[Ed. A—Thanks to Orion Sang and The Michigan Daily crew for passing along audio]
This is kind of interesting for us.
Just last year we were on the other side—
“Oh, that’s right, on the other—”
How’s it been for you?
“Uh, this has been just a great opportunity and coach Harbaugh has been a guy that obviously I’ve followed for a long time, and the opportunity to come and learn from him and kind of see how someone else kind of does it and puts it together, it’s really been a lot of fun.”
Can you take us through how he contacted you, and how long did it take you to jump on this offer?
“Well, kind of, maybe, I don’t know if he got the wrong number and I answered. You know, I don’t really know how it came about but we got a phone call and was obviously very excited to come and, if nothing else, just getting an opportunity to kind of stand in the background and see how something’s operated, and that’s what’s been really good. He extended the offer and I was really excited about that. My wife and I are really excited about being in Ann Arbor.”
Taking over the wide receiver group, what was the first thing you wanted to teach this group of wide receivers?
“Well, I think there obviously is a lot of talent there, and good, young talent. The thing I really enjoy is being in that room with them. They’re really good people, good young men.
“For us, one of the focus areas has been ability to, number one, get open, especially against all the press coverage that you see. They’ve really worked on honing their skills and trying to do what we’re trying to teach them to do, and yet we’ve got a long ways to go, but at the same time it’s really a fun group of guys and it’s great to be around them.”
[After THE JUMP: Curr Dogg, SEC speed, and how the basketball team could fuel the WR group’s success]
“Yeah, on behalf of the 2017 Michigan Wolverines football team and the University of Michigan, we’re excited as heck to be coming down to the Outback Bowl. We all have—most of us, anyway, on the team—friends and family in Florida. We are excited about the competition in South Carolina and… hard football team. Been watching them a little bit and they’re tough. They’re really well coached.
“We’re excited about the New Year’s Day game on January 1st. I think it’s gonna be one of the most exciting January 1st lineup of bowl games that I’ve ever seen, so excited to be part of it and can’t wait. Know it’s going to be a lot of preparation our team will take up, get underway here this week.
“We know we’ve got to be better and that starts today and having a great matchup against South Carolina really helps motivate us to do that.”
What’s your reaction to the Big Ten getting shut out of the playoff this year and the decision to go with Alabama over Ohio State?
“My reaction is there should be more than four teams in the playoffs. Again, just to reiterate, eight teams, 12 teams, 16 teams—16 would ideal to be in the playoffs. It would make us more like every other spot, every other collegiate sport that has a playoff, every league in sports that has a playoff and a championship that does it through a playoff format. “FCS, I mean, they have that format. It’s been in place. I think it’s up to 24 teams now and at that level I think it’s the ideal way to do it, so that’s my first reaction.”
I know you always talk about bowl practices as a way to catapult the team into next season but how much are you guys looking at this bowl game as more of maybe a way to validate the season for yourselves? There were a lot of variables this year: some injuries, three quarterbacks. How much are you looking at this game as kind of more just a validation of this season rather so much than catapulting into next season?
“I’d say both, Adam. Really building and attacking at the same time. This season and next season all at the same time. It’s both.”
If I could follow up real quick, just a few weeks or actually about a month or so of bowl preparation. How much more are you looking to see out of you team going into this bowl game. Is there another level that you feel you can reach that you haven’t reached in the regular season?
“Absolutely. We look at it right now, we’re not good enough. Not good enough to win all our games and we need to be better. We need to be good enough, and that starts now. That starts now, today. That started—well, really started last week, you know, as we go forward building and attacking, using our meeting time, using our training time, using our practice time, [and] this next ball game all to motivate us and improve as a football team.”
[After THE JUMP: Peters’ status (wrt the concussion and otherwise), Speight’s transfer, a Tarik Black update, and a discussion about better redshirt rules]
What’s it like practicing against a Don Brown defense every day?
“It makes us better. It makes us better without a doubt. It really is a true test of our rules, you know, with the energy that they bring and how intense his defense is. It raises the level of our intensity as an offense.”
Where have you seen Brandon Peters get better from the start of the season?
“Well, Brandon’s still a work in progress. He’s only played in a portion of one game. Just like a lot of our young players, time on task, having more time on task has allowed them to improve. I don’t want to say that there’s not still a lot of work to be done, because there is. But he’s gotten more reps as of late and we expect continued improvement.”
What did he do to convince you guys to put him in the game? What’s he doing in practice?
“He had a better understanding as the season went on of the offense. More recently, once Wilton went down he had more of an opportunity to get reps with the first offense.”
Was there a play or two that stood out Saturday as impressive to you for a guy getting his first live action?
“Absolutely. Finding the checkdown. The play where we had a four vertical concept called in the red zone, he didn’t force it downfield, he didn’t force it to one of our tight ends that were running down the seams, he stepped up in the pocket, showed tremendous poise, and checked the ball down to Henry Poggi and that was a big play for us.”
[After THE JUMP: finding offensive rhythm with the guys you’ve got, more on Peters, and Mo Hurst: destroyer of games, wrecker of handoffs]
SPONSOR NOTES. Just recommended HomeSure Lending to a friend and it's weird that I have to say "you should know this guy sponsors us," because I actually would recommend Matt even if that was not the case because when we refi-ed our house I had quotes for various mortgage lengths very very quickly. The deal was done in a flash.
But yeah like he does sponsor us, which is even better. It's nice to have sponsors you can actually recommend with a clear conscience, especially because they have never paid a dime to the Larry Culpepper guy.
FORMATION NOTES. Air Force runs a 3-4, but it's not like that. Whereas your conventional 3-4 has big guys who two-gap, Air Force has little guys. It's a one-gap 3-4, if you will.
The NT almost always shaded between the C and G in a one tech, with four linebackers in the traditional 3-4 umbrella. Sometimes head up with the same umbrella, and check those safeties on first and freakin' ten:
Now, there are a ton of very obvious ways in which this is not at all the 3-3-5 stack Michigan runs. Air Force doesn't stack their linebackers, for one. They rarely insert an OLB between their DEs as anything other than a twist blitz; Michigan is constantly making Furbush an extra DL. AF just about always shaded their NT instead of running a zero-tech, and they had a clear weakside and strongside end, with the strongside end basically a DT. Michigan's DEs have run identical techniques for the duration of the season. Also there is not a withdrawn MLB like Bush; instead two ILBs.
These are the ways in which Michigan's defense is not at all like Air Force's, which is a one-gap 3-4.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES. The regular at QB and OL. Onwenu got pulled for the last three plays of the final drive, with Runyan coming in. Isaac was the starting RB and got the bulk of the work; Evans was pulled after his fumble until late, when Isaac went out with a minor injury. Mason one snap at FB, with the seniors going the rest of the way.
WR was Black, Crawford, and DPJ outside with cameos from Schoenle on running plays. That's getting into a major play tip zone, though Black's injury might change that. Perry got most of the run in the slot; McDoom had maybe a dozen snaps, and not all were jet stuff.
Tight end was the usual rotation of everyone, minus Wheatley. He had a ding that held him out. Also I might not have seen Eubanks? I don't think I saw Eubanks. Bunting is losing ground, BTW, to McKeon and Gentry.
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FORMATION NOTES: Michigan didn't do anything weird except for a fake-out Emory And Henry on the first snap they never returned to.
Cincinnati mostly played a 4-3 under, sometimes with a standup end.
Line slid away from the strength of the formation, WDE stands up, SAM type substance. They played a lot like a 3-4, with three big DL and the linebacker type guy, even if they didn't have a guy lining up head up on the C:
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: OL and QB remained the same. No Runyan run-out this week. Cesar Ruiz got one snap as a super jumbo TE. Isaac was the primary back with Evans and Higdon getting maybe a quarter of the snaps each.
Crawford and Perry were the top receivers in snaps garnered with Black and DPJ splitting the other outside WR snaps. McDoom had some limited time; Nate Schoenle got maybe ten snaps, none of which he was targeted on. TE remained a blender, with McKeon, Wheatley, and Gentry most prominent.
[After THE JUMP: absolutely no discussion of the QB situation, sorry]
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FORMATION NOTES: uh i forgot to take clips just a sec
There wasn't anything too weird except a few tackle over plays. There was an increase in WR snaps. Michigan averaged 2.1 WRs, 1.4 TEs, and 1.5 RBs per snap. Before the 22-personnel heavy fourth quarter Michigan had 2.3 WRs per snap.
PERSONNEL NOTES: QB was Speight with those two O'Korn drives. RB was Evans primarily, then Isaac, then Higdon, and that's it. FB seemed about evenly split between Poggi and Hill.
OL was Cole-Bredeson-Kugler-Onwenu-Ulizio the whole way except for one brief drive where Runyan replaced Onwenu.
WR was fairly diverse. Black, Crawford, and Perry led the way. DPJ, Ways, and McDoom got scattered snaps behind the starters. TE seemed split almost evenly between McKeon, Wheatley, Bunting, Gentry, and Eubanks. Those snaps are probably in descending order.
I felt pretty good about this game for a long time, and continued to feel better as we approached it. First Jim McElwain freaked out about someone on the internet facetiously claiming that he laid upon a shark in the nude. Then some Florida guy said this about the Michigan defensive line:
"They don't move well sideline to sideline, so I think we should take advantage of things like that."
Allegedly paying some SEO outfit 70,000 clams to scrub your Google results of a twitter joke that nobody would have remembered 24 hours later if you hadn't gone full Streisand Effect is one thing. Declaring Michigan's defensive line to lack Southern Speed is another.
The former is insane, yes, but insane manias are not just encouraged but required for high-level college football coaches. Telling your team that Mo Hurst, Chase Winovich, and Rashan Gary can't run is plain old laziness.Gary and Hurst made tackles on WR screens...
Heggie can't hold block on Hurst (duh, R-FR vs. NFL 1st rounder). McCoy, who's looking upfield to block 9, doesn't notice til it's too late. pic.twitter.com/cZu74GiA7T
A Michigan team that sent so much to the NFL a year ago could have been the subject of many, many legitimate critiques to be expressed in the media. For Florida Man to settle on that one, and say it out loud, was proof that the Gators' internal monologue was indistinguishable from any random SEC SPEED message board. Before this game they talked like one; during this game they played like one; after this game they probably imploded like one. Florida talked that work, got that work, and talked about getting worked.
Reporter: I saw you had a work type shirt with your name on it? What's that? Harbaugh: It's my work shirt. Reporter: Is there more of a story to it? Harbaugh: No, just a shirt I wear to work.
Jim Harbaugh is accused of stunts, antics, and bids for media relevancy on the regular. These are mostly true. The subtext, however, is that Harbaugh's profile-raising activities eat into time otherwise spent on the boring work of making a football team. That is not true. Harbaugh and his coaches are also doing that.
Michigan spent most of this game in a bonafide 3-3-5 that they had hardly shown on film last year, baffling Florida's blocking schemes and showing two unprepared quarterbacks a glimpse of hell. Hell is Rashan Gary closing on you unblocked. The proper response is to fall over and pretend you died of rabies, as Felipe Franks did.
On offense Michigan's backs repeatedly burst outside to find that Florida had neglected to deploy a force player. The consistency with which this happened was baffling at first and then felt like a thing Michigan saw and prepared to exploit. Probably 60% of their rushing yards came on the 10-12 carries that started inside and ended outside. At one point I thought about that sideline video from the Stanford-VT Orange Bowl where Harbaugh's telling his back the backside cut is there, and sure enough.
Mike Shaw would have kicked ass in this game [Cook]
In the aftermath, McElwain talked about how his team got beat up and pushed around by a bigger, stronger Michigan team... you know, the one deploying 10 new starters on defense and a receiving corps consisting entirely of baby lambs stretching their legs. That's default coach talk after taking it on the chin, but Florida didn't lose a bench press competition. They lost because Michigan presented them with a puzzle they could not solve.
Many teams have done that to Florida these last seven years. The Gators are now in the exact same place Michigan was during the dolorous late Hoke era. Spencer:
This is laughable, like openly contemptible. Consider the list of teams that with meager resources and worse recruiting footprints and every other curse imaginable have built top 30 offenses out of nothing. That list based on 2016 alone is hilariously bad given what Florida spends on their head coach alone, not to mention the resources surrounding the football program, one that even after all that spending has topped out at a recent ceiling of “sort-of fleshed-out secondary character with an inflated reputation who makes it into the second act of the Western before being killed in a gunfight when he runs out of bullets.”
Michigan is now on the other side of this equation and when Florida hires Jeff Brohm next year they will be too, and if you're not pulling for that you are a cold person indeed.
For Michigan, a fog of nervousness now evaporated. Your author spent 50k words talking about why he wasn't worried about Michigan's incredible outflux of starters, but as some guy named Foug walked up for the opening kickoff there were butterflies all the same. The difference between "should be" and "is" has bitten Michigan fans too many times in the last decade, and at kickoff all that practice talk is just talk.
Foug could have put that ball straight out of bounds and kicked off a clownshow. At one point, after three separate game-losing disasters in a row, it felt like he had. Michigan did not waver, and once the disasters stopped raining down they asserted themselves as one would.
"This is Michigan" no longer feels like a cruelly oblivious thing to proclaim. They lost the world, and they are still here, being Michigan. Working at it every day.
Full game tight cut:
Postgame presser from Harbaugh:
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1 Devin Bush. This space has asserted that Devin Bush was accidentally the perfect Don Brown linebacker recruit, and it took one game for that to become obvious. Bush got two sacks in this game and had a few more instances of QB terror; he takes angles that normally mean you lose and wins with them; he shows up in the QB's chest with a quickness that seems to shock them. He is a missile.
#2 Ty Isaac. Not sure how much this is going to translate to opponents that either make sure to have a force guy and pay attention to a run threat on third down, but Isaac was mansome in game one. He converted two third and longs on the ground, embarrassed a couple of would-be tacklers, and kinda looked five-star-ish against a very fast defense.
#3 Quinn Nordin. Nordin missing a 32-yarder was the only thing preventing him from ending up #1 on the list. One game into his Michigan career he's already tied for third in career 50+ yard field goals, with 50 and 55 yarders to his name. He also grooved a couple shorter ones down the middle. His other miss, from 52, was eminently understandable.
Honorable mention: Tarik Black's two catches went for 80+ yards; DPJ nearly broke two different punt returns; Winovich, Hurst, and Gary were all between good and dominant, also the entire rest of the defense.
3: Devin Bush (#1, Florida) 2: Ty Isaac (#2, Florida) 1: Quinn Nordin (#3, Florida)
Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week
Embedded above: Chase Winovich seals the game in the most appropriate fashion possible.
Honorable mention: Nordin bangs in 55-yarder; Nordin bangs in a 50-yarder; Tarik Black is wide open for a deep touchdown; Nick Eubanks is a very fast quasi-TE; Ambry Thomas rips the ball out on a kick return; various and sundry assaults on Florida QB sanity.
MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.
Pick six #2. This was the moment during the game when a loss felt most plausible, because every subsequent Michigan drive was destined to end in a pick six. Feels bad man!
Honorable mention: Pick six #1; punt block after pick six #2; Speight checks Michigan into the perfect play and he misses an easy TD; a couple of completions where Hill was in good position but couldn't get his head around and react.
[After THE JUMP: a play from the 2012 Nebraska game.]
Ty Isaac repeatedly broke into the open field. [Chris Cook]
The score doesn't do it justice.
Outside of two no good, very bad plays, Michigan put it on Florida. The Gators offense had no answer for Don Brown's defensive strategy, which was to bring heat from all angles around a three-man line, eschewing a DT in favor of speed an unpredictability. Two first-half pick-sixes by Wilton Speight, a bizarre illegal formation penalty that negated Michigan's first touchdown, and a blocked punt not only kept Florida around, however, but allowed them to take a 17-13 lead into halftime.
Eventually, the score reflected Michigan's dominance. The offense turned up the tempo on their opening drive of the second half, springing Ty Isaac free for 18 yards on a fourth-and-one to set up a Karan Higdon touchdown plunge. While the offense could only muster two Quinn Nordin field goals—and two Nordin missses—after that score, the defense hardly required help. They held the Gators to a total of 192 yards and capped the scoring when Noah Furbush dove on a fumble forced by Chase Winovich in the end zone.
Yes, the defense technically returned only one starter, and that starter, Mike McCray, missed a couple series early for reasons unclear. They hardly missed a beat, stiffening up in the red zone to hold Florida to a field goal on their first drive of the game, then outscoring UF's offense 7-0 the rest of the way. Maurice Hurst, Rashan Gary, and Chase Winovich made a three-man line feel a whole lot like a four-man line to the Florida offensive front; linebackers Devin Bush and Khaleke Hudson often flew into the backfield unimpeded; the young secondary didn't let anything get over the top. Michigan finished with six sacks, 11 TFLs, four forced fumbles (one on special teams on a great rip by Ambry Thomas), and five pass breakups. They were aggressive. Florida had problems.
Chase Winovich's strip-sack effectively ended the game. [Cook]
The offense would've fared nearly as well if not for those two Speight interceptions; the first bounced right to Duke Dawson off the hands of Kekoa Crawford, and the other sailed over an open Grant Perry into the hands of CJ Henderson on the ensuing possession. The next two drives were turned over to John O'Korn, who could only get Michigan into position for a 55-yard Quinn Nordin field goal.
Save for that stretch, Michigan moved the ball with regularity against a strong UF defense. Running back Ty Isaac put forth the best performance, rushing for 114 yards on only 11 carries, repeatedly breaking into the secondary as the coaches dialed up running plays on passing downs. With sacks removed, Michigan ran for 6.1 yards per carry, which kept the offense moving despite an uneven day in the passing game.
We saw flashes of what the aerial attack can look like. Tarik Black exploited a Florida bust for his first career receiving touchdown in the first half and added an impressive catch from O'Korn down the sideline; Grant Perry had a couple tough catches over the middle; Sean McKeon picked up a couple first downs on catch-and-runs; Nick Eubanks had a big play up the seam late to help seal the game. There are a lot of weapons, and while many of them are still getting acclimated to college ball, it's easy to see the potential.
Michigan overcame some self-inflicted adversity to get past their first of four major tests slated for this regular season. The next one, at Penn State, doesn't occur until mid-October. If the Wolverines hold this form while cleaning up some of the more heart-stopping mistakes, they have a great chance of heading into that game 6-0. Consecutive home games against Cincinnati and Air Force should allow them to carry this momentum into conference play.