Preview 2012: Wrap

Preview 2012: Wrap Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2012 at 4:31 PM


Eric assembles his OSU photos into a mosaic.

Hey! I'm tired. You may have missed some stuff in the annual "oh God it's the week before the season and I promised myself I wouldn't do this again" content blitz, so here it is again with extremely brief summaries attached:

rich_2520uncle_2520hoke_JPG_medium[2]THE STORY

Brady Hoke is the Real William Carlos Williams.



Running back: like a slavering pack of robot velociraptors, but fast!

Wide receiver: see "Quarterback"

Offensive line: bubble wrap these mofos

Questions and answers: SHOTGUN, fusion, Gardnecieving, short yardage


Defensive line: just take it easy, man

Linebackers: calmer than you are

Safety: calmer than you are

Question and answers: fumbles, short yardage, fire zones, and yes the DL.


Podcast: can someone tell me if the new "generic podcast feed" is working for them?

Special teams: meh? I love meh!

Heuristics and the official prediction: 9-3, man, 9-3.


Ace draws the official game preview: predicts 31-20. Official MGoBrian prediction: Alabama, 22-15.

Ace FFFFs those bastards.


Brabbs on the ten year anniversary of Washington 2002.

The Daily has a great three-parter on the 2000 Orange Bowl. The feature is an oral history:

David Terrell, sophomore receiver: “It was the scariest night of my life.”

“Y2K, man. You had everyone go out and get canned goods, bottled water. I didn’t even know the world was going to be here in the morning when I got up.”

Also they dig up their game column and talk Henson-Brady.

Matt Hinton has an Xs-and-Os post on Alabama versus running quarterbacks and Denard versus OSU that's worth your time.

Orson Swindle season kickoff post go.

Orson Swindle season kickoff post go.

Orson Swindle season kickoff post go.


Dallas? A Michigan Man's curiosity is like the noble albatross: ever soaring and observant, encompassing all without soiling its feet with the filthy soil of strange atolls--GADZOOKS I have stepped in expectorated tobacco remnants. LET US END THIS TOUR WITH HASTE AND RETURN TO OUR PULLMAN CARS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.

Hype video:


Michigan will be Michigan again when Brady Hoke's recruiting comes home to roost, and that will be excellent since this version of Michigan seems like it wants to take advantage of the opportunities presented it. It's still not quite there. The lines are thin and the future NFL stars are hard to find. The shotgun rules and the quarterback can make you laugh just because he moves like so.

In the lull here we can pause and savor things. We have a moment to not have those crushing expectations, to look down and think Michigan can't do it but hope they can, hope they can write themselves into lore as champions.

Here between the trough and the peak there will be a moment in which "can't" becomes "did." Maybe tomorrow.



Go Blue.


Heuristics And Stupid Prediction

Heuristics And Stupid Prediction Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, Qs on D, Qs on O.


Turnover Margin


The theory of turnover margin: it is pretty random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.

Year Margin Int + Fumb + Sacks + Int - Fumb - Sacks -
2007 0.15 (41st) 14 15 2.46(33rd) 14 13 2.17 (67th)
2008 -.83 (104th) 9 11 2.42(33rd) 12 18 1.83 (57th)
2009 -1.00 (115th) 11 5 1.83(68th) 15 13 2.33 (83rd)
2010 -0.77(109th) 12 7 1.38(98th) 15 14 0.85(10th)
2011 +0.54 (25th) 9 20 2.31 (29th) 16 6 1.38 (33rd)

I know you've heard it, so briefly: Michigan's recovered fumbles at a 75% rate and this is unsustainable. Move that to 50% and Michigan drops quite a bit, but does stay at or around zero for the year, which is a massive positive. How Michigan got there for reasons other than fumble recovery rate:

  • dumping a bunch of carries on a to-date fumble-free Fitz Toussaint,
  • coaching Denard to be more responsible with the ball when he's running, and
  • getting a lot more pressure on opposing QBs.

None of those things should change. Michigan may not have much four-on-four pass rush but that didn't prevent Mattison from blitzing up a top-30 sack rate last year. Denard should also throw many fewer interceptions. He's a senior, he's in a second year in the offense, and Borges will have a better grasp on what leads to trouble. That should offset the fumble recovery rate regression and keep Michigan in a comfortable range near or slightly above  zero.

Or, of course, it may do the exact opposite of all these things.

Position Switch Starters

Jibreel Black Ohio State v Michigan 8THB4vo8SwAl[1]

Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.

There are a number of varying severity.

Here's a dossier:

  • LG Michael Schofield moves to RT, which is actually undoing a position switch from last year. Fret level: none.
  • LG Ricky Barnum moves to center, where he's reportedly doing well. Snapping is another burden, I guess, but fret level: minimal.
  • QB Devin Gardner moves to WR, is still sort of a QB, and may be a QB again next year. Fret level: high. It could be that Gardner is undeniable at WR. It could be that Michigan is flailing for options.
  • WDE Craig Roh moves to SDE. Fret level: minimal. Given last year, Roh's probably a better fit at the 5 anyway.
  • WDE Jibreel Black moves to three-tech, moves back, may move back inside at points. Fret level: severe.
  • SAM Brennen Beyer moves to WDE. Fret level: none. Beyer was supposed to be a WDE from the start, is now 252.

Concerns at WR and DL. Surprise!

An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt

Worst Case

Again, there's no bottom if certain critical contributors implode. Assuming disastrous injuries do not occur at QB and OT…

Denard chews up low-level defenses; combine that with a back seven not giving up cheap points and it's hard to see a threat from Air Force, UMass, Purdue, Northwestern, or Minnesota. None of those teams have defenses that will be able to slow down Denard enough, if at all.

The second tier of should-win games is small, though: Illinois and Iowa are the only other games it seems like they absolutely should win, and Iowa was a loss last year. Even in a dark world where things go all wrong, they'd take one of those two and probably swing another game from the Bama/ND/Nebraska/OSU group to get to 7-5.

Best Case

Michigan's going to implode in one game this year for reasons yet undetermined and must prove that it can teach its center to put his head up before he snaps the ball against MSU, but there isn't a game on the schedule other than the first one that seems like a true longshot. It's asking a but much of them to go to ND, Nebraska, and OSU and win 'em all, though. 10-2 is the reasonable ceiling.

Final Verdict

The defense will be fine, even if turnovers decrease. The line will be a surprise to the positive. By the end of the year we are all convinced that Michigan's DL coaching can turn virtually anyone into a serviceable player.

There's a lot of bend-don't-break on D as Mattison struggles to find a pass rush against teams with veteran lines that can pick up his blitzes and Kovacs and Gordon hew down dudes at the first down marker. This is generally effective. The defense is far from dominant but steady and not prone to doing stupid things to itself. Morgan and Demens both improve noticeably, Washington and Campbell hold up okay, and a lot of tackles shift from the DL to the LBs.

On offense, Borges + Denard will still be a problem as those two jigsaw puzzles aren't ever going to mesh smoothly, but there isn't much dropoff at the skill positions if Devin Gardner lives up to even half the hype—for all our hand-wringing, Hemingway had 34 catches last year. Having Toussaint firmly in the driver's seat will help RB productivity, and as a whole the line should be better than it was a year ago now that the guards know how to pull and the right tackle is a high-level performer.

TE remains an issue. Denard getting year two in the new system should easily overwhelm that. His numbers will improve, most obviously in the INT category, and there won't be more than one clunker this time around.

We're gonna die tomorrow, but whatever.

9/1 @ Alabama Loss
9/8 Air Force Must win
9/15 UMass Must win
9/22 @ ND Lean to win
10/6 @ Purdue Must win
10/13 Illinois Lean to win
10/20 MSU Lean to loss
10/27 @ Nebraska Lean to win
11/3 @ Minnesota Must win
11/10 Northwestern Must win
11/17 Iowa Lean to win
11/24 @ Akron State Lean to loss

Wisconsin, Penn State, Indiana

Add it up and you get 9-3. Not a bold prediction this time around, I know.


Preview 2012: Five Questions On Offense

Preview 2012: Five Questions On Offense Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary, Qs on D.

1. We're clear about this shotgun thing, right?


The number one question about last year's offense was how much it would play to Denard's strengths and how much it would settle into Borges's comfort zone. The answer was mostly the former. While the first real test against Notre Dame was a rocky one and Michigan's under-center experiment against Iowa—against a Hawkeye defense that had just been plowed for a game-winning touchdown by Minnesota—was an outright disaster, those were outliers in a season that saw Michigan hardly budge from its shotgun-oriented ways under Rodriguez. The Sugar Bowl was a big fat raspberry at the end of things, granted.

What they ran from the shotgun was a lot different, but when it came down to the most important game in Brady Hoke's career to date—Ohio State—Michigan's primary gambit was the single most prominent spread play in the game today: the inverted veer, which marries power blocking to spread principles and gets you a lot of carries where Denard is charging hard upfield. The result was 170 rushing yards, a 167 yard, 14/17, 3 TD, 0 INT day passing, and 40 points against Oho State.

That seemed to work pretty well, right?

This blog tracked Michigan's success in various formations all year, and it wasn't even a debate except when the opposing defense was entirely theoretical (think EMU). Against mediocre defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Against good defenses, the shotgun was far superior. Various examples:

  • Michigan averaged 10.6 YPC from the gun against WMU, 6.8 from under center. (Note that all these numbers excise goal line and short yardage carries as distorting.)
  • It was 7.5 gun, 2.3 under center against ND.
  • It was 6.4 gun, 3.4 I, 2.3 ace against Iowa.
  • It was 5.8 gun, 3.9 under center against Illinois, and before two garbage-time runs from Toussaint Michigan had –1 yards on 8 carries from under center. The blocking on those wasn't even good: "On the first he cut to the backside of the play on a power, which rarely goes well; on the second he had to dodge three tacklers on the backfield on an iso and bounce all the way to the sideline before finding open grass."

You get the idea. For the season Michigan averaged 3.9 YPC from the I and 6.7 from the gun. While ace (not that Ace) actually bested the gun's performance at 7.4 YPC, less than ten percent of Michigan's snaps were from that formation and they were heavily biased against good Ds—no ace snaps against ND or MSU, big chunks against Purdue and Iowa. One 59-yard Fitz run against Purdue explains most of that number, and that was some pretty inexcusable D combined with Fitz being awesome.

When the I worked it was usually due to opponents screwing up


Three defenders to the left of center vs four blockers plus a FB = 8 yards

…or the tailback making chicken salad out of chicken despair, as in the clips from the Illinois game above.


SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUN SHOTGUNNNNNNNNN. Consider the line: Lewan, Mealer/Kalis, Barnum, Omameh, Schofield—all Rodriguez recruits who can move save the LG. Consider the QB: Denard. Consider the RB: Fitz Toussaint, space jitterbug. Consider the TEs: 404 file not found. Consider the FB: Stephen Hopkins, a guy who can reprise some of the MINOR RAGE if attention is drawn away from him and he's free to run straight at one guy. You've even got leftover RR slots in the WR corps. Just let it ride, man.

Next year is the year you flip over to your multiple pro-style whipsaw offense, next year when Denard is gone and maybe Toussaint heads for the draft and Kalis/Miller/Bryant is your road-grading interior OL and you've got TE depth and a panoply of different rushers for different situations. This year, stick with it and refine what works.

The spring game, which was almost all RR-at-WVU déjà vu 3WR 2RB shotgun set, indicates that's what the coaching staff thinks, too, as does the buzz I've gotten from The Fort. Now about using it a little more smoothly.

[after the JUMP: Borges fusion cuisine, yet more on DG at WR, stupid predictions.]


Preview 2012: Five Questions On Defense

Preview 2012: Five Questions On Defense Comment Count

Brian August 31st, 2012 at 10:19 AM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary.

1. Is the defensive line going to survive?


Son of a bitch. I told you not to ask that. I don't know, man. I don't know.

On the face of things it's not completely dire. Michigan starts two seniors and two juniors. They're big. The backups aren't freshmen, for the most part, and when Michigan's in the nickel package they'll lift the dodgiest parts of the line for what promises to be a stunting, slanting, pressuring Ryan-Roh-Black-Beyer/Clark group. The starters are all touted recruits save Black. Meanwhile, Michigan has three DL coaches and coached Will Heininger up like whoah last year. BONUS: If you squint it kind of looks like "QWash" looks like "quash."

They're unproven, and the lack of playing time last year is a cautionary note. Defensive linemen rotate, and rotate a lot if their coaches have faith in them. Washington hardly existed last year. Campbell did, though, and to a lesser extent so did Black.

A potential problem is the swing in strategy Michigan has to undertake as they transition away from the best penetrating nose tackle at Michigan since NTs ballooned into the 300 pound range. Quinton Washington may turn out all right; he's not going to be Mike Martin. This means the linebackers have to take big steps forward, beat guys who are (hopefully) releasing late after Washington and Campbell shove them back, and fill impeccably. The linebackers' jobs should actually get easier since Michigan has a pair of guys who can demand doubles (hypothetically); they'll have to make a quantum leap in consistency if the rushing defense is going to tread water.

Add to that a non-nickel line that looks like it's not going to get anywhere near the quarterback and you've got a recipe for frustration, or at least a lot of bending as Kovacs and company make tackles to extend drives and the front four tries to put opponents in passing downs.

Verdict: meh, but no worse.

[After jump: more defense, more Mattison, more PANIC?]


Preview 2012: Special Teams

Preview 2012: Special Teams Comment Count

Brian August 30th, 2012 at 2:17 PM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers, secondary.


Rating: 3

There was no greater example of Brady Hoke's ability to manufacture something out of nothing using only smirks, confidence, and home remedies from back at Yellowstone than the one-year transformation wrought in kicker Brendan Gibbons. When last we saw Gibbons, he was doing this and I was captioning like this:



Hoke put CONFIDENCE in his BRAIN in a VAN DOWN BY THE RIVER, and brunette girls did the rest.


A year after going one of five and doinking an extra point, Gibbons hit 13 of 17 field goals and won the Sugar Bowl. His leg wasn't severely tested and it seemed like Michigan was going out of its way to avoid long field goals, but long field goals are for saps anyway.

In 2012 Gibbons should produce the same steady Garrett-Rivas-like production, pounding him a bunch of field goals under 40 yards and not taking many longer ones.



Rating: unfathomable, or bad and then 3


After being suspended for five of his last six games, Will Hagerup returned against Minnesota and proceeded to thunder two punts off his leg for 75 yards each. Wait. That's not an average. 37.5 yards each. Against MSU two weeks later he pounded seven punts for… 31.8 yards each. In the Ohio State game he immortalized himself with a now very funny but still-not-too-good-for-his-job-prospects GIF:


After Hagerup shanked two Sugar Bowl punts for an average of 25 yards, Michigan finally had enough, inserting freshman Matt Wile for the remainder of the game. Season total: 29 punts for 36 yards each and one muff-induced torrent of profanity from section 44, row 16. Brendan Gibbons 2010 == Will Hagerup 2011.

Despite all that, Hoke announced he'd won the starting job a few days ago. Hopefully Hoke has executed the same sort of mind-meld with Hagerup that he did with Gibbons last year. Early signs to keep an eye out for:

  • expressing preference for redheads
  • or starting to look like Spuds McKenzie
  • or starting to look like Lynyrd Skynrd
  • or kicking the everloving hamburglar out of the ball

A return to Hagerup's freshman year performance—second only to Zoltan The Inconceivable for best all-time at M—would be worth almost eight yards a kick, and Hagerup has upside even beyond that, as a 72-yard bomb against Purdue would attest if New York copyright nazis acknowledged fair use.

Reaching that is a matter of recovering his freshman chi. That's unpredictable. Think of the Gibbons.

If Hagerup doesn't Michigan will be okay. Sophomore Matt Wile's 17 punts a year ago averaged 42 yards each. He's got a big leg—he also handled kickoffs—and was an Army AA kicker and all that. The bottom here is average.

Kickoffs and Return Units

Rating: 3


Norfleet, Wile

We'll start with the kickoffs since it's uncertain how much they'll matter. The Mathlete predicts that half of all kickoffs will now be touchbacks, and I think it may be even higher as coaches decide on the safe start at the 25 over a small shot at something better.

This may be good for Michigan in the short term. They were terrible at kick returns last year, averaging just 18.4 yards an attempt. That was good for 117th. That's not a huge surprise when your top two returners were Martavious Odoms and Vincent Smith, who no one will confuse with top-end athletes. Odoms is gone now and Smith seems to have lost the job to Dennis Norfleet, who is Smith except quicker than neutrinos, and Josh Furman, who is probably the fastest guy on the team not named Denard. Furman might not have much wiggle but he can fly. Michigan should improve here, for as much as it matters.

When kicking off Michigan was average a year ago and figures to be again.


Hoke also worked his juju with Jeremy Gallon, who went from this

Jeremy Gallon special teams error limit: determined. It is ten billion. I'm obviously on the tolerant side of the scale when it comes to coaching errors (outside of obvious game theory errors, about which I have an Al Qaeda level of zealotry) but JESUS GOD RICH RODRIGUEZ WHY DID YOU LET JEREMY GALLON RETURN KICKS AND PUNTS FOR TEN GAMES.

…to a solid, error-free returner. Michigan got punt returns up to 53rd nationally (9 yards each) and last season is notably free of ALL CAPS moaning about fumbles and punts left unfielded. I'm vaguely hoping we see a second guy back there, probably Dileo, against teams that go to the rugby style spread punt, but am not banking on it. This, too, should be a blank.

There is some possibility that having a dedicated special teams coach will let Michigan block some stuff or get creative on a return or finally go to the max gunner style most teams are running these days, and not HOLDING ON TO THE DAMN BALL is a constant threat. The likeliest outcome is meh all around, which fine.


Preview 2012: Secondary

Preview 2012: Secondary Comment Count

Brian August 30th, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line, linebackers.

Remember this?


I don't either. See Brady Hoke's century-long tenure. What do you mean I posted it Monday? Get out of town.

This been all banners and Never Forget and all that business for a long time. Michigan's secondary woes didn't start with Rich Rodriguez, who merely carved out a crevasse of hopeless abyssal despair previously unknown to man from a moderately deep trench of hopeless abyssal despair. The secondary has not been good for a long, long time.

But it was last year. I'm about to put up the "coverage" metric the blog tracks. Points are awarded for DBs close enough to receivers to make a play on the ball (even if the ball is caught) and subtracted when guys are open enough to get YAC or easily convert first downs on third and medium situations. If you're batting .500 here you're doing pretty well. Drum roll:

# Opponent + - T Notes
1 WMU 6 11 -5 A lot of this was Herron, frankly.
2 ND 17 18 -1 Good deep in press man.
3 EMU 9 1 8 Ignore
4 SDSU 25 19 6 Flabbergasting.
5 MINN 10 5 5 Tony Gibson –6.02 x 10^23
6 NW 13 15 -2 Not bad. Some issues getting RPSed.
7 MSU 9 12 -3 That's not too bad against a senior QB.
8 Purdue 11 6 5 Excellent number given the ratio.
9 Iowa 11 14 -3 Good recovery after weak start.
10 Illinois 30 12 18 HAHAHAHA.
11 Nebraska 17 6 13 NUTS
12 OSU 11 30 -19 Not so much.

The OSU number stands out as the only truly bad day of the year not easily explained away by a linebacker who hit the bench after the game in question. That was not entirely on the secondary. Greg Mattison NFLed himself, changing up Michigan's scheme and putting his charges in positions that were untenable or close to it. Even so Michigan's pass efficiency defense rocketed from 103rd to 36th in a single year.





Rating: 4.


Boundary Corner Yr. Field Corner Yr. Nickelback Yr.
JT Floyd Sr.* Blake Countess So. Courtney Avery Jr.
Raymon Taylor So. Terry Richardson Fr. Delonte Hollowell So.

I know. I know. This ish be cray. I have no idea what that means. I saw Ace tweet it at some point and thought about crayfish probably.

jumps out
step for step
all over this dude
beats Jenkins block
back shoulder'd
the oh shiiiiiii

Michigan returns their top three corners from a year ago, all of whom were pretty good. The depth has been whittled down by the departures of Terry Talbott and Tamani Carter, but they've got a couple sophomores and a touted freshman and should be okay unless they get a flood of injuries. Give them a year and it'll be time to forget Never Forget.

JT Floyd is the headliner in so many ways. After the Penn State game pictured above I said he'd run "three of the worst coverages I've ever seen," and time has done nothing to change that opinion. He got yanked after that game; his last two games UFRed in 2010 were a –8.5 against Iowa ("oh my God the slants") and the –9 against PSU ("awful, awful, awful"). Everyone was openly petrified that he would play; this space predicted Courtney Avery would start and Countess would usurp Floyd's spot posthaste. Instead Countess usurped Avery's spot and Floyd developed into a pretty good Big Ten corner.

I know!

The highlight was his game-sealing interception against AJ Jenkins…

…and Floyd was no one-trick pony. I kept an owlish watch on him as he played to the point where I checked his coverage on plays that didn't go anywhere near him. The results were pure Ripley's. He may have sucked containing runs/screen to his side but

…I still think he's the best corner Michigan has right now. I base this off plays when opponents run twinned routes and I can see a Woolfolk or Countess cover the same slant on the same call; almost invariably Floyd is hugging the receiver tighter. This is not the best example because the QB set him up for this one but whether it's in man or zone Floyd seems to get more plays on the ball than anyone else in the secondary:

Meanwhile, count the long receptions Floyd's given up this year… I've got one, an undefendable Michael Floyd fade on which he had a rake at the ball. When they go after Michigan deep it was Woolfolk and Countess getting most of the exposure. That's good enough for me when trying to figure out who's good in an area of the field you only see when someone hasn't been good (or one of Michigan's quarterbacks has decided they're tired of being on the field).

I know. OMG. Floyd stands alone as the most soaring, magnificent demonstration of the differences between the last staff and this one.

This is not to say he turned into Charles Woodson. He was consistently subpar on bubble screens and other run-support tasks, which was especially frustrating since he is the boundary corner. He, like everyone else, got smoked by Posey in the OSU game, and he still seems to lack a certain something when it comes to deep speed. When I broke down Michigan's "NOBODY CARES ABOUT THE BALL" coverage, a few different coaches got in touch with me to tell me this was something commonly called "trail" coverage. Trail is something you do when you get beat and can't look for the ball; it's supposed to be a plan B when you're really good. For Floyd, it was plan A.

Which, fine. More than fine. Hallelujah. The guy can play. He's got flaws, only some of which will get worked out, and his top end is a stray All Big Ten vote or two and a seventh-round pick, and who cares about any of that when JT Floyd can play football.


Minus all of the points.

For real.

[After THE JUMP: Kovacs! A lack of long touchdowns! Depth!]


Preview 2012: Linebackers

Preview 2012: Linebackers Comment Count

Brian August 29th, 2012 at 3:02 PM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line, defensive line.

Depth Chart
Jake Ryan So.* Kenny Demens Sr.* Desmond Morgan So.
Cam Gordon Jr.* Joe Bolden Fr. Brandin Hawthorne Sr.
Royce Jenkins-Stone Fr. Mike Jones Jr.* James Ross Fr.

It's step-up time for the linebacking corps. They return every contributor from a year ago and get freshman-to-sophomore transitions from Jake Ryan and Desmond Morgan. Kenny Demens, Cam Gordon, and Brandin Hawthorne are entering their second consecutive years in a sane defense for the first time in their careers and could/should see larger than average leaps in performance.

They will need to be much better. Mike Martin isn't going to bail them out on six plays a game anymore. Ryan Van Bergen isn't walking through that door. Ryan has to become an elite pass rush threat; Demens and Morgan need to take on blockers and funnel to help far more consistently than they did a year ago.

This is well within reach. Now about getting there.

Middle Linebacker


Rating: 3.5

eats MSU cut
eats OSU TE
eats him again
Minnesota, granted
flow hard son
Iowa FB denied
No Coker part 1
line to seam PBU

In 2010, Kenny Demens was not Obi Ezeh, and this was enough. Expectations were sky-high for Demens in 2011 if only because he seemed so much better than Michigan's incumbent that he had to be pretty good. In retrospect, his somewhat disappointing output was always the likely outcome. Like almost everyone else on the defense, Demens had experienced position-coaching chaos and shifted from system to system on a semiannual basis.

Stepping into an entirely different coaching regime naturally meant hesitation, and hesitation was what we got. I put up this extremely scientific pie chart after Eastern Michigan put up 4.5 YPC despite throwing six times:


We'll talk about the Jake Ryan edge allowance below; here we're fixated on the big red thing labeled "hesitant linebacker play." This was the week after I'd watched Notre Dame's linebackers tear ass after anything that moved, so I may have had a view of proper linebacker play improperly biased towards running your balls off as soon as a guard gives you a direction.

I don't think so, though, as Michigan linebackers were exploited on the edge for much of the year. Blue Seoul captured a Kain Colter option TD in With Pics(!), and while I suppose Carvin Johnson, who Seoul criticizes, could have been more Kovacs-y on the play, he did follow the golden rule of leverage by keeping Colter well inside of him. It's just that there was no one to clean up afterwards:


Johnson's mistake should have been worth a few yards, but not enough for Northwestern to convert. Earlier he was unable to shut down an outside run that got turned up at the numbers:


He's even with Hawthorne, who was the backside LB, and well behind nose tackle Mike Martin in his attempt to shut the play down. This is because he took an angle upfield of a blocker on a perimeter run, which is one of those "you better make the damn play" decisions. Demens wasn't close.

Demens got a –4 in that game and was negative the next week against MSU as the Spartans pounded the edges and found Michigan LBs a step slow. Too often Demens did not do what Johnson is managing above, like on this Ed Baker run against MSU. Watch him eat a block and let Baker to the edge:

I know this is not an edge play, but it's symptomatic of the main issue.
You want edge biff? Edge biff.

State couldn't get out to the second level on Hawthorne and he is free. This is a quintessential example of what you hear about the WLB in the under: he often ends up the free hitter because of the configuration of the DL whereas the MLB has to take on a block. Demens takes on a block, loses leverage, does not funnel to his partner, and off Baker goes. This was 60-70% of all the complaining I did about the linebackers last year and my A-#1 bitch about Jonas Mouton. Michigan linebackers aren't good about keeping leverage. (Yet.)

Before and after that, Demens was pretty good between the tackles. He pounded ND for twelve tackles and a +8.5 and was consistently above average late in the year, picking up three straight +4s against Iowa, Illinois, and Nebraska before falling back towards zero in the OSU game. Late he started playing faster. His third-and-one stick of Marcus Coker was hands down Michigan's tackle of the year:

Yeah, Kovacs collapsed Alex Carder's lung. He did not stop that truck dead in its tracks. Demens was also the second key on that Braxton Miller rollout against OSU, tracking him to the edge and forming up at the right spot to allow Black to come from behind.

For Demens, it's about playing fast and going hard. Last year Mattison literally played him at nose tackle because he'd rather have Mike Martin blitz; Demens needs to go when he goes, and decide to go more quickly. That should be in reach. He'll be a solid run defender and decent down the seam, but a lack of raw athleticism probably sees him top out at a bit above average.

[hit THE JUMP for Bolden as Samson, Jake Ryan(!), and Desmond Morgan]


Preview 2012: Defensive Line

Preview 2012: Defensive Line Comment Count

Brian August 29th, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers, offensive line.

A note before we start: this preview relies heavily on the defensive UFRs of last year because there’s a convenient numerical system that does a decent job of summing up a defensive player’s contributions. One caveat: the system is generous to defensive linemen and harsh to defensive backs, especially cornerbacks. A +4 for a defensive end is just okay; for a cornerback it’s outstanding.


Depth Chart
Craig Roh Sr. Quinton Washington Jr.* Will Campbell Sr. Jibreel Black Jr.
Nate Brink Jr.*# Richard Ash So.* Ryan Glasgow Fr.# Brennen Beyer So.
Keith Heitzman Fr.* Ondre Pipkins Fr. Matt Godin Fr. Frank Clark So.

Okay okay okay. Breathe. Breathe in. Breathe out. Feel the lung expand and contract, and feel a calmness wash over you. Yeah. Calm. Calm.

Michigan lost three starters, may be starting a 280-pound three-tech, moved the only returning starter, and has a walk-on seriously pressing for playing time. If they're not starting a 280-pound three-tech, they're starting a 280-pound WDE. Will Campbell inherits a starting spot essentially by default.

No no no no. Calm. Callllm.

Defensive Tackle

Rating: 2.5

The big piece of news that hit when the Big Ten Network was let inside the velvet rope at Michigan practice was Jerry Montgomery naming Quinton Washington one of his starters instead of Brennen Beyer. This was followed up by a depth chart confirming this fact.

Clarity came Monday when Hoke made an appearance at the UM Club of Greater Detroit's kickoff dinner that I was at, waiting for the Q&A session with Greg Dooley and Angelique Chengelis. Hoke took questions, someone asked him about the defensive line, and Hoke gave a straight answer. To paraphrase: Michigan is planning on rotating six guys. Washington will be the nose in certain packages with Campbell at three tech and Black at WDE. In other packages they'll remove Washington and slide everyone down, inserting Beyer at WDE and going with Roh-Campbell-Black-Beyer.

Who's the sixth guy? You got me. I'd guess it's Nate Brink, but it didn't come up.



this year he'll totally live up to this image. really! (probably not really.)

This time we mean it, Will Campbell: it's now or never. The one-time five-star recruit is now a senior. He's been handed a starting spot by the graduation of three DL starters and Rodriguez's crappy recruiting. This makes everyone nervous because obviously.

There is some good news on this front. After a couple years in which Campbell appearances were all but guaranteed to draw this sort of commentary…

I'm not at the point where I can tell you the ten different things Campbell did to get blown four yards downfield, but I can blather on about pad level: man, pad level. Am I right?

…his cameos were fairly effective last year. He got limited snaps, of course, but only ended up negative against Iowa, when he got cut twice on big Coker runs. He had a +5 against ND, a +3.5 against SDSU, a +4 against Minnesota, and a +4 against Illinois, three of which came when he blew up a third and one by himself:

You can also watch him annihilate another Illinois OL to set up a Desmond Morgan decleater and flatten Max Shortell.

Unfortunately, these positives and highlights are all against the worst offensive lines on the schedule (and ND, oddly). Michigan didn't put him out there much against tougher competition; now they've got no choice.

Campbell's giving it a go. He's taken to showing off his chest after shedding 20 pounds in the past couple years. Taylor Lewan:

"The most dramatic change I've seen in a body on our team is Will Campbell," said left tackle Taylor Lewan. "His body is transformed. He was a sloppy 350 and now he's a toned down 308 kind of guy. He looks real good. His conditioning shows it. You should see him run. He's like a gazelle. It's unreal. I think Will is going to do some special things this year."

Come on, baby. He's getting the full-court press from Michigan's three-headed DL coaching staff, and I wished and hoped my way to thinking he was a lot better this spring:

Last spring game guy was a lump who managed to not get blown off the ball most of the time and just about never did anything. During the year he was largely that with some nice plays mixed in, but too infrequently to be encouraging. In the spring game he had clearly progressed enough to actually beat his man to the gap more than once.

You know all those runs Rawls had where he had to abort mission and find another hole? Most of those were headed at Campbell. Since we got a baseline for Ricky Barnum in the time he got before his ankle injury last year—decent Big Ten player even then—that's a hopeful sign.

While that hasn't kept the coaches from grousing about things, their expectations are not my expectations.

Finding out that Campbell will flip between three tech and the nose is probably a positive tea leaf. Leverage has always been a problem, and at 6'5" he's never going to be a great burrower. Get him one on one and he can deposit folks on their butts. That is what he'll generally be allowed to do at the three. His ability to do that on passing downs is going to be a huge factor in how effective that line configuration is—three techs can get good rush, and Michigan's ability to get pressure out of the WDE spot is very much in doubt.

What to expect here is a mystery. My WAG: adequate play that's on average a few points to the good on UFR charts (which is average for DL, as it measures MAKING PLAYS more than not doing so). Maybe a fringe draft pick if Michigan is pretty lucky. I don't think he'll be worse than Heininger, and he was pretty decent by the end of the year.

[hit THE JUMP for the GREAT MYSTERY beyond the KEN OF MAN (and Craig Roh)]


Preview 2012: Offensive Line

Preview 2012: Offensive Line Comment Count

Brian August 28th, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Previous: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back, wide receivers.


Depth Chart
LT Yr. LG Yr. C Yr. RG Yr. RT Yr.
Taylor Lewan Jr.* Elliott Mealer Sr.* Ricky Barnum Sr.* Patrick Omameh Sr.* Michael Schofield Jr.*
Erik Magnuson Fr. Joey Burzynski So.* Jack Miller Fr.* Kyle Kalis Fr. Ben Braden Fr.

This again. One year after Michigan's offensive line looked pretty shiny as long as you did not consider the cliff after guy #6, Michigan's offensive line looks really shiny… as long as you don't consider the cliff after guy #5. Or maybe guy #4. In a best case scenario, still guy #6.

Last year, Michigan had Michael Schofield to step into the lineup, and needed him to. This year any injury will see a walk-on or freshman—probably a true freshman—hit the field. Yipes.

But let's not think about that. As long as the starting five stays intact, the line should be quality. Taylor Lewan is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick, Patrick Omameh is in his fourth year as a starter, Michael Schofield started most of last year and moves to a more natural position, and the other two guys are redshirt seniors. Michigan should have a better line this year even without David Molk.

That first step's a doozy, though.


Rating: 5 of 5, not considering depth

Michigan offensive linesman Taylor Lewan and Purdue safety Albert Evans have words after a play.  Lewan was given a penalty for his troubles.               Photos are of the University of Michigan vs. Purdue University at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, October 29, 2011.   (David Guralnick / The Detroit News)
(caption) Michigan OL Taylor Lewan (77) blocks Eastern Michigan Eagles linebacker Marcus English (42), paving the way for Denard Robinson's rushing touchdown  in the second quarter.    *** The Michigan Wolverines (2-0) host the Eastern Michigan Eagles (2-0) at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Photos taken on Saturday, September 17, 2011. ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

Guralnick/Greilick, Detroit News

At this point, "Taylor Lewan is the next Jake Long" is not hope or hype or projection but just a (pretty much) true thing. Lewan may not go first overall in the NFL draft but he's already being projected in the top half of the first round next year, should he choose to depart.

After a promising but penalty-filled freshman year, Lewan cut out the holding calls and stoned opposing pass rushers, snap in, snap out. The primary reason ultra-hyped MSU DE Will Gholston started playing judo chop with various Lewan limbs was that he had no hope of impacting the game in any other fashion:

sprint counter
gets outside on p&p
another sprint counter
donkey McNaul
donkey Short
donkey Meredith
donkey some guy
donkey-ish Hankins
nice seal on Worthy
stands up Binns
gets Toussaint edge
loses balance
fails to cut on screen

In a game where the Michigan OL was overwhelmed, blitz or not (Mark Huyge got 7 protection minuses), Lewan had a measly +1. Across twelve games of fending off the opposition's best pass rusher he racked up a total of four protection minuses. Two of those were for not cutting a guy on a screen; a third was not getting out on a corner on an attempted double pass. The fourth is somewhere in that video above, and I'm not even sure what that was. Even counting that there was literally one QB hurry going one-on-one with Lewan last year, to say nothing of actual sacks. There is a reason he is getting the NFL hype.

(Note that when blitzes cause confusion not localizable to one or two players that sends in free rushers I file that under "team." Lewan's no doubt responsible for some of those. When he identifies a guy to block, it's over.)

The black lining in our silver cloud was Lewan's lack of impact in the run game. He started off well, with three games around +10 in the UFR run chart and a 7-3-+4 against ND in limited opportunities—Michigan did jack before eviscerating Gary Gray in the fourth quarter. This was noted.

how often have you thought about Taylor Lewan this year? Not often, right? Mostly when he takes some donkey and punches it so hard in the nose shards of cartilage come out the back of its donkeyhelmet, right? (In a non-personal-foul acquiring way, of course.)

After that, he struggled to register on the run chart until late. His Big Ten season:

Game Opponent + - T Comment
5 MINN 5.5 6 -0.5 Yeah, surprised me too: had a couple busts and one bad whiff.
6 NW 4.5 2 2.5 Why so low, numbers? Discussion later.
7 MSU 6 5 1 Lucky to have both arms in his shoulder sockets.
8 PU 7 1 6 Would like to see him more involved somehow.
9 Iowa 6 7 -1 Off day.
10 Illinois 8 5 3 Had some mistakes in space.
11 Nebraska 9 - 9 Finally some productive donkey hatred. Belly helps him produce; also got Toussaint the edge on a play that would have gone badly otherwise.
12 OSU 9.5 1 8 Effective against DTs, mostly, also getting to the second level.

There's a certain amount of busting plays that is part and parcel of being an offensive lineman, especially one learning a new offense. That doesn't bother me. What does is the overall lack of positives until the tail end of the season. Heavily involved linemen will be putting up twice the positives and negatives as the above—Omameh had eight games where his positives were above ten and five where they were 13 or greater. Lewan didn't get there, and I think this was because of Omameh, ironically:

What is with those Lewan numbers?

The system doesn't try to judge blocks that are far away from the play and often declares an easy thing done okay to be a zero, so backside tackles and down-blocking guys a gap away from the play rarely register. Lewan rarely registered and this week's picture pages were examples of Schofield pulling, Schofield pulling, and Schofield pulling. Why is Michigan pulling the converted tackle backup and running away from their donkey-hating first round tackle?

The only conclusion that makes sense is they hate pulling Omameh. When they did pull left, they pulled Molk or Schofield and Molk, only rarely trying Omameh.

We'll talk about that when we get to the right guard, but Omameh came on in those last three games in which Lewan finally got some traction. Once they could pull the right guard, the left tackle got to express his donkey hatred.

With Omameh figuring it out and another year of experience for both, Michigan figures to be more left-handed on the ground; combine that with the pass blocking mentioned above and factor the injuries Lewan dragged around all year and the projections for his 2012 should be sky-high. He should be an All-American, or at least play like one.

[hit THE JUMP to find out about the other starters, but probably not the backups.]


Preview 2012: Receivers of All Varieties

Preview 2012: Receivers of All Varieties Comment Count

Brian August 28th, 2012 at 9:59 AM

Previously: Podcast 4.0, the story, quarterback, running back.


Depth Chart

WR Yr. WR Yr. Slot Yr. TE Yr.
Roy Roundtree Sr.* Devin Gardner So.* Jeremy Gallon Jr.* Brandon Moore Sr.*
Jeremy Jackson Jr. Jerald Robinson So.* Drew Dileo Jr.* AJ Williams Fr.
Amara Darboh Fr. Ricardo Miller So.* -- -- Devin Funchess Fr.

This bit could be better. Roy Roundtree suffered more than anyone in the transition from the spread 'n' shred to the spread 'n' pasted-on-West-Coast-stuff, plummeting from 72 catches to 19. Notre Dame and Sugar Bowl savior Junior Hemingway is off to NFL practice squads as a seventh-round pick; following him out the door are Martavious Odoms (replaceable) and Kevin Koger (uh…).

In their stead Michigan will field a forest of unproven guys with limited upside, freshmen, their backup quarterback, and Jerald Robinson, the one vague hope for a high quality downfield threat who is not the backup quarterback.

It should be noted that Michigan is running the opposite of the Holgorsen style "you came here an X, you learned it in three days, you repeated it 60 times, you are forever an X" specialization offense. Jeff Hecklinski said as much last year

"The difference in this offense is there aren't really slot receivers as much as outside receivers — they play everywhere on the field and we move them around," Hecklinski said. "The switch is big because of all the little things asked of them - they have to convert routes, pick up checks and route changes and coverages."

…and the frequent deployment of Junior Hemingway in the slot and Jeremy Gallon outside confirmed that over the course of the year. Therefore "slot" is used to denote the player who is going to get all the wide receiver screens, which will never be bubble screens.

Outside Receiver

imageRating: 2, with upside.

Assertion: Junior Hemingway was the most valuable Michigan wide receiver since Braylon Edwards. Hemingway may not have been as good as Mario Manningham or even Adrian Arrington, but imagining last year without his ability to rise from a thicket of hands to snag "no no no no no no YESSSSSSSS" touchdowns is not a pleasant exercise. He is the undisputed king of yards per target since 2005. He was important.

Unfortunately, Hemingway's gone. Left behind is the mismatched collection of runty Rodriguez slot receivers, Rodriguez leapers who run like hobbled ducks, and… maybe Devin Gardner. Definitely Devin Gardner.

Aw, hell, I should probably start off talking about Roundtree and stuff but everyone wants to know about Gardner.

Yeah, man, he's going to play. Unless Jerald Robinson delivers on the perpetual low-level hype, no one else on the roster comes close to Gardner's combination of size, leaping ability, and speed. At the very least he'll frequently attempt the Terrelle Pryor "oops I'm huge" redzone fade…

…and it's hard to see him not being more than that given the alternatives. Gardner played exclusively at wide receiver at the Mott open practice, and with the first team. I've heard from multiple source since: that's no smokescreen. 

While no one knows how this will go, the steady drumbeat of hype from players is encouraging. It took about all of a dozen spring practices for reports like this to reach my ears:

Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands."

Similar reports popped up on the premium sites, and when fall camp started and everyone asked anyone in front of the mic about the possibility, his teammates said "dang." Kovacs:

"He's a great athlete, I feel like he could play anywhere and he could probably take my spot if he tried," Michigan senior safety Jordan Kovacs said. "He's a natural athlete, and if they play him at receiver, I'm sure he'll be pretty good.

"Wherever he plays, he's going to make big plays."


"When he gets out to receiver, you think he's a receiver," Robinson said. "He looks like he's been playing there for years."

And then there's this extremely reliable and not all dated video of Gardner screwing around at WR as a high school kid:

That's the ticket, man. They might have to protect him from getting jammed, but that's not too hard: line him up off the LOS, possibly in those stack formations, and there you go. Then it's about running the routes and catching the ball. 

The possibility of a "devin gardner dunked on tacopants" tag and a paucity of options to fill the Junior Hemingway role that bailed the offense out time and again last year will see Gardner on the field. It may be sparingly at first, but if it's crunch time against Alabama do you want him on the bench?

Attempting to predict what happens here is very difficult, but I'm betting Gardner is one of four players approximately level on catches and yards at the end of the year, with no true star player. The upside is tantalizing, though, and your best hope for an offense that scorches both ground and sky. Devin Gardner, you've been X-factor'd.

[hit THE JUMP to read up on Roundtree, Gallon, and company.]