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With limited exceptions Michigan was not inclined to (or able to) force MSU out of their 4-3 over with two safeties at 8-10 yards, and so this happened the whole game. This could have been okay, but it was not okay, but that's what all the stuff below is about.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. O'Korn the whole way at QB. OL was Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Ulizio until just before the half when JBB came in, and remained. No Runyan or Ruiz this time out. TE rotation was fairly even between Bunting, Wheatley, Gentry, and McKeon, but the latter two got the bulk of the at-bats. Wheatley is still mostly a blocking option since he's got a cast on.
WR was DPJ, Crawford, and Perry with a number of McDoom and Ways snaps. Schoenle did not play. Injury, I assume. FB alternated between Hill and Poggi, as per usual, but Mason got maybe a half-dozen snaps.
RB was about half Higdon, half Evans, with Isaac filling out the remaining snaps. Isaac's fumble obviously limited his playing time.
As far as preparation, you’ve been through Michigan State weeks before. Pretty similar?
“Yeah, you know, obviously it’s a rival game. They’re a great team, great program. You’re really focused on improving you as you go through the season so the best version of who we are shows up on Saturday. Guys have been focused and working hard.”
You look at Zach Gentry and how has he developed into a great tight end, what’s it like coaching him?
“Like anything else, you want to see players develop and attack his problems and then not only attack it but bottle up and continue to do the things he’s doing well. Zach’s been really focused, been working really hard, came off a very good summer, has started a way that we felt good and so we’re going to see how it goes the rest of the way and if he continues that journey.”
MGoQuestion: What stands out to you on film about Michigan State’s defensive line?
“Oh, very good. Active. There’s a mold to what they develop and what they do and these guys certainly fit. They’re strong inside, fast on the outside. It’s a tough, great scheme. Ranked very highly and so that stands out the most.”
Where did your tackles improve during the improvement week? What did you guys work on?
“Really the biggest thing as we went with the front, the offensive line and the tight ends, is continuing to identify potential issues. These are great coaches that we face week in and week out in the best football conference in America and so they dissect you. Whether it be a stance or leaning here or slow hands or whatever it may be and so what we try to do is identify some of those things and correct them, and if they don’t need to be corrected just continue doing them.
“But really just focusing on each individual and the role they play and how they do it and seeing if we can tweak something here, get a little more efficient there, maybe take a false step out, something like that and that’s what we’re looking for as we move through improvement week, watching film, getting ready for the game.”
[After THE JUMP: Growing Pains (non-sitcom edition)]
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FORMATION NOTES. Nothing particularly unusual except for one tackle over play that was a waggle pass to Poggi. Purdue alternated between a 3-4 and 4-3 front but was also not weird in any significant way.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. OL was standard save for a healthy number of Runyan snaps at right guard; after the game Harbaugh said those were more about Onwenu's endurance than his performance. Speight got the first three drives and was knocked out before the fourth, whereupon O'Korn came in. Brandon Peters got the final, uncharted drive.
Isaac was limited with a ding sustained late in the Air Force game, so Higdon got a plurality of the work until his fumble. Evans got most of the carries after that. Kareem Walker saw his first live action late. Fullbacks were the usual rotation between the seniors with one snap for Mason.
With Black out it was Nate Schoenle and Grant Perry who got most of the additional snaps. Perry played both inside and out in this game; DPJ got his fair share but didn't get targeted as much as many folks want. Crawford was still the most-heavily deployed WR. TE saw McKeon and Gentry get almost all of the targets and a clear edge in snaps. For Ty Wheatley that means he's playing with a cast on his hand; for Ian Bunting that is bad news. Eubanks got scattered snaps as well.
[After THE JUMP: my kingdom for an offensive line.]
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FORMATION NOTES. Air Force runs a 3-4, but it's not like that. Whereas your conventional 3-4 has big guys who two-gap, Air Force has little guys. It's a one-gap 3-4, if you will.
The NT almost always shaded between the C and G in a one tech, with four linebackers in the traditional 3-4 umbrella. Sometimes head up with the same umbrella, and check those safeties on first and freakin' ten:
Now, there are a ton of very obvious ways in which this is not at all the 3-3-5 stack Michigan runs. Air Force doesn't stack their linebackers, for one. They rarely insert an OLB between their DEs as anything other than a twist blitz; Michigan is constantly making Furbush an extra DL. AF just about always shaded their NT instead of running a zero-tech, and they had a clear weakside and strongside end, with the strongside end basically a DT. Michigan's DEs have run identical techniques for the duration of the season. Also there is not a withdrawn MLB like Bush; instead two ILBs.
These are the ways in which Michigan's defense is not at all like Air Force's, which is a one-gap 3-4.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. The regular at QB and OL. Onwenu got pulled for the last three plays of the final drive, with Runyan coming in. Isaac was the starting RB and got the bulk of the work; Evans was pulled after his fumble until late, when Isaac went out with a minor injury. Mason one snap at FB, with the seniors going the rest of the way.
WR was Black, Crawford, and DPJ outside with cameos from Schoenle on running plays. That's getting into a major play tip zone, though Black's injury might change that. Perry got most of the run in the slot; McDoom had maybe a dozen snaps, and not all were jet stuff.
Tight end was the usual rotation of everyone, minus Wheatley. He had a ding that held him out. Also I might not have seen Eubanks? I don't think I saw Eubanks. Bunting is losing ground, BTW, to McKeon and Gentry.
Some of the defensive players were saying that Joe Hewlett was really helping out with the scout team in emulating Air Force’s offense. Have you seen that as well?
“Yeah, I’ve been busy with the offense. I really haven’t paid much attention to the defense, but I know that Joe Hewlett’s in there.”
Have you ever run a triple option at any stop in your career?
“Uh…no. I’ve kind of messed with it here and there.”
What does that mean?
“I’ve put in some different plays but never saturate yourself into it, so I don’t know the ins and outs of it. You try to maybe put a play in here or there in the form of a triple option but not live in it, no.”
What have you seen from Air Force’s defense?
“Great question. Very fast, well disciplined. They play an odd scheme. They love the pressure. They’re very good tacklers in the back end. Play extremely hard. Just technically sound. They know how to get off blocks, know how to pass rush. Secondary’s very good at reading route concepts, know how to break on the ball. They’re very well coached. They do a great job at Air Force.”
Do you think Jon Runyan’s a better fit at guard? He was in the mix at tackle and then seems like he’s coming in a little bit—
“Yeah, Jon’s a very athletic guy. He could play all five positions. It’s just right now he could be a guard, he could be a tackle, but he does a good job just initial quickness off the ball, with his hand placement, really athletic, feet move well, when something moves he can cover it up. Jon’s doing a nice job and progressing well.”
[After THE JUMP: correcting little mistakes, O-line development, and Grant Newsome as coach/president. Oh, and what it means to be human]
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FORMATION NOTES: Michigan didn't do anything weird except for a fake-out Emory And Henry on the first snap they never returned to.
Cincinnati mostly played a 4-3 under, sometimes with a standup end.
Line slid away from the strength of the formation, WDE stands up, SAM type substance. They played a lot like a 3-4, with three big DL and the linebacker type guy, even if they didn't have a guy lining up head up on the C:
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL and QB remained the same. No Runyan run-out this week. Cesar Ruiz got one snap as a super jumbo TE. Isaac was the primary back with Evans and Higdon getting maybe a quarter of the snaps each.
Crawford and Perry were the top receivers in snaps garnered with Black and DPJ splitting the other outside WR snaps. McDoom had some limited time; Nate Schoenle got maybe ten snaps, none of which he was targeted on. TE remained a blender, with McKeon, Wheatley, and Gentry most prominent.
[After THE JUMP: absolutely no discussion of the QB situation, sorry]
There is always a tipping point when something that probably won't happen becomes something that probably will happen. Sometimes this is nice, like when the entire NFL swears up and down that Jim Harbaugh wouldn't go back to Ann Arbor for love or money. Sometimes it is not nice.
If we aren't already at the tipping point where "Wilton Speight makes a lot of critical mistakes" is a reasonable, seemingly immutable theory, surely we are approaching it.
The weird thing is the way these critical mistakes are loosed into the world. Anybody can throw several passes into defenders' facemasks. Killing your team with a blizzard of boggling interceptions is almost common in college football, where injuries and the vagaries of rostering regularly see peach-fuzzed high schoolers thrown into a tank of piranhas. Sometimes people transfer from Tulane and are expected to stop throwing interceptions, for reasons unknown. Also apparently the NFL has this issue. Twitter informs me Scott Tolzien—yes, that guy—started a game this weekend. Twitter hastens to note that things did not go well. The hopelessly overmatched panic machine quarterback is so common it's a football trope.
Speight, on the other hand, has an air of cool control up until the moment he wings a pass so high that Donovan Peoples-Jones correctly decides his best bet is to spike it, or he turns around to hand air to his running back, or he does that again for the second time in one dang game. He does not seem overwhelmed. He hasn't thrown into coverage except on rare, understandable occasions*. He's yelling at his peach-fuzzed skill player crew about where to line up regularly. He makes a bunch of checks at the line. He is a man in command.
The very bad events are adding up. Everyone misses guys or makes bad reads or eats a sack on occasion. Speight's bad has been explosively bad, and maximally punished. Thus this column, which is lot like 2015's Jake Rudock is going to kill us column.
Rudock, of course, did not kill Michigan. He turned into a fine college player and Matt Stafford caddy, and even now it's not too hard to see Speight getting it together. His issues are fairly simple to correct; they jumped out at me, a layman, on a re-watch and Speight confirmed it in the postgame press conference:
“What it comes down to is, when there's something going on in my face – when I avoid the pressure – I've got to keep my base. Coach Pep is big on keeping my base. Staying loaded. And sometimes when I move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet and it causes the ball to sail or go a little low."
Speight was leaning back a bunch in this game and the resulting throws were high. Nick Baumgardner with a preview of what UFR is going to say:
Also he's dorfing handoffs because he's not listening to Harbaugh. Two seemingly simple fixes yet to make it to the field in year four. This cuts both ways: if Speight can fix his lingering issues Michigan has that commanding guy when he throws straight and does not fumble exchanges, and that seems pretty good.
deep shot hit rate: muchly [Bryan Fuller]
There are very good reasons that Speight is keeping his competition stapled to the bench, and it's that upside. Nobody else on the roster is going to walk on the field and know where everyone else has to be, a critical skill given the average age of Michigan's offense. Nobody else is going to have all the checks in his head, or the pocket presence.
The things Wilton Speight needs to fix are fixable in a timespan of weeks. John O'Korn and Brandon Peters do not have flaws (presence and youth, respectively) nearly as tractable, and so Michigan is going to ride with Speight and hope like hell these blips are just that, and not a pattern that will clobber a promising season like it did in Iowa City last year.
Until further notice, all dropbacks will be evaluated with a jaundiced eye and glance towards Columbus. Welcome to the John Navarre zone.
*[In this game he tried a deep shot to a bracketed Peoples-Jones because there were only two guys in the route and both were covered and what else was he going to do, which is fine.]
Inside Michigan Football:
mobile man mauls Mouhon [Fuller]
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Mason Cole. This is a bit of a guess but OL never get the proper amount of respect in this section because I haven't gone over things with a fine-toothed comb yet. Cole helped Michigan bust a lot of crack sweeps, and while Isaac got the yardage on the long one it was Cole's ability to ID the force defender, declare him harmless, and go wreck a safety that sprung the play. He gave up nothing in pass protection, as well.
#2(t) Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, and Tyree Kinnel. Michigan's bushel of short fast dudes on defense terrorized the Cincinnati backfield, collecting all of Michigan's sacks on the day. Each also had their moments in the ground game as well; Kinnel in particular had a couple of critical tackles. Oh, and a pick six. (That was a bit of a gift, yes.) I'm rounding up and giving each gent a point. The points are made up and don't matter, people!
#3 Ty Isaac. Isaac was Michigan's best back again, slaloming through waves of opponent players. He alternated bounces with interior runs that kept UC off guard and used his size and speed combination to excellent effect.
Honorable mention: Winovich, Hurst, and Gary were all effective in bursts. Brandon Watson was in the back pocket of many a wide receiver. Grant Perry was efficient, explosive, and dangit that third down was a catch. Zach Gentry had a couple of key receptions.
Honorable mention: This week the good section gets to talk about Pick Six #1 and Pick Six #2. You will like them better here, I imagine. Also: Ty Isaac rips a long one off down the sideline, Speight hits Kekoa Crawford with a bomb; Rashan Gary hulks up after nearly getting ejected and gets the crowd hyped.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Speight's second dorfed exchange ends a promising drive for Michigan and causes even the aggressively reasonable to think this guy has a long term issue.
Honorable mention: Cincinnati rips off a long touchdown drive to start the third quarter and create a period of squeaky bum time; Donovan Peoples-Jones turns out to be Not Jabrill Peppers on punt returns; various Speight overthrows; that one play where both guards pulled in opposite directions.
First Evans last week, now Isaac today. How big is it for you guys to gain more depth at the running back position with all the guys you lost from last season?
“I thought Ty had a heck of a game. Career high for him and he keeps ascending, so feel good. Fullbacks are doing a nice job. I think most of our veteran players are playing good and kind of the theme is we’ve got to get experience. We’ve got to get experience playing. It’s guys’ first time playing here in the Big House, first time going through a week of school, and got to be patient. We’re going to coach ‘em up and long road ahead but can’t get experience without playing, so that’s kind of the theme.”
If you could talk about two plays: the first one the 36-yard reception by Zach Gentry that kind of got things going for the offense and then the decision to go for it on fourth-and-eight.
“Yeah, that was a nice job by Zach. Wilt threw a good ball on the crossing route. Yeah, we needed that to flip some field position where we had a couple previous punts, so that was good.
“The decision to go for it on fourth-and-eight, we were around the 33-yard line, would have been a 50-yard, 51-yard field goal. Punting it could have gained you only eight yards, so decided to take the chance there. I think, I believe—who made that catch? Was it Grant? Kekoa.
“There was a lot of good. There was a lot of good and a lot of times where the screen’s going a little fuzzy and we’re not doing our assignments. Then the fumbles, those hurt. And the ball handling. We’ll just keep going. Wins are tough to come by and we’re glad to have this one.”
Started strong in terms of the score and the final score was lopsided but what happened in between to maybe make it closer than expected?
“You saw the game.”
[After THE JUMP: “I’m dead in here. It’s like burnt wood in terms of nervousness and butterflies and emotions that way.”]
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FORMATION NOTES: uh i forgot to take clips just a sec
There wasn't anything too weird except a few tackle over plays. There was an increase in WR snaps. Michigan averaged 2.1 WRs, 1.4 TEs, and 1.5 RBs per snap. Before the 22-personnel heavy fourth quarter Michigan had 2.3 WRs per snap.
PERSONNEL NOTES: QB was Speight with those two O'Korn drives. RB was Evans primarily, then Isaac, then Higdon, and that's it. FB seemed about evenly split between Poggi and Hill.
OL was Cole-Bredeson-Kugler-Onwenu-Ulizio the whole way except for one brief drive where Runyan replaced Onwenu.
WR was fairly diverse. Black, Crawford, and Perry led the way. DPJ, Ways, and McDoom got scattered snaps behind the starters. TE seemed split almost evenly between McKeon, Wheatley, Bunting, Gentry, and Eubanks. Those snaps are probably in descending order.
They didn’t have players take the podium today, so instead I took a little bit of audio from the different scrums around the Towsley Museum and transcribed it for you, dear reader. If you’re wondering why other sites might have certain quotes not seen here or vice versa, keep in mind that I have one recorder and one me to gather audio.
I jumped in the scrum late but the question seems pretty obvious.
“Who’s the hardest hitter? Chase thinks he’s the biggest hitter, Josh [Metellus] thinks he’s the biggest hitter, I think I’m the biggest hitter. We always have that argument but as long as we’re all getting there at the same time and laying the big hit then it should be fine.”
Do you feel like you did well?
“I felt like I was communicating well with my teammates. I felt I did good. I felt like I got to the ball pretty fast and [was] making all my checks.”
Totally comfortable now guiding all the younger guys back there?
“Yeah, I did feel comfortable. We were all talking after the game about the game and the coaches work us so hard in practice we were like, ‘Man, this is pretty easy.’ Because of the way they work us in practice, we felt really good.”
Did Josh Metellus play well Saturday?
“He did everything well. He was talking to me the whole time. He was making checks as I was making checks. He covered a lot. He covered a lot more than me just because of their offense and I feel like he covered really well. He was on the tight end; there was one time he was covering a receiver and the quarterback checked down and ran it and he got off the block and forced that fumble; that was a good play by him. Any time you come out of coverage and make a tackle like that is good.”
You mentioned speed quite a bit. Has there been more of an emphasis on that this year, on being faster than last year?
“I don’t think they really coach the speed, I think that’s just naturally how we are. I think they want us running for the ball but speed-wise, I think that’s just all of us as a group together trying to get to the ball as fast as we can.”
[After THE JUMP: Nolan Ulizio and Lawrence Marshall]