence of Metellus gives Michigan the opportunity to use him in that spacebacker spot he was born to man.

    Meanwhile in news I find very important indeed, people think J'Marick Woods has a nickname but he does not.

    This aggression against nicknames will not stand. That is just his name. Hockey nicknames that are "last name followed by -y" are bad enough. Come back when you've named him "Scooter" or "Booger" or "Dump Truck." Preferably all three.

    Cornerback

    All systems go for David Long and Lavert Hill, who have been gathering extensive praise as physical, sticky corners. Hill is currently stickier but Long isn't far off. When the projected starters are in it's been difficult for Michigan's receivers to get separation.

    There is a significant dropoff after those two, with Brandon Watson and Ambry Thomas currently drawing the most mention. There's no such thing as a second unit yet, of course; those two guys are a nose ahead of the pack after the starters. Watson was meh as a slot corner a year ago and is past the age where rapid progress is likely; I assume he'll have a role similar to last year's unless he gets passed by Thomas right out of the gate. Survey says: possible.

    Overall, practice insiders are positive about Michigan's ability to weather all the departures. Don Brown's said as much publicly, and privately he's saying basically the same things: there's no reason this defense shouldn't be in the same ballpark as last year's. #1 is a tough ask because of randomness and whatnot, but Don Brown has put together top end defenses without having a guy like Rashan Gary. He remains a hard-boiled cop one day from retirement in a candy store.

    First Look: 2017 Defense

    First Look: 2017 Defense

    Submitted by Brian on January 13th, 2017 at 12:37 PM

    DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.

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    [Paul Sherman]

    1. CB Jourdan Lewis. Two-time All-American has case for second-best cover corner in school history. Various excellent stats, none better than this: over his last two years throwing it in the dirt and throwing at Jourdan Lewis were equally productive in terms of QB rating.
    2. DE Taco Charlton. Rampant in the second half of the season against both run and pass and destined for the first round of the draft. Charlton was the rare WDE to play at 280 pounds and gave Michigan's run defense oomph it will miss even if his replacement keeps up the pass rush productivity.
    3. SAM Jabrill Peppers. Massively overrated nonentity will be mysteriously drafted in first round this April and have decade-long NFL career. Absence in bowl game went completely unnoticed and did not pave the way for almost all of Dalvin Cook's yards.
    4. NT Ryan Glasgow. Robot Viking finally started getting appropriately rated as a senior, when he was again an excellent penetrator and disruptor of all things run and pass.
    5. SDE Chris Wormley. TE obliterator and utterly steady; maybe a hair less than explosive. Pass rush not a huge strength, but that went unnoticed since everyone else was picking QB out of their teeth. Elite run defender capable of playing inside or out.
    6. CB Channing Stribling. Outstanding year in coverage; if he was any easier to hit with a completion than Lewis it was a narrow thing indeed. Run support an Area For Improvement, as they say. Should still go early in the NFL draft, as he's a legit 6-foot.
    7. Safeties Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas. Close to interchangeable, so addressed together: capable of deep zones and slot coverage, these two kept Jabrill Peppers out of coverage almost all year. Tremendous luxury to be able to do that and flip 'em on motion. Thomas did bust a few times for big plays (most prominently against UCF and FSU), but as safety tandems go this might be tops in recent Michigan history.
    8. ILB Ben Gedeon. Sideline to sideline ILB who couldn't carry wheel routes downfield. Consistent tackler who showed up in the right spot almost every time; took on blocks with aplomb and shed them with authority. Lack of playing time early in career got more inexplicable every game.
    9. DT Matt Godin. Played well enough early in the season, when Hurst was laid up with a minor injury, to maintain that status for the duration. Was solid in his role; provided little pass rush but effective run defender. Least productive rotation DL by some distance but still meaningfully positive per PFF.

    WHAT'S LEFT

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    get in his belly [Fuller]

    1. DT Maurice Hurst. Technically not a starter but whatever man. Per PFF, the most productive interior pass rusher in the nation. Huge grades to both them and this sites UFR; with serious uptick in snaps should have breakout senior year and contend for AA status.
    2. ILB Mike McCray. Resurrected career after long-term injury threatened it and was about 80% revelation. Superior blitzer, tough customer on the inside. Struggled to contain edge runs for much of the year; late improvement in that department.
    3. CB Jeremy Clark. Injured in game four and Michigan will try to get a sixth year for him. If that comes through Clark is a bolt of experience in a secondary that will otherwise have almost none. Lost his starting job to Stribling but started anyway since Lewis was out for the first three games; has a year of solid starts under his belt and should be a draftable guy.
    4. DE Rashan Gary. Snaps limited by guys in front of him; impressive and productive when he did get on the field. Physical potential limitless, and should take The Leap as a sophomore.
    5. DE Chase Winovich. Crazy productive pass rusher who'd show up for a handful of snaps in big-time games and come away with a sack anyway. Per PFF had 27 pressure events in 277 snaps, which is almost precisely the same rate at which Charlton racked them up. Run D occasionally wobbly. Potential breakout player.
    6. DT Bryan Mone. Second straight injury-plagued year. As a result barely got over the 100-snap threshold that we're using to distinguish "new" from "what's left." Struggled when he did get snaps much of the year, hopefully because he was not 100%. Flashed ability against OSU.
    7. FS Tyree Kinnel. Promising safety candidate was dimeback for much of the year and did well in that role. Had a couple of Kovacsian TFLs where he'd fly up from outside the picture to kill a guy dead. Coverage, which was reputed to be a strength when he was a recruit, didn't get tested.
    8. CB Brandon Watson. Nickel corner was beat with some regularity when tested. Doesn't seem to have much upside.

    WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY

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    dread level: rising [Patrick Barron]

    Everything! Almost everything, anyway. The DL has some guys who have established a certain level of performance, to the point where only one of them is even sort of "new," that a redshirt junior who would be old except for terrible injury luck. 

    Dudes flanking McCray. Devin Bush figures to draw into the starting lineup next to McCray since he was the clear #3 ILB last year. That should push the bulkier McCray to MLB and give Bush WLB. Hopefully that would allow McCray to focus more on getting vertical instead of lateral. Bush is very much a spread ILB.

    Meanwhile at SAM/Viper(!!!), many different things could happen. Josh Metellus and Jordan Glasgow got Don Brown praise for their work at Viper(!!!) during bowl practices; Noah Furbush is a more traditional LB option at the spot; Khaleke Hudson still seems like a perfect fit as an emphatically box safety; if Michigan can get Willie Gay, recruiting types report that he is an instant impact player.

    Either all of the secondary or all but one guy in the secondary. Michigan has a ton of cornerback talent pushing through at a spot where you can get by decently on athleticism. Safety has guys with scattered snaps a year ago and really needs a couple of players to come through.

    WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977

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    omar comin' [Fuller]

    Still the defensive line. Michigan graduates all four starters but this is very much a reload situation, not a rebuild. Michigan figures to start:

    • Maurice Hurst, who produced just as much as last year's top starters in 60-70% of their snaps. He is going to be elite.
    • Rashan Gary, who was +13 in about 300 snaps as a true freshman and is a holy lock to be real good as the #1 recruit in the country.
    • Chase Winovich, who would be coming off a double-digit sack season if he had as many snaps as Charlton, in his first year as a WDE.
    • Bryan Mone, who had a series of injury struggles the last two years but flashed his ability on a critical third and short stop against the Buckeyes.

    Those guys are very much in contention for the best line in the conference.

    Probably cornerback? If Michigan gets Clark back that's a veteran who will be of interest to the NFL as a Sherman-type jumbo CB; I thought he was a B+ guy in 2015 and should get better if allowed to return. Surely Michigan can find Lewis 2.0 from the pile of recruits in shiny wrapping paper they've accumulated.

    Don Dang Brown. Brown lived up to the hype and then some. Michigan LBs totaled 43 TFLs as he solved problems with aggression; Michigan is at or near the top of any defensive metric you care to look at. While the copious talent had a lot to do with that, those guys were around last year and Brown still just about halved S&P+'s expected points allowed metric from 13.7 to 7.7.

    While there's going to be some regression, Brown's defenses tend to take a year before kicking in to high gear. Increased familiarity with the system should help mitigate the personnel losses.

    WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017

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    Is Kemp ready to play? Is anyone? [Fuller]

    Defensive line depth. Seven different guys saw 250+ snaps last year, with Bryan Mone getting 117 of his own. Four of those guys are gone. There is a shortage of gentlemen ready to step in. This site constantly says that nose tackle is a spot with two starters. Starter #2 at NT is...?

    DE is probably fine. Between Reuben Jones, Carlo Kemp, Lawrence Marshall, and Ron Johnson Michigan can find a couple guys to spell the starters. The only DT on the roster other than the projected starters is Mike Dwumfour, a middling three star coming off an injury redshirt. Michigan's bringing in a ton of DT types in this recruiting class but even if they get a top guy like Jay Tufele or Aubrey Solomon, relying on a true freshman in the two deep is alarming. Michigan might have no choice but to move Gary to DT.

    Going from Peppers to Not Peppers. The silver lining of his absence almost certainly costing Michigan the Orange Bowl is that I don't have to spend much time explaining why Peppers's departure will be costly. Yes, he tended to go on a ride when he got blocked. Michigan was delighted to take that tradeoff if it meant that you could not outrun Michigan's front seven with Usain Bolt.

    WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY

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    [Eric Upchurch]

    Safety. You know, I'm almost sanguine about safety these days. After a solid decade of safeties topping out at "eh, he hasn't set his head on fire" and frequently dipping into "welp, he set his head on fire again," Michigan's on a run of guys who are actual positives. It is at this moment that we must have maximum vigilance, for this is when Angry Michigan Safety Hating God loves to strike. 

    Michigan clearly likes Kinnel. Unfortunately they have few alternatives; it looks like both Hudson and Metellus are tracking towards hits, but are both of those guys box safeties who you don't want to see in deep coverage? I dunno. Mental issues for a couple of true sophomores could pop up as well.

    Outside linebackering. Bush will probably be at least all right and could verge on good by the end of the season.  SAM/Viper(!!!) could see just about any level of performance and it wouldn't be much of a surprise.

    MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS

    What looks like another excellent starting DL and cornerbacks that should pick up the departed's mantle without too much trouble is a good baseline to work from. And while the unit is going to be young—just three seniors are currently projected in the starting lineup—it isn't going to be troublingly so. The only spots at which freshmen are likely to contend are backup DT and maybe somewhere in the secondary.

    So while they aren't going to be this year's outfit, which was neck and neck with Alabama for the nation's best, neither are they going to drop off to average. Unfortunately, this is not a fully Harbaugh-ized program so there are some sore spots at which one injury could radically reshape the outlook—someone please wrap the DL starters in cotton until fall—so I reserve the right to repeal the prediction if the wrong guy goes down, but this should be a top 15 S&P+ defense and top 20-ish in YPP and the like.

    Florida State 33, Michigan 32

    Florida State 33, Michigan 32

    Submitted by Ace on December 31st, 2016 at 12:43 AM


    Dalvin Cook lived up to his billing. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

    Sometimes you make it a game despite yourself and the human lightning bolt that is Dalvin Cook and then a freshman receiver who looks like a tight end turns a dumb play into a game-swinging kickoff return and a 5'11" guy beats Jourdan Lewis for a touchdown because sure why not and a series of improbable events occur and a laugher turns into a heartbreaker.

    For most of the game, Florida State showed why Michigan is on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. Michigan's offense couldn't overcome a shaky offensive line to put any sort of consistent attack together, mustering only 83 first-half yards. Florida State's couldn't either but for the notable exception of Cook. The future Pro Bowl running back had 141 yards and a score on 16 touches. Nyqwan Murray exploited a busted coverage for a 92-yard touchdown. The rest of the FSU offense had 22 yards on 17 plays. The Seminoles held a 20-6 lead at halftime.

    Neither team did much of anything in the third quarter until Kenny Allen, for seemingly the umpteenth time, backed up FSU deep in their own territory with 1:12 left in the quarter. Facing second-and-ten from his own eight-yard line, quarterback Deondre Francois rolled right to escape pressure and threw a pass directly to Mike McCray, who ended his short trip down the sideline with a dive into the end zone to make it 20-15. Michigan had pulled within a score for the first time since the opening quarter, setting up one of the wildest finishes of this college football season.


    Chris Evans, flying. [Fuller]

    Cook once again pulled the game almost out of reach, breaking a 71-yard run on third-and-22 to set up a three-yard touchdown run by his backup, Jacques Patrick. After the teams traded punts, Wilton Speight capitalized on great field position with a third-and-goal touchdown pass to Khalid Hill. The Wolverines returned to the end zone less than four minutes later, forcing a three-and-out before Chris Evans juke-posterized an FSU safety on a 30-yard touchdown scamper. Before you could say "Captain America," Michigan had taken a 30-27 lead.

    The ensuing kickoff looked as innocuous as could be. FSU freshman Keith Gavin fielded Allen's boot a couple yards deep in the end zone, surveyed the field, and paused. In football, when you pause on a kickoff return, you kneel for a touchback. That is the only play. Except for this play. This play, Gavin belatedly took off despite the protestations of fellow return man Kermit Whitfield, burst through a tackle, and was finally dragged down 66 yards later by Jourdan Lewis.


    The winning touchdown. [Fuller]

    Cook got the Seminoles to the 12-yard line on a screen pass. Two plays later, Murray rose over Lewis to haul in the go-ahead touchdown. As if this game wasn't frantic enough, Michigan blocked the extra point and Josh Metullus, filling in for an injured Jabrill Peppers, brought it all the way back for two points. With 36 seconds left, down a point, Michigan had the opportunity to give this meandering game one final twist.

    Instead, the Seminoles held strong, intercepting a desperation fourth-and-ten heave by Speight forced by instant—perhaps too instant—pressure by DeMarcus Walker.

    It may be coachspeak cliché, but it's true: Florida State made more plays. The better team, at least tonight, won the game. Cook showed Michigan what they lack: an offensive playmaker that makes opponents sigh with relief every time the ball goes elsewhere. That, or an elite quarterback, can overcome a porous offensive line. The Wolverines had neither.

    Maybe next year.

    Pre-Orange Bowl Player Availability 12-20-16

    Pre-Orange Bowl Player Availability 12-20-16

    Submitted by Adam Schnepp on December 21st, 2016 at 2:45 PM

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    [Eric Upchurch]

    Mason Cole

    Obviously we saw a big leap in the running game last year against Florida. Is there something where having more time as an offensive line really helps you fix mistakes or figure out some stuff?

    “Yeah, I think late in the season you forget those fundamentals you focus on so much in camp. You’re focused more on gameplan and stuff, so this is a good time to get back to fundamentals, get back to working on double teams, working on pass protection. Just get back to fundamentals and really clean those up. I think that’s what made last year go so well and hopefully this year, too.”

    For you going forward, do you want to stay at center or are you entertaining other moves?

    “Yeah, I’d like to stay at center but whatever has to happen has to happen.”

    Have you guys not had those conversations yet?

    “No, no, not yet. Just right now it’s all Florida State stuff, so just focused on that.”

    Have you made any progress on your NFL decision? Talked to anyone or had any extra evaluation?

    “No, not yet. Just trying to gather all the information out there. Just gather as much information to make a good decision with Coach Harbaugh and the coaching staff and everyone. Just the more information you have, the better.”

    If someone said a round attached to your name, where would you want to be to make the decision that you’re going to go?

    “I don’t know if there is an exact round. Like I said, just talking with Coach Harbaugh and Coach Drevno and hearing their opinions and just trying to gather as much information as possible so I can make an informed decision.”

    Are you on pace to graduate this spring?

    “No, no, no. I graduate next December.”

    [After THE JUMP: Kenny Allen, Mike McCray, and Matt Godin]

    Ohio State Postgame Presser: Players, Part 2

    Ohio State Postgame Presser: Players, Part 2

    Submitted by Adam Schnepp on November 29th, 2016 at 10:00 AM

    30438074084_fb2e2525eb_z31142627701_715c910b9a_z

    [Eric Upchurch]

    Mike McCray and Chris Wormley

    Chris, what was your view of the spot?

    “Looked like he was short, but I guess the refs saw something different. We have to play through those types of calls, that type of adversity.”

    Through the first three quarters you guys kind of bottled them up. What did they do differently in the fourth quarter?

    CW: “We were just playing lights-out the first three and a half quarters. They got some plays and they have good players. They go to Ohio State, they’ve got good players. If we made a few plays at the end the outcome probably would have been different, but I thought we played pretty well for most of the game.”

    Chris, do you guys still believe that you’re a playoff team?

    “I think so. They’re saying Wisconsin can do that if they win next week and we beat that team. So, there’s probably some things that have to go our way, some people that have to be on our side on the committee or however that works, but we’ve played good football all year. We’re keeping our fingers crossed and we’re excited for whatever happens.”

    With the regular season ending, how do you guys view these last 12 games and the final result today?

    CW: “I think you look back and we had a great run. This is the most fun I’ve ever had playing football, with Mike, the rest of the defense, the offense. I think you look back and you can see what you did poorly, did well, and build off of the things that you did well and take that into the bowl game and prepare for that as best you can.”

    MM: “Like Chris said, had a great season throughout the regular season. Didn’t get the outcome that we wanted--to go to the Big Ten championship--but like he said before, you’ve got to get ready for the bowl game and see what we did right throughout the season, see what we did wrong, and improve on it.”

    [Hit THE JUMP for more]

    No Damn Reason At All

    No Damn Reason At All

    Submitted by Brian on November 28th, 2016 at 1:06 PM

    11/26/2016 – Michigan 27, Ohio State 30 (2OT) – 10-2, 7-2 Big Ten

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    [Eric Upchurch]

    After all that, the thing that sticks with me is something much more prosaic than the various outrages everyone's going on about. It's third and four in the fourth quarter. Ohio State literally triple-covers Jake Butt; Wilton Speight finds Amara Darboh open on a quick slant. The ball is behind Darboh, tough but catchable. Darboh does not catch it. Michigan punts with five minutes and change left on the clock.

    Why did that happen?

    I don't know. Nobody does, but very few people tasked with writing about a thing will tell you that. Everyone else will reach for any explanation of remote plausibility, from an injured shoulder to CHOKING like a CLOWN FRAUD. Whatever, doesn't matter. Just as long as there's a reason a thing occurred, we can go on with our lives.

    I think that happened for no damn reason at all. Yes, if you replaced Speight with Tom Brady that pass was more likely to be accurate. If you replaced him with Tyler O'Connor, less likely. It is still a simple five-yard throw that is amongst the easiest in the quarterback's repertoire. It is within the capabilities of the QB. Speight probably hits 90% of them, especially on a day where he is locked in. The most likely explanation for why he did not hit that one is none at all. The most likely reason Darboh did not catch a tough but catchable pass is none at all.

    There are entire fields of study dedicated to the fallibility of the human brain, which refuses to operate cleanly. (I just put a D into the word "entire" as I was typing that sentence out.) These exist mostly because planes crash into each other and space shuttles explode and not because football happens sometimes, which just goes to show that people have strange priorities.

    --------------------------------------------------

    Speaking of the fallibility of the human brain:

    It is hard to take that sort of thing. Michigan had just gotten a flag on a similar, but less severe, defensive holding incident on the prior Ohio State drive. That ended a Michigan drive that had reached midfield; if called correctly Michigan has first and ten at the Ohio State 40.

    Later in the game the same pattern would repeat. Delano Hill was flagged for pass interference on third and 14 when he unnecessarily grabbed the waist of Curtis Samuel before the ball arrived; the exact same thing happened to Grant Perry on a third down conversion attempt and was ignored. Again, that sets Michigan up with a first down, this one on the ten in the second overtime. Again it was preceded by a call so similar against Michigan it beggars belief that a flag did not come out.

    That's tough to get over. The spot was close enough and chaotic enough that it falls within the realm of the unknowable. An MGoUser who knows what parallax is and went over available evidence with a fine-toothed comb thinks Barrett made it by literally an inch or two. While I thought the spot was wrong I knew they would not overturn it, because they never overturn spots without some sort of egregious his-knee-was-down-ten-yards-ago kind of thing. In isolation that call is, in the cold light of day two days later, too close to have a definitive resolution. If it was wrong it very well could have been an honest mistake.

    It is difficult to interpret either of the above incidents as honest, or a mistake. It's difficult to see a standard-issue Harbaugh blowup get flagged in the Game when we've seen the same thing tolerated all year. It's difficult to believe that Michigan's defensive line hasn't benefited from a holding call since the Illinois game.

    This is the point at which newspapery types come in with the You Had Your Opportunities To Win The Game, an asinine criticism since that's literally true of both teams in every close game ever played. You can believe that Michigan had opportunities to win they did not take and simultaneously believe that the officiating gave you less than a 50/50 shot in a 50/50 game.

    And then you're putting guys out on the field from the state of Ohio who were previously banned from working The Game because of how it might look? What the fuck are you even doing, Big Ten?

    30907158400_e65cb7ecbd_z

    [Patrick Barron]

    What's that? Counting your money? Right. Well done.

    --------------------------------------------

    Michigan lost this game. They did so for many reasons.

    Their mistakes were punished as ruthlessly as possible. A floating ball goes directly to a defender. A fumbled snap is recovered by the defense. Curtis Samuel escapes a huge loss three times and sets up the fourth down that falls within the margin of error.

    They did not take advantage of plays that were there to be made. Speight threw behind Darboh twice; Darboh did not bail him out. Karan Higdon missed a cut on what would have been a huge gain. Smith did not run over a safety prior to the fumble.

    They did not get a fair whistle. See above.

    All that and it came down to a literal inch. A rivalry classic, and an invitation for a bunch of hooting jackals to hoot some more. As for us on the other side, nothing to do but soldier on in the gray light of morning.

    AWARDS

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    there is another [Bryan Fuller]

    Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

    -2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

    #1 Taco Charlton was the most rampant of Michigan's very rampant defensive line, acquiring two and a half sacks and forcing Barrett to move around several other times.

    #2 (tie) Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray shut off the Ohio State edge except on a couple plays where Michigan was successfully out-leveraged pre-snap. It was weird to see neutrals on twitter wondering why anyone would run east-west against The Michigan Defense, but they were, because it didn't work. They picked up 19 tackles between them, two sacks, another TFL, and McCray batted down two passes. McCray also forced a sack when he leapt in the passing lane of a third.

    #3 Kenny Allen bombed all but one of his punts; he mastered the Ron Coluzzi hard right turn; he had just one touchback, that on a punt that still had a 40+ yard net; Curtis Samuel had just one quickly snuffed return opportunity; he hit a couple field goals; none of his kickoffs were returnable.

    Honorable mention: Channing Stribling broke up the only deep shot on the day; OSU decided they were not going to bother with either him or Jourdan Lewis. The rest of the defensive line was terrific all day; the tackles were very good in pass protection against some tough customers. Peppers had a big KOR, an interception, and was also a major part of the edge being closed down.

    KFaTAotW Standings.

    10: Wilton Speight (#1 UCF, #1 Illinois, #3 MSU, #1 Maryland), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #3 Maryland, #2 Iowa, #2 Indiana, #1 OSU).
    9: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers, #2 MSU)
    5: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #1 Iowa).
    4: Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW, #2 Maryland, #3 Indiana), Mike McCray(#1 Hawaii, T2 OSU), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers, T2 OSU).
    3.5: De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU, #1 Indiana).
    3: Amara Darboh(#1 MSU).
    2.5: Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU, #2 Illinois).
    2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW)
    1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU),  Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU),  Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers), Ben Braden (#3 Illinois), Channing Stribling (#3 Iowa), Kenny Allen (#3 OSU).
    0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU).

    Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

    This week's best thing ever.

    It's a goat in a duck costume!

    Honorable mention: is that not sufficient

    WGIBTUs Past.

    Hawaii: Laughter-inducing Peppers punt return.
    UCF: Speight opens his Rex Grossman account.
    Colorado: Peppers cashes it in.
    PSU: Wormley's sack establishes a theme.
    UW: Darboh puts Michigan ahead for good.
    Rutgers: Peppers presses "on".
    Illinois: TRAIN 2.0.
    MSU: lol, two points.
    Maryland: very complicated bomb.
    Iowa: The touchdown.
    Indiana: Smith woodchips Michigan a lead.
    OSU: Goat. Duck costume. Yeah.

    imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

    This week's worst thing ever.

    The Spot.

    Honorable mention: The ensuing play. Speight fumbles the snap; Speight gets hit on the throw and offers up a pick six; Speight throws an INT that is on him; various refereeing malfeasances.

    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.
    Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man.
    Illinois: They scored a what now? On Michigan? A touchdown?
    Michigan State: a terrifying first drive momentarily makes you think you're in the mirror universe.
    Maryland: Edge defense is a confirmed issue.
    Iowa: Kalis hands Iowa a safety.
    Indiana: A legitimate drive.
    OSU: The Spot.

    [After THE JUMP: ~3000 additional words, 43% of which are swears.]