Preview 2013: Wrap

Preview 2013: Wrap

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 5:08 PM

Okay, Eleven Warriors, okay.

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

Well. It's done. This year's edition checks in at 41,191 words. If you had that in the pool, congratulations.

THE STORY: ALL TOGETHER NOW

After a decade trying to find itself, Michigan points itself to the future, united.

OFFENSE

Quarterback: I believe in Devin Gardner, so hard.

Running back: Also Fitz Toussaint. Not so much the other veterans, but have I told you about freshmen? They're all right at tailback.

Wide receiver: Yeah, they're short. So? They're damn good.

Tight end and friends: a panoply of blocky-catchy guys featuring one Devin Funchess, larger and ready to bust out.

Offensive line: It's like Ohio: rather good at the edge, increasingly depressing as you approach the center.

Questions and answers: Borges isn't perfect but he's probably good enough; reiterating Gardner squee.

DEFENSE

Defensive ends: I do not think Frank Clark is going to be an all-wrecking force. Better, sure.

Defensive tackle: All hail QWASH. Three-tech dodgy, but deep.

Linebacker: If Ryan is Ryan, these guys will be lights out.

Cornerback: War daddy up, Mr. Countess.

Safety: Thomas Gordon, and then… well… hmm.

Questions and answers: Novacs, mitigating that, the importance of hybrid space players, serenity?

MISCELLANEOUS

Special teams: a major strength if Michigan can just block and cover guys.

Podcast 5.0: Almost two hours of erudite chatter about socialism in the 19th century.

Heuristics and stupid prediction: Turnovers should be much better, only position shifts that are ominous at safety, 10-2 asserted.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN

Previewed by Ace.

ELSEWHERE

Orson's season kickoff: "THE BUSINESS OF PROTECTION."

Holdin' The Rope: "Beginnings"

TEAM SPECIFIC HYPE

College football is a dichotomy of change and sameness. The players turn over at an alarming rate, even the most precocious slipping through our fingers almost before we've met them. But every year there's a Saturday where 110,000 file into a stadium Fielding Yost built, survey their view, hear the band, see the helmets, and think to themselves it's still here. All of it is still here. Thank God.

Life decays us all; the team is forever.

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Go Blue.

Preview 2013: Heuristics And Stupid Prediction

Preview 2013: Heuristics And Stupid Prediction

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense, Five Questions: Defense.

Heuristicland

Turnover Margin

NotreDame-Rees-fumble-vs.-Michigan[1]

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)
2012 -0.69 (99th) 7 11 1.69 (69th) 19 8 1.38 (28th)

Michigan's one year bounce was followed by a ruthless reversion to Rodriguez-era norms as Michigan's fumble recovery rate dropped to human levels and Denard threw a bunch of interceptions. Actually, Russell Bellomy made quite a contribution himself with four interceptions on just 21 throws. Vincent Smith also tossed one on his only attempt. That's quite an interception haul from 22 attempts.

Gardner's INT rate (3.9%) was not great, but it was a significant improvement on Denard and especially the random throws. If he'd taken all of Michigan's 318 throws he would have thrown 13 interceptions (actually 12.6), and one of his picks was a third-and-long chuck that became a virtual punt. Even if Gardner doesn't improve that INT rate Michigan can expect to drop a lot of interceptions.

Fumbles lost should stay at low levels as Taylor Lewan protects Gardner from blindside hits and low-fumble Fitz Toussaint gets the bulk of the carries. Robinson was a  consistent source of fumbles, too.

That should get Michigan to about even, and then you'd hope increased pressure on the quarterback and a defensive backfield more oriented towards MAKING PLAYS would increase Michigan's crappy takeaway rate.

I'd guess Michigan is in a range from turnover-neutral to +0.25, but as always with turnovers they can do wacky 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.

The dossier:

WDE Brennen Beyer moves to SAM to cover for the Ryan injury. Fret level: none. Minor move and Beyer is competing with Cam Gordon to start until Ryan gets back for the meat of the schedule.

WLB Desmond Morgan moves to MLB so Ross can start. Fret level: negative? Morgan's more natural at MLB and the differences are minimal.

LT Ben Braden moves to guard and back, which leaves Michigan in a bit of a spot on the interior. Fret level: moderate. Michigan could use another bullet or two on the interior and obviously wanted Braden to grab the job.

CB Courtney Avery moves to safety, apparently to start. Fret level: severe.

This is actually a low level of motion, which is good.

An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt

Worst Case If Devin Gardner Is Healthy

The offensive line remains in shambles, though Kalis does bring a nastiness Michigan did not have previously. Any gains in the run game are offset by the loss of Robinson. Clark is JAG again, Ryan does not come back as Jake Ryan, and the pass rush remains stagnant as the secondary gets leaky. Gardner pulls out a couple of tough games; Michigan loses their other four and ends up 8-4.

Worst Case If Devin Gardner Gets Injured

apocalypse_by_push_pulse-d5my8ln[1]

Best Case

Michigan isn't quite there. If Gardner is all that and if the offensive line is okay, they still don't get enough pass rush and safety play in one particular game that blows up a potentially undefeated season. 11-1.

Final Verdict

Gardner's the man, Toussaint recaptures his glory, the offensive line is middling in the middle and great on the edges, Gallon blows up.

On defense, the line is a sold B+, the linebackers are good to start and great at the end of the season once Ryan gets his feet back under him. The secondary is solid but prone to giving up big plays.

Special teams is a hidden asset as some of the blocking issues get resolved, Michigan flirts with spread punting, and Norfleet brings some pizzazz to the return jobs.

Brady Hoke wins a game by going for it.

OOC
8/31 CMU Must win
9/7 Notre Dame Tossup
9/14 Akron Must win
9/21 @ UConn Must win
Conference
10/5 Minnesota Must win
10/12 @ Penn State Lean to win
10/19 Indiana Must win
11/2 @ Michigan State Lean to win
11/9 Nebraska Tossup
11/16 @ Northwestern Tossup
11/23 @ Iowa Must win
11/30 Ohio State Tossup
Absent:

Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue

Six games should be in the bag already, and road games against Penn State (freshman quarterback) and Michigan State (lost entire offense in the person of LeVeon Bell, four way QB duel) feature what should be immensely struggling offenses and solid defenses. Notre Dame, Nebraska, Northwestern, and Ohio State are where the season will be made or lost. Only one of those is on the road, that a quasi-road game against Northwestern in the Little Big House. It looks like 10-2. 9-3 is more likely than 11-1.

[Last year I predicted 9-3, which was a game off. I claim Nebraska as an unforeseeable event, though.]

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Defense

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Defense

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 1:47 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker,Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams. Five Questions: Offense.

1. Novacs?

Michigan St Michigan Football

Oh man that's brutal you just accidentally made me think about some combination of Novak and Kovacs that still doesn't have any eligibility you're a monster

It's bad you guys. I am admittedly super paranoid about this business. But you're a Michigan fan too. You are either super paranoid, 14, or not paying attention. In any normal situation I would be freakin' out you guys, and now you're telling me that the guy replacing Kovacs is either

  1. the guy who couldn't play a deep half in the bowl game to the tune of 100 yards of doom, or
  2. a 175-pound nickel corner who has never played safety in his life.

Excuse me while I eat balloon animals until my spleen ruptures.

Look… man, I am irrationally optimistic about Devin Gardner and the running backs and the receivers and even the offensive line. I am really into large portions of this team. And I cannot find any reason to not run around in circles perpetually about replacing Kovacs. God, I wish I could. God, I wish all sorts of things about Kovacs and his replacements. I just don't know man.

It should be Avery long-term, because you don't move a guy like Avery to safety unless you are just trying to get everyone aligned right on every snap and playing the right coverage. His main asset is experience. But Avery is hurt now, was hurt last year, and projects to always be hurt. The situation here is analogous to the one at left guard, where it seems like Michigan wants to play a guy they can't count on because of his injury history. The difference at guard is that they have another option good enough to go with. The tea leaves imply that that is not the case at safety.

Yeah, maybe it'll be okay. Maybe I'm making too much of limited snaps for Wilson and writing a guy off prematurely, but guys in the comments of the safeties section saying that the Avery move is a logical one to get your best four defensive backs on the field: you're these guys.

Hey, I'd love to be wrong here. I'd love to be more wrong about this than anything I have been wrong about, and hoo boy have I been wrong about some things.

[After THE JUMP: Papering over Novacs, and like I am so serene you guys. About other bits.]

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Offense

Preview 2013: Five Questions, Five Answers, Offense

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker, Cornerback, Safety, Special Teams.

1. Is Michigan about to be on the wrong side of history?

When Rich Rodriguez was hired at Michigan, Gary Danielson infamously predicted Michigan would be the last major program to move to a spread offense. Five years later, Michigan is shedding the spread as the NFL adopts it en masse. I am a spread zealot, no foolies, and while I may be influenced by factors like…

  1. Associating pro-style offenses with Mike DeBord, "the expectation is for the position," and opponents saying they knew exactly what was coming game after game.
  2. Psychic scarring from things like Donovan McNabb, Carlyle Holiday, The Horror, The Post-Apocalyptic Oregon Game, Northwestern 2001, and even Braylonfest.
  3. Denard Robinson!

…I've also watched an awful lot of football over the past eight years and there seems to be no substitute for the defense-wrecking ability to run with a guy who can throw, and give him the ability to make that decision after the defense commits.

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'bout to get yards'd

These days the thing that's all the rage is packaged plays that give the quarterback the ability to pick from a number of simple options based on the alignment of a couple players, and not just on the college level: Doug Marrone and company got scooped back up by the NFL largely because they ditched a complicated pro-style offense for quick decisions that make the defense wrong every time. Tavon Austin is a 5'8" wide receiver who went 8th overall in the NFL draft. The Great Satan in Columbus has Denard but tall at quarterback.

Meanwhile, the idea that Michigan needs to run a rough-and-tumble offense to cope with the rough-and-tumble Big Ten is total horseshit. If you haven't noticed, the Big Ten sucks at football, Michigan is recruiting a billion times better than anyone except Ohio State, and Ohio State is a spread option team. If we accept the fact that you have to run power to defend power, isn't the corollary there you have to run the spread to defend the spread? Clueless spread outing after clueless spread outing through Carr's career certainly suggests that. I mean, Michigan was fortunate to escape a home game against Northwestern last year because they gave up 248 rushing yards and 10 YPA.

Add in Michigan's stubborn adherence to the increasingly archaic huddle and it does seem like there's a little bit of dinosaur in the program even if Brady Hoke is hip to Romer. Arguments in favor of the huddle include feelingsball arguments like "it helps your quarterback be a leader"; arguments against include Nebraska lining up with 25 seconds on the play clock and checking into an RPS +3 play once they saw Michigan in a man to man alignment:

Where did they get that call?

From the sideline after they got lined up with 25 seconds on the clock and Michigan showed man coverage with one high safety. That was not aww shucks luck. It's using the extra information the defense gives you to exploit it. Michigan, meanwhile, is usually still in the huddle with 18 seconds on the playclock and often scrambles to the line with no other option than running what's called no matter what the D shows.

It kind of sucks that Michigan doesn't seem to want to do similar things. You'd think every coach would love the opportunity to get whatever information they can before making a decision.

Michigan's not using these newfangled offensive innovations. They suck so much at varying tempo that you, reader, have screamed "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" more than once in two-minute drills the last two years.

I love everything about Brady Hoke, but this is the one thing that makes me fret at night when I forget about Jabrill Peppers.

[After THE JUMP: DeBord is not Borges, Borges is not DeBord. Gardner confirm. Interior line muttering.]

Preview 2013: Safety

Preview 2013: Safety

Submitted by Brian on August 30th, 2013 at 10:18 AM

Safety

Rating: 3

Free Safety Yr. Strong Safety Yr.
Courtney Avery Sr. Thomas Gordon Sr.*
Jarrod Wilson So. Josh Furman Jr.*
Jeremy Clark Fr.* Delano Hill Fr.

[* = player has taken redshirt. # = walk-on]

Well, here it is. Michigan has lost Jordan Kovacs and the replacement derby has gone about as poorly as it could have. Jarrod Wilson was the guy they wanted to take the job and has not done so; Michigan moved a 5'9" slot cornerback back to safety because they had more faith in that guy knowing the defense than Wilson, and then that guy got hurt in a way that is not the way that he is perpetually hurt.

So… yeah, at least we'll have a good perspective on how valuable Jordan Kovacs was?

7990021103_7364df46aa_c[1]

Eric Upchurch

LET'S PULL THE BAND-AID OFF FIRST. The free safety slot is currently a competition between JARROD WILSON [recruiting profile] and COURTNEY AVERY that has gone to Wilson by default early because of arthroscopic surgery for Avery. Avery's only supposed to miss two games.

This preview projects that Avery will be the starter upon his healthy return, for various reasons. These are mostly about Wilson, so I guess we'll address him first. When Michigan moved him into the starting lineup last year in the bowl game, pain followed. Unless the entire rest of the defense was wrong on, Wilson was the culprit on a 70-yard South Carolina pass

image_3[1]

Wilson is on the numbers at the 40. He is supposed to be offscreen(!) to the right

…and the game winner

wilson-bust-last-play---Copy[1]

it's called CENTER field

…in situations where it was just flat-out blowing simple centerfield assignments. We've made a lot of allowances for freshman whatsit in these previews, but Wilson hasn't done anything positive so far—literally. The only thing he charted on last year before infinite minuses in the bowl game was a critical, legit pass interference penalty on Tyler Eifert in the Notre Dame game. (That was third and goal. Ouch.)

And then there's the late move. When it leaked into the media, Hoke was of course asked about it:

MGoQuestion: What does Jarrod Wilson have to do to solidify his spot at safety?

"He's got to have production."

MGoFollowup: Have you been worried about his lack of production?

"No, we just think that we have good competition and there's guys having some production. He's got to have more."

This is terrifying because at safety, "production" means not doing things like those pictures above. Compounding the terror somewhat is that Wilson enrolled early and should be less raw, more familiar with the defense, etc.

You can hold onto this, I guess?

Do you have an idea who might start Saturday at this point?

"You know, I think Jarrod [Wilson]'s had a nice last two weeks of fall. I think the pressure that was put on him by other guys ... Josh Furman's improved. I would say Jarrod probably."

Does that make you feel good? If so, give me some of your enjoyment.

Okay, okay: Wilson does have some experience and safety is not a kind spot for freshmen. As a recruit, his frame and size got him a lot of nice offers, including Penn State, Notre Dame, and Stanford. Kovacs said he'd picked the defense up fast last year…

“He’s come in and picked up the defense really, really well. That’s one of the things he’s got the football smarts and as a defensive back you really need that,” Kovacs said. “Don’t get me wrong, there are things he needs to get cleaned up and improved on, but I’m definitely impressed with how much he’s progressed and how good of a ballplayer he is as a senior in high school. He has a lot more time here and I expect big things in the future.”

…and while that doesn't seem… you know… true, we are extrapolating from limited data here to wave our doomy fingers of doom. It could work out! Yeah!

[After THE JUMP: Courtney Avery trying to come back, Thomas Gordon definitely doing so, and dodgy depth.]

Preview 2013: Cornerback

Preview 2013: Cornerback

Submitted by Brian on August 29th, 2013 at 6:08 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Linebacker, Special Teams.

Cornerback

Rating: 4.

Boundary Corner Yr. Field Corner Yr. Nickelback Yr.
Blake Countess So.* Raymon Taylor Jr. Blake Countess So.*
Channing Stribling Fr. Delonte Hollowell Jr. Dymonte Thomas Fr.
Terry Richardson So. Jourdan Lewis Fr. Courtney Avery Sr.

100111_SPT_UMich_vs_Minn_MRM

The headliner here is the headliner last year, frozen in carbonite: BLAKE COUNTESS. Countess was Mattison's prophesied War Daddy at field corner, and then he got blocked on a punt return in the first game. That blew up his ACL and ended his year.

A year later, Countess is back to full health—he could have gone in spring if it wasn't, you know, spring—and ready to fulfill the promise he had a year ago. But that doesn't mean I've got anything on Countess that I didn't a year ago, save the occasional coach quote.

What I had last year: Countess started on the traditional Michigan Star Corner track, getting into the second game as a reserve corner and emerging as a starter halfway through the season. In six starts, Countess had six PBUs; he was named to various freshman All-American teams. As a freshman he manned up on Marvin McNutt pretty well:

The downside was the Ohio State game in which he was no match for Devier Posey on one of OSU's three long touchdowns. That'll happen when you're a freshman.

Despite that, even then he was Michigan's best corner. Anonymous Big Ten receiver:

On the cornerbacks: "Two years ago, they had a kid [Blake Countess] that was different. He played with a swagger and just seemed to attack every ball thrown his way. Last year, he wasn't out there, and it made my job a lot easier because I could use both sides of the field. Their corners were good, but they didn't go after the ball. They just wanted to stay between our receivers and the big play."

Countess seems to have had no problem reclaiming his starting spot and should resume the star corner track he was on before injury intervened.

[After THE JUMP: Taylor! Depth! Special Nickelback section!]

Preview 2013: Linebackers

Preview 2013: Linebackers

Submitted by Brian on August 29th, 2013 at 2:53 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End, Special Teams.

Depth Chart
STRONGSIDE  LB Yr. MIDDLE LB Yr. WEAKSIDE LB Yr.
Cam Gordon Sr.* Desmond Morgan Jr. James Ross So.
Jake Ryan Jr.* Joe Bolden So. Royce Jenkins-Stone So.
Brennen Beyer Jr. Mike McCray Fr. Ben Gedeon Fr.

Stupid ACL injuries wrecking everything… well… some things. Michigan loses Kenny Demens to graduation and Jake Ryan to cruel fate, but returns everyone else, adds Brennen Beyer from the stacked WDE spot, and welcomes two freshmen. They have a decent amount of experience, a decent amount of depth, and a ton of promise. James Ross figures to blow up; Desmond Morgan's improvement will be more incremental but now he's at a more comfortable position. Joe Bolden gives both a quality backup.

Even at the depleted SAM spot you've got a fifth year senior and true junior who Greg Mattison says are both playing like starters, and then Ryan is supposed to be back by mid-October… or sooner. Could be pretty good here.

Inside Linebacker

These previews had previously split out the middle and weakside linebackers into their own sections, but the obvious interchangeability of the two spots (Desmond Morgan moves from one to the other, Bolden played both last year, supposed MLB Kenny Demens took the bulk of the TE-seam responsibilities) we're combining the two into an inside LB spot. Differences between the two spots exist, but are thin—according to Mattison, "inside is inside."

Rating: 4

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Morgan will hit ya [Upchurch/MGoBlue.com]

DESMOND MORGAN
hit and shed
gets in, gets upfield
sheds block, slows Bell
pow!
no more forward for you
can move
comes from backside to tackle 
kind of Ryan-like here
was young
lost on counter
accepts a block
slashed to the ground
cut like a mofo
read and react
nerfs counter draw
takes on two blockers
sidles all the way
shuts down Martinez draw

DESMOND MORGAN enters his third year as a starter by moving over from the weakside to the middle, as predicted by everyone in the world including myself. This is partly because James Ross demands entry into the starting lineup and partly because Morgan's skillset—thumpin'—was always more suited to the mike. Even when he was at WLB, it was Kenny Demens tasked with following tight ends down the seam. Morgan isn't quite a Sam Sword two-downs-and-out guy, but between he and Ross there's no question who you want dropping into coverage and who you want taking on fullbacks.

The best part of Morgan's game is how running backs stop when he contacts them. Morgan emerged into a bang-you're-dead tackler over the course of the year. Here he takes on a block, sheds it, gets an arm on LeVeon Bell(!), and robs him of most of his momentum:

Michigan would boot State off the field on the ensuing third and short. Having guys like Morgan around makes every first down a battle. Morgan also robbed a Minnesota power back of most of his momentum, amongst other events. Click play and HEAR FOOTBALL!

The guy is a brick.

After his first year this space criticized Morgan's hesitancy (mildly since he was a freshman), something that lasted through the first portion of last season. Michigan would slant the line and get gashed and I eventually pieced together a theory that the linebackers were uncomfortable predicting what would happen on that slant and late to the hole.

As the year progressed (and Washington and Campbell got more reliable with their angles), that tendency receded:

The linebackers are generally more decisive. The Demens see-gap-hit-gap-eat-soul is one part of it; also you can sense Morgan feeling the play behind that. He eases to the playside a bit to give him an edge on someone who might be releasing backside. He's reading the play through, and he shows up to help at the right spot. There's an air of "I am no longer a confused freshman" to him.

Morgan put a lot of previous worries about athleticism to bed last year as he got sideline to sideline effectively and made plays in space against tough customers like Taylor Martinez. Watching his read-and-explode is at times reminiscent of Jake Ryan. At times.

The UFR chart is reflective of this:

Opponent + - TOT Notes
Alabama 5.5 10 -4.5 And this was the best ILB play!
Air Force 8 10 -2 Faded late after strong start, thus setting up allfrosh.
UMass - - - DNP
Notre Dame 5 2 3 Solid tackling day, looked pretty athletic.
Purdue 5.5 3.5 2 Overshadowed with +2, is this real life?
Illinois 7.5 4.5 3 This is relatively bad!
MSU 9 2 7 Remember the athleticism worries with him?
Nebraska 11 4 7 Hit Y on leaping bat that became INT.
Minnesota 11 5.5 5.5 You stop when he hits you.
Northwestern 4 9.5 -5.5 Rough outing with blown assignments; Ross out there on critical last two drives speaks for itself.
Iowa - - - DNP

OSU not done, sorry. South Carolina not listed because it was impossible to tell who was who between Morgan and Bolden, and South Carolina ran the tailback five times anyway.

For inside linebackers, anything above zero is generally good. After getting 'Bama'd and having issues against Air Force's triple option, Morgan started a run of six straight positive games—some very much so.

Of course, a couple games after I proclaimed him a star in the Nebraska UFR he got edged and outran all day by Northwestern. Hey, he's just not the best guy to take on Venric Mark. It happens. Moving him to the middle should mitigate those issues.

In year three, Mattison believes that Morgan has the mental and physical ability to be top notch as long as he fixes one issue:

"He's so smart. He can make the checks, and he's strong. That allows him to be able to strike a blow, punch and get off blocks. One thing our linebackers have to work extremely hard on that was a negative for us was there were too many times they ran into blockers and didn't disengage. That's been a big emphasis."

Morgan got consistently better at this as the year rolled along. He's too much of a blue-collar guy to get the sexy TFL stats to be All Big Ten (also, Max Bullough exists) but he should be a consistently plus player who fends off Joe Bolden all year. He will be an asset.

[After THE JUMP: James Ross! Depth! Jake Ryan as Loki! Cam Gordon! More depth!]

Preview 2013: Special Teams

Preview 2013: Special Teams

Submitted by Brian on August 28th, 2013 at 5:02 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End.

 

Kicker Yr Punter Yr Kickoffs Yr Punt return Yr Kick return Yr
Brendan Gibbons Sr* Matt Wile Jr Matt Wile Jr Dennis Norfleet So Dennis Norfleet So
Matt Wile Jr Kenny Allen Fr* Brendan Gibbons Sr* Drew Dileo Sr Drew Dileo Sr

Oh man. Despite the season-long suspension of Will Hagerup, Michigan has depth at both kicker spots and moves Dennis Norfleet into both return jobs. Brendan Gibbons will aim for a top five spot in the history of Michigan kicker accuracy; Matt Wile has established himself as a consistent B+ punter (at least), and Wile's being pushed by a freshman who's been booming them since spring practice.

This could be good. As long as they cover someone and block someone. Right. That bit.

Kicker

Rating: 5

gibbons-miss-2gibbons-vt-3df10[1]

Gibbons year by year

If BRENDAN GIBBONS continues his meteoric rise at the same rate he's improved over the last two seasons he'll be 6/6 on 60+ field goals and win the Heisman. This… is not likely. But a Groza finalist spot actually is, or would be except for the fact that Brady Hoke hates field goals. (Woo!)

Let's review: as a redshirt freshman, Gibbons was 1/5 on mostly chip-shot kicks, paving the way for other kickers to be about as bad. Michigan all but abandoned the idea of kicking field goals longer than 30 yards, and when Hoke was hired the first thing on many people's minds is "they HAVE to get a kicker, right?"

Brady Hoke gave Gibbons a hearty back-slap, transferring a millionth of a percent of his confidence to the beleaguered freshman, and lo, the next season he was 13/17 with his clutch kick winning the Sugar Bowl. As a junior, his range improved and he hit 16 of 18 field goals, including a 52-yarder. In terms of basic accuracy his 2012 was the third-best in Michigan history, behind only John Carlson in 1989 and Kicking Competency Lopata in 2007—and Lopata's long that year was 42. (MGoBlue doesn't have a long for Carlson.)

In terms of advanced stats, Michigan's field goal efficiency was 12th nationally. (Matt Wile did help out by hitting 2 of 3 long ones.) That's even more impressive when you consider that it was held down by Brady Hoke's tendency to scoff at long field goals, pull out a slab of meat, tear off a chunk, and scream "GIVE ME A FIRST DOWN OR GIVE ME DEATH!"

I may be excessively enthusiastic about Brady Hoke's aggressiveness.

Anyway, Gibbons is all but automatic now. He's tied for ninth all-time in FG% at M despite the awful start; the Hoke version of Gibbons would be a solid #1 at 83%. He should press into the upper reaches of the record book with a season similar to 2012, except that kickers are weird and can implode at any time. Brady Hoke emanates calm, though, so that is not likely to happen.

And Michigan has a great backup option in MATT WILE, who nailed a 52-yarder himself in the bowl game. He's the starting punter and kickoff guy—he can just kick things, often a great distance. Even if Gibbons shorts out Michigan will be turning to a guy who they can expect success from. So yeah, I'm breaking out the 5 even if this means I'll be building a moat if things go wrong this fall. YOLO.

[After THE JUMP: Norfleet! Norfleet! Norfleet! (Matt Wile. Terrible punt coverage.)]

Preview 2013: Defensive End

Preview 2013: Defensive End

Submitted by Brian on August 28th, 2013 at 2:39 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, Offensive Line, Defensive Tackle.

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
STRONG DE Yr. NOSE TACKLE Yr. 3-TECH Yr. WEAK DE Yr.
Keith Heitzman So.* Quinton Washington Sr.* Jibreel Black Sr. Frank Clark Jr.
Chris Wormley Fr.* Ondre Pipkins So. Willie Henry Fr.* Mario Ojemudia So.
Matt Godin Fr.* Richard Ash Jr.* Ryan Glasgow Fr.*# Taco Charlton Fr.

Strongside Defensive End

Rating: 2

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This is a two-or-three-way battle that will last into the season. The tentative guy at the top of the depth chart is redshirt sophomore KEITH HEITZMAN [recruiting profile], who backed up Craig Roh last year and was… well, pretty blah. He got crushed inside too often to have done well, and did freshman things like blow up the QB on speed options instead of stringing out to make the quarterback make a tough decision. I didn't actually grab a positive highlight from him last year, and I usually make a point to clip out something from a player I haven't seen do thing X before. His only good game in UFR was against Minnesota; most of the rest of the year he was around –1.

That's not to write him off. Heitzman was a low-rated recruit (actually a Vandy decommit) scooped up in the first-year Hoke blitz who needed to bulk up from the 240 pounds he was listed at as a recruit. Those guys usually take time. Now at 280, Heitzman is better equipped to hold up against the pounding.

Now that he's older and larger, expect plugging. He is the platonic opposite of Jake Ryan. Hoke:

Tell us about Heitzman.

"Keith doesn't do anything flashy. He just gets his job done. He's just truly one of those lunch pail guys who goes to work every day. Doesn't say much. Doesn't talk much. Just goes out and plays."

I… I've got nothing else here. I scoured the site for something interesting someone might have said about him, came up with that quote and a couple near-identical ones from last season (Q: What is Heitzman doing to get more playing time? A: Getting better). Now I'm out. Heitzman remains something of a mystery.

The bet here is an unremarkable season with a lot of platooning. Heitzman will play a lot of running downs, get pulled on passing downs (Black will take over as another WDE moves into the lineup), hold up decently, and get a lot of half-points in UFR for constricting holes. The upside here is low—at least for this year.

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HAIR ZOOM 2013

Heitzman's main competition is CHRIS WORMLEY [recruiting profile], who was in line to receive snaps at three-tech last year when he blew out his ACL in fall camp. A year removed from that, Wormley is still shedding the injury tentativeness that comes with the territory. He is also growing out a ferociously ragged afro, because someone has to take over for Elliott Mealer's interesting hair. A salute to Chris Wormley!

What Wormley brings is hugeness. Ask Hoke:

"Number one, he's huge. He's a big guy," Hoke said. "He's done a nice job coming back from rehab, and probably a better job from the mental side of it. Chris has that potential to be an awfully good football player for us."

He has excellent athleticism attached to said hugeness. He's listed at 6'4", 289, and that looks to be almost all muscle. There was a lot of debate about him as a recruit, with a lack of high school production attributed to motor causing a split between "he's a top 100 kid" (24/7) to "he's a three-star" (Rivals). Ace was actually on the negative side of things:

Wormley's best way to get penetration was to simply run right around his blocker, and while this was nice to see in terms of evaluating his quickness, it brings up another point of concern—how is a 6'6", 270-pound Michigan-bound DE not completely flattening the 6'2", 225-pound offensive tackle across from him with malicious regularity? Again, motor wasn't the issue, but instead pad level; Wormley can get low on occasion, but several times he stood right up off the snap and let the tackle get right into him, turning him into a non-factor.

The fact that he was going to play early at a spot where Michigan had a couple of quality veterans in Black and Campbell is a step towards the top end of his evaluations. Mattison said he was "very talented" and "very smart" and is shedding the tentativeness brought on by the injury:

The thing that he's now showing that he didn't show in the spring is complete trust that he's 100%. So now he's back to turning it loose at different phases. He's got to do it every day. He's got to do it every play. But I don't think there's ever any thought in his mind anymore of, 'Oh, my knee.' "

Assuming Wormley's had a year to work out the kinks in his technique (Certainty Principle), he should be essentially a co-starter with Heitzman quickly. From there, performance will dictate playing time. You are rooting for Wormley to grab the job strongly, as he's the guy with large upside.

[After THE JUMP: Omar comin'? Depth! DEATH STARE 2013. TACO JUMPS OVER THINGS 2013]

Preview 2013: Defensive Tackle

Preview 2013: Defensive Tackle

Submitted by Brian on August 28th, 2013 at 12:19 PM

Previously: Podcast 5.0, The Story, Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver, Tight End and Friends, 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
STRONG DE Yr. NOSE TACKLE Yr. 3-TECH Yr. WEAK DE Yr.
Keith Heitzman So.* Quinton Washington Sr.* Jibreel Black Sr. Frank Clark Jr.
Chris Wormley Fr.* Ondre Pipkins So. Willie Henry Fr.* Mario Ojemudia So.
Matt Godin Fr.* Richard Ash Jr.* Ryan Glasgow Fr.*# Taco Charlton Fr.

Depth chart shows everybody just because.

Michigan has promise, depth, and even experience at defensive tackle that reaches three-deep. Greg Mattison's spent fall camp telling people that he feels he can rotate three-deep everywhere across the line, and I almost believe him. Aside from nose tackle, where it's doubtful Richard Ash gets a lot of playing time, Michigan does have three guys who can play.

At nose they just have an above-average returning starter and the sophomore year of five-star Ondre Pipkins. That'll be an okay platoon, I think. Three-tech is dodgier, with 280-pound Jibreel Black trying to hold up a year after 280-pound Jibreel Black was flipped out to end late so that Washington could make his way into the lineup. Even there they've got two guys they seem to like a lot behind Black.

It's weird, I know. Get used to it: this is a preview of what it's like when Hoke's recruiting classes finally take hold.

Nose Tackle

Rating: 4.5

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Instructed and instructor [unknown/Upchurch]

QUINTON WASHINGTON
penetrates
forces cutback
hello backfield
slants for big TFL
painful looking tackle
and then SC never ran again
smash!
just UMass but still
grraAAAGGHHHH
pad level
pad level pt 2
refuses to get trapped
fights through scoop
sets up Ojemuda FF
occasionally handled
pancaked vs ND
control and chuck
discards NEB OL
gets into the chest

Will Heininger's progression from guy getting blown up against EMU to serious contributor and guy you worry a bit about replacing established this site's "Heininger Certainty Principle," which states that because of Will Heininger Michigan fans should have confidence that Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison will get every ounce of talent out of their charges. That hypothesis graduated to theory when QUINTON WASHINGTON chiseled it in stone over the course of last season.

Washington was a converted offensive lineman with maybe a half-dozen snaps to his name when he was suddenly (and perhaps accidentally) announced as the starter at nose tackle when the Big Ten Network visited Michigan's practice. This caused the usual round of animated emoticons running in circles and a big "I don't know" in last year's preview:

I have no idea how Washington will do. …  Washington is a redshirt junior and former touted recruit, so this could work out. Totally. Maybe.

So of course he was one of the strengths of the defense. Heininger Certainty Principle, you guys.

Washington was flat good last year. When I went back to the UFRs I had nearly as many clips for him as I did Jake Ryan, and in approximately the same proportion of good to bad. He combined power with a fair amount of penetration, and while he wasn't Mike Martin in the UFR charts he was a consistently positive presence. He was the top performer on the defense in the Alabama game, was only negative against Air Force (weird option cutting business) and Nebraska (a –1), and usually ended up solidly positive. His Notre Dame performance was a revelation:

Washington in particular was impressive with his repeated penetration. He's probably as shocked as anyone about this, so he's continually overrunning things, but whatever, man, he's blowing up blocking. I told you this would happen after UMass!

In fact I said that Washington seemed to play well but would obviously not do that against Notre Dame.

While it wasn't a secret All Big Ten season, he was probably better than any nose tackle in the league other than Kawaan Short and Jonathan Hankins. (And maybe Penn State's Jordan Hill; I didn't UFR a Penn State game last year.) Not bad for a guy who caused people to twitch a little bit when he was named the starter.

Along the way he did a number of impressive things. Here he clobbers a Purdue guard into a puller, who ends up clobbering the running back. Unsatisfied, he tries to put the guy in the band:

He gets under guys, rocks them back, and then can rip through at the proper moment:

 

 

 

When he got negatives, they were usually for getting hacked to the ground or not being mobile on stretch plays. Given his plus-level penetration I don't think the latter issue is set in stone. The balance thing isn't a huge problem. He's okay, he's just not Ryan Van Bergen.

Incremental improvement as a senior should get Washington's performance level to All Big Ten. As a nose tackle he may not have the requisite stats to get there, but I'll be surprised if he's not amongst the top guys in the league and a mid-round NFL draftee.

[After THE JUMP: depth! Undersized Jibreel Black! More depth! Seriously!]