"In my opinion, and this is going to upset some people, there have been times last three, four years, the environment has been almost toxic with the negativity surrounding the program," Van Bergen said.
"Everything about Michigan poises it for success. The things that obviously are contributing to our recent misfortunes have nothing to do with if we're able to recruit and our facilities. There is blame to be shared among everybody — players, coaching, administration and fans. Everybody who supports the Michigan program needs to evaluate how they're doing it. If they're being negative about it, change that."
Van Bergen has credibility as a guy who's been under all three of the recent regimes, was willing to tell it how it was when Hoke was there, had a superior senior year under Hoke, and will be honest about the issues facing the program even if they're inconvenient.
One less way we can differentiate ourselves from Ohio. This is potentially lame:
Michigan student-athletes at public universities would not be allowed to unionize under state collective bargaining laws if a bill introduced Tuesday in the Michigan House of Representatives becomes law.
House Bill 6074 would require all student-athletes be classified as “students” and keep them from becoming employees of universities. Because the student-athletes could not be classified as public employees, they would not be entitled to representation or collective bargaining rights under state law.
I'm not sure if that's the way the law-type thing works. Seems like work is work and a legislature can't wave a wand and declare it not so, but I'm just a common sense type guy, not a law-talkin' one. The guy who sponsored this legislation has the usual mish-mash of non-sequiturs—most college athletes don't go pro in their chosen sport—and false dichotomies—is college about getting an education or making money—in its defense, and I dislike him.
"I expected a decision to be made today, but I didn't know which way it was going, one way or the other, I had no idea," Jackson said reporters. "I didn't really expect it. I know we didn't play as well as people would like to see us play. I also understand that it's all about winning and losing.
"We didn't win enough games."
Ah, Fred. In four sentences he says 1) he had no idea, 2) he didn't expect it, and 3) they didn't win enough games. Truly a closing statement worthy of a man with sixteen different beverages on his desk, telling you that every back he ever coached was Adrian Peterson on top of a surly dinosaur.
Engineers in the marching band, you say? I am subscribing to your newsletter.
Nooooooo. David Jones has an entertaining article on the enormous, ridiculous Land Grant trophy, which is just getting to the age where its ridiculousness is a real asset instead of a detriment. Jones details its origin story…
When Hoffman picked up the shiny new Land Grant Trophy from a local Lansing sporting goods shop in 1993, he realized it wasn't quite what he'd pictured:
"I thought, 'My God, that's big.' I'll take the blame for it being so big and heavy," said Hoffman when reached on Tuesday in Cleveland where he's in semi-retirement.
The shop owner, whose name escapes Hoffman 21 years later, had taken all of the specifications and come up with something like a paneled rec room from the 1970s with knickknacks and photos attached to it – a Nittany Lion figurine mailed by Thalman, a Sparty gladiator statuette, a generic gold football player tacked on top, photos of Old Main and MSU's counterpart building – all built into a boxy wooden structure. And it had these decks and levels built onto it, like a committee kept deciding to add more stuff.
Alas, I come to you today with a heavy heart. Because I've been informed by powers greater than I that the end may be near for the LGT. For many of us, we'll feel as if an old friend is moving away. A particularly ugly old friend. It's going to be like comedians saying goodbye to Dan Quayle.
But Penn State officials have, as officials like to say today, "reached out" to Michigan State officials about the future viability of the LGT, "moving forward." When you have a traveling trophy, it's probably best that it can be transported in something other than the bed of a semi-tractor trailer.
To which I say fie. The Land Grant trophy may be the ugly duckling of the trophy world, but it has a charm the "Freedom Trophy" lacks. Keep it.
I know problems. You have problems. Interesting Tim Kawakami article on the dysfunction in the 49ers front office, which is far from all Harbaugh:
York doesn’t like talking to the local media (but Harbaugh’s camp is sure York loves secretly talking to the national media and I can’t disagree with Harbaugh’s camp on that).
Baalke despises almost all media–Baalke really doesn’t like most people, period. He’s a pure scout, cold, clipped, anti-social and often angry.
That works tremendously in the film room or out on the road scouting (Baalke probably is on the road more than any GM in the NFL), but maybe not so well when personalities and philosophies have to be managed.
Oh, and you might’ve heard that Harbaugh is volatile and occasionally crazed. That Harbaugh actually likes it better when things are rattled and people are on edge, all the better to find out what his associates are made of.
Well, Harbaugh has found out exactly what York and Baalke are made of. And they’ve made their decision on him.
We're talking about these seniors. And I figure now's as good a time as any to specify exactly what we're thankful for. It's not simply loyalty to an institution: that for its own sake can lead to otherwise good institutions looking the other way when their members do awful things (see: MSU, OSU, PSU, SEC). Except for an extremely abstract and debatable conceptualization of Michigan as a "good guys" program, what our seniors have done by sticking through the "least rewarding Michigan careers in decades" is not a good because of a higher universal cause it served.
Whom it served was themselves (for they did get degrees), their fellow teammates who stayed, and most importantly for our purposes, us. We thank them for this because Michigan football, for reasons we can't quite articulate without sounding at least a little bit foolish, is massively, massively important to us. And while you can debate whether Michigan's football is—relatively or absolutely—a beacon of morality, or whether caring this much about the athletic derring do's of 22-year-olds is a healthy thing, what nobody is debating is that this thing called Michigan could have become something much less than it is today, and that these seniors, these seniors, saved it.
JUNIOR-JUNIOR JUNIOR JR.
Kenneth Earl "Junior" Hemingway had his own personal angry X–hating god. Services were split on him, depending on whether leaping (tremendous) or speed (sub-mendous) was the high school scout's attribute of choice. Part of that disagreement was, as you probably guessed, because of an injury his junior season. At times in his Michigan career Junior was sidelined with a bum shoulder, sometimes mononucleosis, sometimes a pulled hamstring, sometimes a sprained ankle, sometimes a sprained knee, sometimes an "abrasion," and sometimes another bum shoulder. And sometimes…
The mono struck shortly after that tantalizing catch in '08. Hemingway wasn't allowed to go near his teammates, except his roommate Mike Williams, and even then they had to label their videogame controllers so as not to spread the Junior juju. That was Junior's low point, but the resulting medical redshirt did give him this season (he played as a depth guy in '07).
A National Honor Society member and academic achievement winner, as the story goes (I haven't confirmed this but it matches most students' experiences including mine) he earned enough credits before the end of the '08 season to qualify for "junior standing," meaning Junior spent three years (academically, chronologically, redshirt-) as a junior, which I find fascinating. Possessed of remarkable body control, when Hemingway was available he was Michigan's go-to possession receiver who got tons of YAC, some inexplicable, some simply inconceivable:
"Junior always wants to make big plays," [Denard] Robinson said. "I think he's one of the best receivers in the country."
The same year Hemingway arrived, Michigan's offense transitioned to a zone running scheme. While MANBALL likes centers with enough mass to move massive nose tackles out of the hole, the perfect zone center is a guy who's really strong but also really nimble and really smart. A zone center who can get playside of a DT who's lined up playside of him, and seal that guy off—this is called a reach block—has pretty much created an instant 6 yards for the offense. It is also the hardest block for any offensive lineman to make. I learned this in October of 2008, when somebody first said that David Molk is the best offensive player on the team.
I have a thing for short people. My wife is a generous 5'0. Desmond Howard made me a Michigan fan. When Mike Hart graduated I never thought another player could ever displace him as all-time favorite Wolverine. Because football is weird the guy who would was already on the sidelines.
At one point Molk was a 5'6, 175-lb high school freshman. Then he discovered the weight room and it was love at first lift. Whereas most of Michigan's on-hand interior guys were a terrible fit for Rich Rodriguez's spread 'n shred and Barwis's legendary weight room, this hit-loving, high-motor, high-attitude, high-academic, low-elevation lineman was born for it.
In 2008 Molk never missed a single offensive play. The ones where he reached some dude and Brandon Minor went RAGE-ing into the secondary were interspersed with plays where the whittle guy got tossed into the backfield by various Ogbu monsters and inadvertently kicking Sheridan in the dong (3&O). Molk responded by getting stronger, winning the Iron Wolverine Award as the best-conditioned Michigan lineman. By his sophomore year he was a Lombardi and Rimington candidate and Michigan's offense came alive. Then he broke a foot against EMU, Moosman moved to center, and the offense wasn't as good. Molk came back from the foot (and surgery) for the first series against Penn State and Michigan went 70 yards in the opening scoring drive that consisted almost entirely of 7-yard gains. During that drive Molk tore a ligament in his knee, God canceled Christmas, and all things that ever happened again were the bad things.
If you are concerned that Molk's impending graduation means the dong-punching will start again, this is not an unreasonable fear.
Molk did return in '10—said he: "It's been almost eleven months. Somebody is going to pay."—and was a Rimington finalist and First Team All Big Ten, leading the way for Denard Robinson's Heisman candidate year despite more injuries that Molk refused to talk about. The one we knew knocked him out in the 3rd play versus Iowa. That hurt the rest of the year, though you'd never hear that from Molk. Here's a snapshot of Molk from half-time of the Wisconsin game:
David Molk decided to pull himself up, and he wanted his teammates to come up with him. They were slumped in their stalls, ready to concede, when he stood up and marched around the room. "Hey, Michigan! Are we fucking scared? Because we're playing like it! We are all on our fucking heels. ALL OF US!
"We gotta drop our fucking nuts and MAN UP! We are NOT lying down! We are NOT scared! We will fight! We will FIGHT! And we will GET AFTER THEM!
"Everyone STAND UP! Stretch out! I mean it!"
"Get up!" Van Bergen said, and they did.
"We're gonna hit 'em in the fucking face," Molk said, "and they'll cry! They'll bleed! NOW LET'S GO!"
The offence went out and played the best half against the Badgers that Wisconsin saw all year. But the defense played the worst and Michigan lost 45-28.
Then Rodriguez was fired. Despite the accolades Molk's stature and the NFL's style didn't make a jump to the pro's likely. Not that Molk ever thought about it…
"A lot of thigns had to happen to go 3-9—not because of the coach, but because of the transition. Every guy who had a chance to leave, left. That tore our team apart. We lost starters, backups, you name it. There were only half of us left.
"We're a family. I love all you guys. No matter how much shit I give you—I love you. If we don't' stay together, we'll never make it. This program stays together. I don't want to see anyone leaving. If you do, we'll be crappy for three more years.
"I love Coad Rod. He did everything he could. But now it rests on us."
Black and Blue. Hey, kids. That documentary about Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and Georgia Tech is being screened for free at the Ford Presidential Library at 7 on Friday. If you're not going to the hockey game, hit it up. I am, so I can't, but if anyone does end up going a review in the diaries would be nice.
The passion for such a goal runs so deep in Dorsey that he claims he would try out for the team as a walk-on if a scholarship isn't available.
"If I can get into the school, I know I'll find a way to make the team," he said. "Nobody knows how bad I want it." … "I'm in the same state!" Dorsey said. "Why would you miss out on your best shot in the state? C'mon, Brady Hoke!"
You'd think the cynical crap he got from the local media would have turned him off on the entire state, but I guess not. Guy has goals. Unfortunately, with Michigan's class near-full, its APR hovering in a dangerous zone, the coach who recruited him gone, and Dorsey still carrying academic question marks from his high school career, a reunion is exceedingly unlikely.
Too bad. I'd love to see certain local folks twist themselves into pretzels trying to contrast this version of Dorsey with the one that proved Rich Rodriguez was Mark Dantonio.
UPDATE II: Apparently Dorsey is a 2013 prospect, so it's somewhat less of a longshot. Still a longshot.
The bump. Ace mentioned this in the morning but it's worth repeating: Scout's latest rankings see three Michigan commits (Joe Bolden, Tom Strobel, and AJ Williams) rise significantly with only one (Kaleb Ringer) dropping. Conspiracy theories about Michigan commits dropping all the time should be shelved this year.
BONUS eeee recruiting accounting: Michigan currently has thirteen commits in the Scout 300—actually all in the top 250—and virtually everyone they're still pursuing is also amongst that number. It seems like the only way they won't end up with 17 is if they strike out on two of their three high-end WR targets and have to pick up a decent three star instead.
Marvin Robinson's lawyer: better than Jerry Sandusky's.The Robinson POV on his court thing:
Mason said Robinson already has an Xbox. In fact, he has two, Mason said. The student who reported the theft is an acquaintance of Robinson's, and Robinson has been in his room on "various occasions," Mason said. They trade Xboxes, he said. Mason, a U-M graduate, said it's not uncommon for a student to go into another student's room.
"I lived in Michigan dorms and I used to walk into my room and find people sitting there, watching TV," he said.
Robinson is going to cooperate with university police and Washtenaw County prosecutors, Mason said, adding that Robinson has no criminal record.
"He goes to class," he said. "He goes to study hall. He goes to practice. And he goes to church every Sunday with his mom and dad."
His hearing has been delayed until January. No idea if that's an accurate picture of the situation but I'm guessing Robinson is still on the team when this is resolved.
It’s been almost a half century since Nebraska’s last visit to Michigan Stadium, the place where one of the most powerful college football programs of the modern era emerged.
Bob Devaney earned his first signature victory on that sunny September afternoon in 1962, upsetting the Wolverines 25-13 in what was supposed to be, according to the Detroit Free Press, an “opening-day breather” for the home team.
Every Tuesday, the coaches hand out the scouting reports. Van Bergen usually finds the tendencies and play consistencies watching film on his own. Sometimes he’s right, and sometimes Montgomery has to straighten him out. The answers are always in the binder. In practice, the scout team gives the defense simulations of what they’ll see in the game.
“It goes from there to the game,” Montgomery said. “ ‘Hey Coach, this holds up. Every time they do this, it’s accurate.’ Then they start to believe.” …
Van Bergen knew Iowa was going to sneak its quarterback when it hurried up to the line on a fourth-and-1 two weeks ago — he and Martin snuffed it out.
The past three weeks in particular, Montgomery said, Van Bergen has been well versed in the opponent’s “meat and potatoes” (Hoke’s term for tendencies and key plays).
No wonder they’ve been his best three weeks of the season — 13 tackles, five tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.
He knew what play Purdue was going to run in the shadow of its own endzone, based on a tip — alignment, personnel, formation or all the above. He told Martin, who then ripped through the line for a safety because he knew what was coming.
Unless he has a long NFL career (not entirely out of the question), Van Bergen is going to be defensive line Mike Hart as soon as he graduates—the guy everyone follows in his coaching career, hoping he returns.
I was listening to the BSD podcast this week for various reasons mostly having nothing to do with football, but I did get a football tidbit when they had Ramzy from Eleven Warriors on. He mentioned that you can pick out OSU passing plays because their n00b receivers only look at their wristbands when it's a pass. That'll probably get hammered out by the time the Game rolls around; given the widespread antipathy for Bollman OSU will probably be tipping things in ways not so easily addressable.
"The year my class came here was after the 1 versus 2 Ohio (State) game and Michigan went to the Rose Bowl," Van Bergen said, referring to the 2006 season. "That was my expectation — we're going to play Ohio to go to the Rose Bowl every year I'm here. I was going to have coach (Lloyd) Carr for my whole time here, and it was going to be great.
"The amount of adversity that has been encountered by this senior class, especially the fifth-year guys, I'd be hard-pressed to find another group that has survived and now thrives in that situation. I don't know how much people even realize how dedicated these guys were."
"I guessed three times it was going to be a pass just by their formation, and I was right all three times. So I was like, 'You know what? Eff this, I'm doing it.' Mike went with me. He jumped in and it was successful."
(Angelique bowdlerized "eff this" to "forget this"; Heiko reports that it was "Eff" but not the full Molk.)
What’s Nebraska’s greatest position strength? Greatest weakness?
It’s not really a matter of position strength as it is a matter of depth and experience. It’s kind of a catch 22 for NU right now. NU’s best defensive player is a linebacker, Lavonte David. And, Will Compton has steadily improved. So, its a strength, right? The problem is they are very weak/thin at linebacker after those two. The same could be said for the secondary. Alfonzo Dennard is a stud, and they all feed off of him. At times, they play well. At others, they are very suspect. It’s the same story at running back – a strength because Burkhead is stud, potential weakness because it’s only freshman behind him. When he got nicked up against Northwestern, it hurt the offense a lot.
As far as a a true strength for NU, I can’t overstate how much quality special teams play has helped the Huskers so far this year. Brett Maher’s punting was important last week. He’s done a great job as a kicker this year too. The NU return game has been strong too. That’s the stuff that quietly helps win games.
Tight ends: pro-style requirements. Today in "quoting everything Chris Brown writes" we focus on tight ends. You may remember an emailer questioning Michigan's decision to take Pharaoh Brown as a tight end because defensive ends seem more valuable. I wrote then:
I get the vibe that tight end is going to be a big deal with Borges. If we're headed to a collection-of-plays Boise-style offense, having a diverse set of tight ends is a key component. Having a 6'6" guy who can run some is a major help in your effort to whiplash the defense from huge power running sets to spread passing attacks. What do you do when the opposition has a guy who can block a defensive end but can't be covered by a linebacker? Brown may be that guy.
Now Brown tackles the transformation of the Patriots offense from a full-spread passing attack back to something approximating NFL norms:
[In response to Rex Ryan blitzing his spread to death] Belichick went out and drafted [tight ends] Gronkowski and Hernandez.
Hernandez is more of a pure receiver, and his chief advantage is as a substitution/personnel problem: If he's in the game, you don't know if he'll line up as a tight end or if he'll split wide so that Welker can play the slot, forcing you to decide whether to put your cornerback on Welker or Hernandez, potentially creating advantages in both the run and passing game. But Gronkowski is a true triple-threat from the tight-end spot: He can block, he can go out for passes, and he can even block and then go out for delayed passes. Multiple defenders have to keep their eyes on him. And against such a threat, Ryan can't sell out with the multifarious blitzes overloaded to one side or the other, simply in an all-out effort to get Tom Brady. The presence of the tight ends—where will they line up, what will they do—dictates terms back to Rex Ryan, who would much rather cut loose and go on carrying his father's torch as the destroyer of pretty-boy quarterbacks.
Having Brown, Devin Funchess, and AJ Williams* in one class isn't overkill if a two-TE set is going to be the closest thing to a base offense Michigan has, and if you can split out a 6'6" dude like Brown that makes the whiplashing even whiplashier. There are a lot of things to get excited about in this recruiting class but the diverse, athletic set of tight ends they acquired is high on my list.
*[I know a lot of people are talking up Williams as a tackle. I think that's a possible endpoint for him but if that move ends up happening it won't be soon. Michigan will need him to play as a freshman.]
A long, long time ago now a Lloyd-Carr coached Michigan team was struggling through the 2005 season when they met Northwestern. A lot of throws to Tacopants (Jason Avant's 11-foot-tall imaginary friend) on both sides later, Michigan emerged with a 33-17 win and I embarked on one of the first of an endless procession of stat-nerd diatribes about the evils of punting.
You've probably heard it already: punting decisions have not kept pace with the increasingly offensive nature of the game, leaving coaches in a perpetual state of risk- and win-avoidance. Romer paper, Pulaski High, Mathlete chart. Etc.
In this particular Northwestern game, though, Carr went for it on fourth and five from the Northwestern 23, a decision I thought was too aggressive(!). When paired with a number of similarly aggressive calls from earlier that season, it seemed like a sea change for the old man:
In multiple cases he's made tough, correct decisions: going on fourth and goal from the one against Wisconsin, pounding it into the line twice against Michigan State, etc. Even when the strategy has backfired, he accepts the downside and persists in a more aggressive posture.
In context, the Penn State gaffe seems more like one last hit of that sweet Bombay Popsicle* snuck in-between rehab sessions than evidence of 1970s thinking taking hold. Lloyd Carr has checked himself in to the Betty Ford Center for Coaches Addicted to Low Variance. I wouldn't expect a flying-colors discharge any time soon, but he's made the first, biggest step.
*[I don't know either.]
That change lasted into the fourth quarter of that year's Ohio State game. Having acquired a two-score lead by converting a fourth and inches around the Michigan 40, Carr reverted to his primitive instincts at the crucial moment. With three minutes left from the Ohio State 40, he called for a wide receiver screen on third and ten. It gained six yards. With a two point lead, three minutes on the clock, no Ohio State timeouts left, and a fourth and four on the Ohio State 34, Carr punted. Ohio State drove for a touchdown; Carr would never again have the opportunity to kill a game against the Buckeyes.
In the moment, Carr choked. Six years on that single decision seems like the best way to explain why a lot Michigan fans found his tenure frustrating despite its high rate of success: the program was perpetually making poor decisions because a combination of fear and arrogance. Something could go wrong if you made a high variance decision, and Michigan could spit on expected value because This Is Michigan. See any game in which Michigan acquired an 18-point lead or the first half of the Orange Bowl for confirmation.
Carr coached like he had a kickass running game and killer defense no matter the facts, which was the difference between being a legend and a being a B+ coach who lost the battle with Tressel authoritatively. Hell, even Tressel blew games when he failed to adjust to the reality that sometimes his defense and special teams were not enough, and he ran roughshod over the Big Ten for nine years.
Part of the reason a segment of the Michigan fanbase (including the author) blew up at Hoke's hire is because it seemed to represent a return to that expectation-spurning 1970s decision-making.
Brady Hoke put a lot of those fears to rest by going for—and getting—the win against Notre Dame with eight seconds left. That decision was a no-brainer. If the field goal team had run out onto the field, I would have been livid. That was a test he passed, but it was one with a low bar.
On Saturday, Hoke sent out the punting team with about two and a half minutes left in the first half. It was fourth and two around midfield, and I was mildly peeved. It was not the percentage play, but I've watched a lot of football and it seemed too much to hope that even the rootin'est, tootin'est, eyepatch-wearingest pirate of a head coach would go for it. Needing more than a sneak and up fourteen in the first half, the world punts. My peevishness was directed at football coaches in general, not Hoke in particular.
And then an angel came down from the sky, and signaled timeout. Great trumpets erupted from the flagpoles, playing a fanfare as a golden staircase descended. Each of the steps was engraved with the names of World Series of Poker winners. Down from the clouds strode Doyle Brunson, clad in a jacket of hundred-dollar bills. And lo, Texas Dolly spaketh unto the people: "check-raise." Brady Hoke sent the offensive line onto the field.
This was a really, really good decision. Even if you don't believe the exact outlines of the Mathlete's calculations, it is not close: average offense versus average defense means the break-even line is around eight yards. This was not an average situation. Michigan had Denard Robinson against a pretty horrible run defense. And that number does not take into account the game situation. If Michigan gets the first down they are almost certainly robbing San Diego State of a possession. Punting gets you thirty, forty yards of field position. Getting the first down puts you in good position to score and is essentially another +1 in turnover margin. You need two yards and you have Denard Robinson.
stealing a joke from the internet: the guy on the right looks like he just looked into the Ark of the Covenant. via the News.
One speed option later Michigan was en route to the endzone and had essentially ended the game. Without that massively +EV decision they go into halftime up maybe 14, maybe 11, maybe 7 points. That ugly third quarter becomes the gut-check time most were predicting before the game. Maybe Michigan comes out on top (24-21, say). Maybe not. That didn't happen because when Michigan had its boot on San Diego State's neck, Hoke called Z 22 stomp right.
The Lloyd Carr example above shows we don't know that Hoke's going to do this consistently, that he'll stick to the non-pejorative MANBALL when the pressure is at its greatest, but so far so good. Even my doubts about Hoke's ability to math up in the waning moments of an Ohio State game are faint. When things go wrong he does not scowl or pout or throw headsets like Rich Rodriguez or Brian Kelly or Bo Pelini. He does not go on tilt. He calmly talks to guys about what in the hell they were thinking.
Hoke continues to leave best-case scenarios in the dust. Saturday night I watched Dennis Erickson punt on fourth and five from the USC 37 and thought "my coach would never do that." Then I watched Erickson chew out the punter who put the ball in the endzone because that's what happens when you punt from the 37 and thought "my coach would never do that."
That felt good. It felt invent-a-time-machine-to-assure-yourself-its-all-going-to-be-okay good. It feels like Michigan has finally learned how to gamble.
Boy do I want to play poker with certain people on the internet. Evaluating the decision has popped up on every Michigan message board. It's mostly been met with praise, but man, there are a lot of people who can't estimate and multiply out there. Maybe it's Carr Stockholm syndrome.
That's a great question. Just as our rationality leads us to a belief in an objective reality, Kant believed there is an objective morality we can locate from the same process. The Categorical Imperative is an absolute, fundamental moral law on par with Minnesota losing to teams from the Dakotas. Things are either right or wrong—there are no gray areas, and context does not apply. You could call him the BJ Daniels of philosophy*.
*[Ten-cent summary of Kantian philosophy cribbed from Three Minute Philosophy, which is terrific. Philosophers wishing to quibble with my paraphrase of a comedic summary are invited to consider the moral consequences of their actions and also jump in a lake. USF fans wishing to WOO BJ DANIELS can skip to the latter.]
And the internet eeeed Countess. When Troy Woolfolk headed to the sidelines, all Michigan fans everywhere winced. When Blake Countess replaced JT Floyd in the third quarter, all Michigan fans everywhere prepared for the deluge.
It never came, and as a result everyone from my uncle to the internet to thenewspapers are having little freakouts about Michigan's #4 corner. I am with all of you. The only thing stopping Countess from having a few PBUs or interceptions was Ryan Lindley's inability to throw the ball anywhere near the guys Countess had blanketed but Lindley targeted anyway.
For most of the third quarter I stopped watching the offensive backfield and started watching downfield coverage and while I won't be able to confirm this on the tape I think Countess was doing really well even when people weren't going after him. I'm with the rest of the internet when I suggest that Troy Woolfolk should take the Minnesota game off to recover from his multiple nagging injuries so we can see some more of the freshman.
I thought Avery did well, too. He had a third-down slant completed on him and was the DB victimized on the touchdown but in both cases he was right there tackling/raking at the ball. Is he doing something wrong I'm not perceiving yet? Because I think he's playing better than Woolfolk, who gave up some groan-worthy easy completions. (I don't blame him for allowing Hillman to bounce on one third down conversion because he was clearly held.)
Release the Martin. This week in the I-told-you-so files: Mike Martin is just fine. His good day last week was obscured by EMU never throwing and having quite a bit of success attacking away from him. Against SDSU he was nigh unblockable, bowling a veteran offensive line over backwards multiple times and drawing holding calls left and right. Craig Roh had two big plays and will show up doing little things when I do the UFR; Will Campbell had a couple of line-pushing plays. Hillman's YPC was still over five, so there are issues but I think a big chunk of them are localizable to…
Problems. So… everyone's talking up Jake Ryan, too. I'm with everyone in a general, long-term sense but a little less enthused about his performance on Saturday. One of the results of the first few weeks of UFRing/picture paging is that whenever the opponent tries to get outside I immediately focus on Ryan. Result from last week: three "aaargh Ryan" screams that no one in my section comprehended. He's still giving up the corner way too easy.
Also, there are two caveats to an otherwise encouraging performance from the secondary. One: Lindley and his receivers were flat bad as a group. Drops, bad routes, and bad throws artificially boosted Michigan's efficiency against him. Some of that was caused by pressure. Some of it was just a crappy opponent. Two: I wonder if Michigan's familiarity with the SDSU offense allowed them to beat the Aztecs' favorite routes into Michigan DBs heads.
Still, 5.3 YPA and actual depth at corner. +1 Mallory.
Offensive construction bits. Another week, another confirmation that running Denard is the offense. While I still groan whenever they line up under center, snaps from there were limited. I would really prefer it if they never ran I-form power on first and ten again, though. They've mixed in some inexplicably effective short play action so far; if they can't run that will probably dry up.
Things I liked: That screen to Smith. The essence of an RPS+3 is when three offensive linemen have no one to block for 30 yards. And then the much-discussed speed option debuted. I'd gotten a couple insider emails telling me it was part of the offense but thought it would be extremely bad form to publish that, so I'd been waiting. It was quite a debut.
I'm hoping we see Borges add wrinkles at the same rate Rodriguez did. He'll have to to keep the run offense ahead of the wolves. He's off to a good start.
Tailbacks. I'm suddenly happy with Michigan's tailback situation after Vincent Smith made a lot of yards on his own, including the above touchdown where he kept his balance at about the five and managed to drag a safety into the endzone. There was also the zone play where he squeezed through a crack in the line it's possible literally no other D-I back would have fit through.
Toussaint, meanwhile, didn't have the yards Smith did but ran hard on the inside; I still like him best but understand if they're going to split duties between the top two. I feel bad for Shaw—maybe it's time to put him on kickoffs? He's got speed Smith does not.
The Denard question. So they did run a curl-flat. Denard went to the curl way late and threw his first interception. Not sure if that was schemed or just bad execution by the offense. If it's the latter that might be attributable to not running it over the offseason as Borges attempted to install his route packages, route packages that now seem like things Denard just can't do.
A three-point plan in an attempt to get Denard back on track:
Stop throwing on the run.
Provide some easy throws early—all hitch, snag—in an effort to get him calmed down.
Develop some sort of counter-punch to the opponent getting all up in Denard's face on the rollout PA. A shovel pass?
Bending but not breaking. Michigan's giving up a lot of yards but not a lot of points. Frankly, some of this is luck. They are acquiring turnovers at an unsustainable rate. Not unsustainable for a mediocre defense, unsustainable for Michigan 1997. When the well dries up they'll do some more breaking.
The other thing is the secondary. Michigan's newfound ability to make plays on deep balls and Jordan Kovacs being stone-cold reliable (so far /crosses self) have erased cheap touchdowns for the opposition. WMU's touchdown came on a 15-play drive. ND touchdown drives went 7, 10, 7, and 4 plays. San Diego State's took six plays but started from the Michigan 38. The only quick drive Michigan's given up all year was ND's desperation drive, on which Michigan gave up chunks on purpose because of the time situation and then tried an NFL-style defense they weren't ready for and blew it. The longest touchdown other than that was the 16-yard pass Lindley hit in the third quarter.
Opponents have ripped off chunks on occasion, but they have not been handed free touchdowns. Michigan's at least making them earn it. That's a necessary first step on the road away from completely awful.
The next opponent. When Minnesota managed to hang with USC on the first weekend of the season they seemed like they might be more intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Then they lost to Not Even The Good New Mexico and North Dakota State and seemed even less intimidating than your average Minnesota team. Compounding matters: Jerry Kill is again out of commission with his seizure issue.
I did not VOAV this week for reasons of being spooked. Boyz In The Pahokee provided the usual bounty if you are jonesing.
Matt Wile. Wait, let me try that again. MATT WILE!!! Yeah, I think he was properly pumped up to play his Dad's team. Net yards per kickoff were 50 for SDSU and 49.2 for UofM. To be even on kickoffs is a win for us. Net yards per punt were 34.7 for SDSU and 43.5 for Michigan. To gain almost a full first down per punt is huge. Two punts were inside the 20, and two were 50+ yards. #82, Terrance Robinson had 2 ST tackles and did a great job as the gunner on punts.
Wile's just lost his punting job; if that allows him to improve his kickoffs and compete for the field goal job, Michigan's kicking could be one of those strength things by midseason.
Michigan needs Hagerup back. Maybe Hagerup isn't the only answer. Wile's kicks are improving it would seem, both on KOs and punts, possibly because his nerves are settling down. Kickoffs regularly made it to the goal line and only 1 of 4 punts was returned for much while they averaged 49 yards per with a long of only 51(!).
After the Notre Dame game, I tweeted very simply: "And the singing, Captain?" "Let them sing." The moment was too good to start worrying about the future. But at some point, the future arrives and you need to deal with it. How well prepared you are for that future plays a large role in how well you're able to handle it when the moment arrives. The non-conference schedule, particularly one played as four games at the start of the season should, theoretically, be a nice combination of challenges and the working out of kinks. Before the mission starts, you must know the capacity and capabilities of your crew.
Fifth-year senior defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen caught Hillman from behind inside the 10-yard line and knocked the ball loose for the second fumble.
Try reading it this way: a 288-pound defensive tackle caught the nation’s second-leading rusher from behind in the open field — 30 yards away from the line of scrimmage.
Van Bergen got a block from fifth-year senior defensive tackle Mike Martin, but most of his help came from practice.
“But when it comes down to it, we have the most explosive player in the country in our backfield,” Van Bergen said. “We get to play against (junior quarterback) Denard (Robinson), so we’ve learned how to take angles at guys who have speed.
“I took off on my horse just thinking, ‘I’ve almost caught Denard before, maybe I can catch this guy.’ ”
“They were very emotional after the game, depressed, disappointed, upset, however you want to say,” said Long, whose team dropped to 3-1 after Saturday’s 28-7 defeat. “It was a very emotional locker room after the game and not in a good sense.”
They probably would have done a “poor job” of answering questions, Long said, so he kept them behind closed doors. “It’s my job to protect them,” Long said Sunday. “This is not pro football.” …
"The defense got shocked by the speed of especially one guy (Robinson),” Long said. “They got shocked by the strength they had up front and the speed of quarterback early in the game.”
• Offensively, Michigan is 13-for-13 on red-zone opportunities. It is one of 13 teams in the country to have scored on every trip inside the 20-yard line this year.
• Even better? The Wolverines have scored touchdowns on 12 of those 13 trips. That 92-percent touchdown rate trails only Texas Tech nationally.
One of the main arguments made in favor of Shotgun Forever is that red zone efficiency is not a stat that shows much repeatable skill year to year and that the huge chunks of yards Michigan picked up without, you know, scoring in 2010 would turn into points if you just left the damn thing alone (and got a kicker). The early returns are excellent.
- Michigan 28, San Diego State 7. Brady Hoke’s new team faced his old team, and I’m still not sure, despite their 4-0 record, that we know anything about this Michigan football team. The defense seems to be improving under DC Greg Mattison, but they’ve been using so much movement and motion to cover up their talent weaknesses it’s unclear how the defense will fare against a polished opponent. And while the offense has found a better rhythm running a Rich Rodriguez-lite Denard Robinson attack — including Denard’s long TD run on the speed option — his passing line was abysmal: 8 of 17 for 93 yards, no TDs and two interceptions. He’s obviously uncomfortable in the new offense. He looked like a more polished and comfortable passer last year. I chalk some of this up to the fact that the very techniques he’s using are new, but he’s going to have to improve for UM to have success. That said, given Michigan’s favorable schedule — no Wisconsin and the easy part of the Big 10 schedule up next — we may not learn anything about Michigan until the last three weeks of the season, when they play Illinois, Nebraska and Ohio State.
No one else bothered. A couple weeks after puntosauring himself into a loss against Iowa State, BHGP documents Kirk Ferentz opening Iowa's game against ULM in a shotgun spread, demonstrating the Carr thing above perfectly.