View from the Sidelines: The aftermath of a tipping point

View from the Sidelines: The aftermath of a tipping point Comment Count

Ethan Sears November 25th, 2018 at 12:45 AM

COLUMBUS — “Wish I could have got a couple wins in it,” Tyree Kinnel said, four minutes into the most excruciating press conference of his life. “That’s the toughest part, I guess. I’m gonna have to sleep on it for the rest of my life, that I did not get a win in this game.”

 

Then his voice cracked.

 

“Other than that,” he continued, ultimately keeping composure, “I’m blessed to be here.”

 

It’s not easy to lose this game under any circumstance. In this specific circumstance, it couldn’t have been any harder.

 

[After THE JUMP: column]

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The Unwavering Focus of Tyree Kinnel

The Unwavering Focus of Tyree Kinnel Comment Count

Adam Schnepp November 23rd, 2018 at 3:00 PM

“I just needed to get one, especially against those guys,” says Tyree Kinnel, reflecting on 14 seconds he has thought about often for the last 727 days.

To fully appreciate the woe of the play Kinnel cannot get out of his mind requires an understanding of the forces that shaped him from birth. Enter Chris, Kinnel’s father, who put a Michigan-branded football in his son’s hands mere hours into his life. Erica, Tyree’s mother, was something of a rarity among Ohioans: a non-Buckeye fan. Her older cousin was a Michigan fan, and she and Chris made gamedays a family bonding experience, Erica putting a spread together for the family to snack on, and Chris leading their kids in chanting “It’s great to be a Michigan Wolverine.” They attended spring games religiously, and their annual trip to the Big House turned into a weekly affair the past four falls after their eldest son committed to Michigan.

And there was that son checking into the 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game on second-and-goal from Michigan’s 6-yard-line. Defensive packages had been designed that season that utilized him and even played to his strengths, but this was different; Dymonte Thomas had been flattened by a block on the previous play, and Kinnel was checking in for the first time as an every-down safety. Kinnel stepped toward the line of scrimmage, saw receiver Noah Brown was running a drag route, and flowed over the top of two oncoming receivers to stick with Brown as he emerged on the right side of the line. Ohio State quarterback JT Barrett took a jab step forward for nominal play-action before rolling right, straight into a blitzing Ben Gedeon. Barrett lobbed the ball to the end zone. It sailed just over the hand of Michigan linebacker Mike McCray and was headed right for Kinnel before the would-be interception grazed the tips of Brown’s fingers, the flight path adjusting ever so slightly. Kinnel jumped in response to the new angle and stretched his left arm out as far as he could to corral the wobbling ball. It hit the top of his hand and then the turf, bounding out of the back of the end zone. Third-and-goal, 7:43 remaining. “I still live with that today because it could have been a big play in that type of game and everyone knows how it ended, so I’ve always thought about that and kind of slept on that,” Kinnel says. “It stays with me for a long time.”31274831455_338a7f6228_m.jpg

“I still look at the picture a lot,” Kinnel adds. This surprised precisely zero people that I spoke to for this piece. The goals of players and fans don’t necessarily align often, but when you’re a player who grew up a fan, your penultimate goal is the same: Beat Ohio State.

When Kinnel says he wants to beat the Buckeyes it is not lip service and it is not fan service. We’re sitting in front of the massive window that runs the length of the front of Schembechler Hall one night in November when our interview seems to be wrapping up. I turn off my recorder and start the small talk that I make at the end of interviews attempting to minimize the awkwardness of an interview simply ceasing. Usually there’s a little bit about logistics--here’s when I plan to write this, do you have anyone else in mind that I should talk to, etc.--and we go our separate ways. In the middle of this, Kinnel tells me that he doesn’t mind if I write about how much this Ohio State game means to him or how badly he wants this win. We’re weeks away from The Game. I flip the switch up again on my recorder and hit the red circle.

[After THE JUMP: converting Buckeyes, landing The offer, a career ahead of schedule, and Saturday in Columbus]

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Upon Further Review 2018: Defense vs Indiana

Upon Further Review 2018: Defense vs Indiana Comment Count

Brian November 21st, 2018 at 1:53 PM
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image-6_thumb_thumb5_thumb_thumb_thu[1]SPONSOR NOTE: Matt is no longer hanging out at the Charity Tailgate because there are no more home games. But if you see a bus in Columbus you'll know you've found him. Which bus will be obvious. When not tailgating Matt is also a person who will get you a mortgage right quick from the comfort of your own home.

FORMATION NOTES: Almost all 4-2-5, with occasional dips into a 3-3-5 after Winovich's injury. The double viper formation I'm charting as a 3-1-7(!) made a re-appearance as well, for some effective pass rushes. Michigan was much more heavily single-high in this game for whatever reason and dropped most of their zone looks out of the playbook.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Michigan reduced the rotation after some early issues; DT was mostly Mone and Kemp on standard downs. Marshall was a bit player; Dwumfour got all the passing down snaps and a scattering of standard downs. Solomon was barely more used than Marshall despite being pretty effective. Winovich was on the way to another iron man performance when he got hurt. Paye got most of those snaps, with a few going to Hutchinson; Furbush got most of the Rush package snaps in his stead. Gary got almost all the standard down snaps but was absent in the rush package, still.

At LB, Bush and Hudson omnipresent (or near enough) with another 50/50 split between Gil and Ross. Uche got his usual dozen rush D snaps; Furbush got about as many post-Winovich injury; Glasgow had a cameo or four.

DBs the usual. Ambry Thomas got some time late with guys dinged up.

[After THE JUMP: a slight amount of panic]

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Armageddon Again

Armageddon Again Comment Count

Brian November 19th, 2018 at 1:02 PM

11/17/2018 – Michigan 31, Indiana 20 – 10-1, 8-0 Big Ten

Indiana was defeated. It was annoying, as per usual. The method was different this time. 

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It's here, again. Football Armageddon. The last time I called a game Football Armageddon it was 12 years ago, when Michigan and Ohio State were both undefeated. Michigan ripped off a slick touchdown drive to start things off, and in the Ohio State student section I thought to myself "we're a third of the way home."

This was incorrect. Michigan's defense played three inside linebackers the whole game against Troy Smith, gave up 500 yards and 42 points, and blew an opportunity to get the ball back when Shawn Crable hit Smith in the helmet on a scramble. The 2006 defense featured Alan Branch, Lamarr Woodley, Leon Hall, David Harris, four guys with decade-long NFL careers. They whooped up on everyone, but within were the seeds of the past decade of Michigan football. Michigan had one cornerback: Hall. Morgan Trent couldn't change direction with a sail and a headwind, and when the starters got pulled against Ball State two weeks prior the Cardinals mounted a comeback that ended in Michigan's redzone down only 8.

The two corners who came in against Ball State were Chris Richards, the defensive coordinator's godson, and Johnny Sears, a kid from Fresno who'd never played a varsity game when Michigan offered him. They saw him at practice. (Practice! We're talking about practice!) Eight months later Michigan would field Sears as a starter in The Horror, in which a cut-rate Troy Smith exploited the same tactical naivete Smith had to hand Michigan the worst upset of all time.

Football Armageddon really was Armageddon for Michigan, not because of anything Ohio State did to them in that one game but because they'd fallen behind the curve out of their own arrogance. Michigan's recruiting was increasingly lazy, dependent on guys who bothered to come to camp and random, uninformed guesses about players based on not enough scouting. They'd get about half a class of well-regarded and then pluck random dudes out of the ether for the rest. They'd singularly failed to adapt to the prevalence of the spread across college football, kicking off the Ohio State dominance that extends to the modern day.

When Lloyd Carr retired he asked the athletic director to interview the two sturdiest branches on his coaching tree: his coordinators. One, Ron English, had never been a head coach and was the architect of the Horror. The other, Mike DeBord, was 12-34 at Central Michigan before quitting because he wasn't a head coach. These were the options to keep it in the family.

2006 Michigan was Indiana Jones on a rope bridge. Ohio State was the guy with the machete leering from the safety of land, but it didn't create the situation.

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Incredibly, improbably, amazingly: Ohio State looks like it might be on a bridge of its own devising. Michigan's culture caught up to them in a slow-motion avalanche that took half a decade. OSU's got blown up in a week by Brett McMurphy and Urban Meyer's callous disregard for anything but winning.

Since Zach Smith was exposed, Ohio State's house has morphed from bricks to cards. Every week (except Michigan State) brings a new sordid depth to their defensive issues. With JT Barrett off to pick up YAC in the Estonian league, the offense frequently fails to convert buckets of yards into points. There was a fourth and goal wide receiver screen against Purdue. Not incidentally, a 5-6 Purdue team that's going into the Bucket game looking for a bowl berth boatraced OSU 49-20.

The nature of the series with Michigan has already changed in the post-Durkin landscape. Michigan lost by a literal inch the last time they were in Columbus despite Wilton Speight fumbling on the goal line and throwing two miserable interceptions. Last's game was 21 Michigan players outplaying the opposition and the third-string quarterback tossing up a 14.3 QBR. This isn't Michigan scrapping and clawing because "throw the records out" and we'll go for two at the end of the game because we know what's what. It's Michigan getting hit by a red shell rounding the last corner.

They're there. They're good enough. They're legitimately elite by any metric you want to poke. Now they just have to do the damn thing. The consequences of failure do not bear thinking about. It's armageddon, again. Ohio State is a rope over an abyss. Sharpen your knives.

AWARDS

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[Fuller]

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Devin Bush. Michigan lined him up next to Gary for a blitz and that seemed unfair and also please continue doing that forever. Twelve tackles, one of them to destroy a fake punt, and one critical fourth down PBU. Run issues were mostly things he was trying to mitigate and not things that could be plausibly put on him. Update: still good.

#2 Shea Patterson. Another game of almost ten yards an attempt. There were some hiccups, but the interception was an open guy on an RPO and it sailed because he got clobbered. The Gentry throw in the endzone… not so much. But the one after escaping the pocket, yeah buddy. Also chipped in 68 yards rushing. Which is a lot of yards.

#3 Rashan Gary. Had half that sack mentioned above plus a thunderous speed to power rush; 7 other tackles besides when Michigan really needed DL to step up.

Honorable mention: Zach Gentry had two big receptions and got interfered with twice… but maybe probably should have grabbed that ball in the endzone. Higdon had a workmanlike performance with some key broken tackles on short stuff.

KFaTAotW Standings.

10: Chase Winovich (#1 ND, #3 SMU, #1 NW, T2 MSU, T1 PSU), Shea Patterson (#3 WMU, #1 Maryland, #3 PSU, #1 Rutgers, #2 Indiana).
7: Devin Bush(#3 ND, #1 Nebraska, #1 Indiana).
5: Karan Higdon (#1 WMU, #3 Nebraska, #3 Wisconsin), Donovan Peoples-Jones(T1 SMU, #3 MSU, #2 Rutgers), Rashan Gary(#2 WMU, #2 Nebraska, #3 Indiana).
4: David Long(#2 Wisconsin, T1 Michigan State), Josh Uche (T2 NW, T2 MSU, T1 PSU), Jon Runyan Jr (T1 Wisconsin, T2 PSU), Zach Gentry(T1 SMU, #2 Maryland, T3 Rutgers).
3:  Juwann Bushell-Beatty(T1 Wisconsin), Jon Runyan Jr(T1 Wisconsin).
2: Ambry Thomas (#2 ND), Josh Metellus(#2 SMU), Brandon Watson(T1 MSU), Lavert Hill(T1 MSU).
1: Will Hart (#3 NW), Mike Dwumfour (T2 NW), Kwity Paye (T2 NW), Khaleke Hudson(#3 Maryland), Ben Bredeson(T2 PSU), Nico Collins(T3 Rutgers).

Who's Got It Better Than Us(?) Of The Week

Nick Eubanks scores his first touchdown at Michigan. An important moment in the game, sure. But his reaction afterward was a prayer to his late mom.

Honorable mention: Post-game news about Edwards and Winovich is positive. Moody hits a field goal X6. Rashan Gary stops Indiana's last drive before it starts.

image​MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

Berkeley Edwards suffers the scariest injury in Michigan Stadium in living memory after a cheap targeting hit on a kickoff return. Edwards is probably going to be fine, per Braylon, and he's tweeting, so… that's a mixed blessing. But mostly good!

Honorable mention: Chase Winovich is knocked out after a different cheap shot and is maybe unavailable for next week. The end of half debacle.

[After THE JUMP: cheap shots, other]

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Upon Further Review 2018: Defense vs Rutgers

Upon Further Review 2018: Defense vs Rutgers Comment Count

Brian November 14th, 2018 at 2:46 PM

image-6_thumb_thumb5_thumb_thumb_thu[1]SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). It's right next to the train tracks on Hoover. The band goes right by it on their way to the stadium, which is cool. Say hi.

When not tailgating Matt is also a person who will get you a mortgage right quick from the comfort of your own home.

FORMATION NOTES: A couple of hints at packages Michigan has either kept under wraps or can't quite get right. There was a snap that looked like a 3-4 with Winovich and Uche as the OLBs and a three man front. There was a bit of a run-out for the 3-3-5 Brown clearly wants to have available as a changeup but can't get working against most opponents because Michigan doesn't really have the personnel for it.

But mostly just the same stuff, with maybe more of a zone approach…

image

two-high == usually zone for M

…since Rutgers was attacking the edges constantly. A cover two corner is a good antidote for that.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Just 54 snaps, and 15 of them were in garbage time. During the brief time the D had the starters on the field it was Gary, Winovich, Kemp, and Mone. Marshall rotated through for a dozen or so snaps. Solomon was left home with an illness. Paye didn't get much time; he was limited to the rush package mostly and left with a minor injury in the third Q.

Mostly the usual at LB, with Bush and Hudson near omnipresent as Ross and Gil rotated. Jordan Anthony got in for the last drive. Uche was limited to ~10 snaps; Furbush and Glasgow got about that many, mostly late.

In secondary, Hawkins replaced Metellus. Hill was knocked out relatively early, leaving Watson and Long to get the lion's share of CB snaps. Ambry Thomas got 20 or so snaps; J'Marick Woods and Vincent Gray got in late.

FWIW, the final drive saw all manner of guys get on the field. M traveled a selection of deep bench walk-ons, because Rutgers.

[After THE JUMP: a gameplan to lose slowly]

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Selection Pressure

Selection Pressure Comment Count

Brian November 12th, 2018 at 12:39 PM

11/10/2018 – Michigan 42, Rutgers 7 – 9-1, 7-0 Big Ten

Confronted with every option for intrigue Michigan vs Rutgers could provide, BTN went with "who is Michigan's backup quarterback now?" The pre-game studio show teased it. The announce team mentioned it in the first quarter. There were multiple sideline shots of Joe Milton warming up next to Brandon Peters warming up. When the moment came, Peters entered, handed off to Chris Evans for a long touchdown, and was immediately replaced by Milton.

The prospect that Harbaugh was trolling BTN's angle crossed my mind. He almost certainly wasn't, but, it's not like he had anything else to do. In the aftermath of the game he praised Rutgers for not giving up ten yards a play and called Chris Ash "Rob Ash."

Rutgers. Whatever. Good… bad… Rob Ash is not the guy with the gun.

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There is one bit of meaning that you might chisel out of the grim slab of a game against Rutgers. Michigan explicitly instructed Shea Patterson not to pull the ball, resulting in a fair number of runs wiped out near the line of scrimmage and a steady stream of third and mediums. Then they dialed up a bunch of high degree-of-difficulty throws.

Patterson nailed almost every one of them. He was flushed from the pocket away from his throwing arm; he calmly checked three options and hit Donovan Peoples-Jones on the third. DPJ hauled in a chunk fade on the sideline on another rollout left by the right-handed Patterson. Nico Collins got an inch-perfect back-shoulder fade for his second touchdown. Zach Gentry was permitted to explore the upper edges of the #buttzone on a seam. Oliver Martin had one TD doink off his facemask before scoring one on a two-man-route, max-protection throw from the Rutgers 16; Patterson slalomed through several defenders before finding literally the only option on the field just before it exited said field.

It felt like Michigan was calling the grossest stuff in their playbook just to see what would happen. Who puts two guys in a pattern from the 16? Who calls a short-side rollout to the left for a right-handed quarterback? Given Harbaugh's history, a man trying to make a point. The fourth quarter of Michigan's Citrus Bowl demolition of Florida a few years back featured Jake Rudock making a bunch of throws designed to end up on his NFL reel. That too was the grossest stuff in the playbook.

The 2018 edition of this wasn't aimed at the NFL, but rather Patterson himself. Patterson was asked to sit in the pocket and find guys. He was asked to take a bunch of deep shots despite a difficult wind situation. Harbaugh:

"That was a really tough night to throw the ball. It reminded me of my days back at Soldier field some of those windy conditions. But he made some throws that were just unbelievable. Put in the right spot with the wind blowing and swirling.”

Some of those deep shots got pushed off course; a couple of back-shoulder attempts didn't quite come off. As the rest of Patterson's passes zinged home against a not-terrible secondary the ceiling on Michigan's offense might have come off. The faint outline of a Rudockening is now there, waiting to be confirmed or dis-confirmed in two weeks. Also against Indiana. But in two weeks.

A version of Patterson who's taking shots to his giant leapy crew of wideouts, a version that's sticking in the pocket long enough for Michigan's routes to complete, a version that's got the whole suite of throws down: that is the guy who might propel Michigan past Ohio State and into the playoff. The hesitant version of Patterson that's slightly frustrated during Michigan's revenge tour is less likely to do these things.

Harbaugh spent this game daring his quarterback to evolve. So far so good.

HIGHLIGHTS

AWARDS

 

Known Friends and Trusted Agents Of The Week

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[Barron]

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Shea Patterson. See above. 18/27 for 260 yards and three TDs. Zero rushes. One more week to stay healthy.

#2 Donovan Peoples-Jones. DPJ nosed ahead of his compatriots with a tough catch down the sideline on the aforementioned Patterson rollout away from his throwing arm and a slant on which he was able to rumble for an extra ten yards despite four different Rutgers players hanging off of him.

#3(t) Nico Collins and Zach Gentry. Tough catches for each to convert first downs and, in Collins's case, score. One point each because the points are made up and don't matter.

Honorable mention: More or less the whole defense, which had Rutgers in turtle mode the whole day. Nobody really stood out as Michigan spread out the reps and TFLs.

KFaTAotW Standings.

10: Chase Winovich (#1 ND, #3 SMU, #1 NW, T2 MSU, T1 PSU).
8: Shea Patterson (#3 WMU, #1 Maryland, #3 PSU, #1 Rutgers).
5: Karan Higdon (#1 WMU, #3 Nebraska, #3 Wisconsin), Donovan Peoples-Jones(T1 SMU, #3 MSU, #2 Rutgers).
4: Devin Bush(#3 ND, #1 Nebraska), Rashan Gary(#2 WMU, #2 Nebraska), David Long(#2 Wisconsin, T1 Michigan State), Josh Uche (T2 NW, T2 MSU, T1 PSU), Jon Runyan Jr (T1 Wisconsin, T2 PSU), Zach Gentry(T1 SMU, #2 Maryland, T3 Rutgers).
3:  Juwann Bushell-Beatty(T1 Wisconsin), Jon Runyan Jr(T1 Wisconsin).
2: Ambry Thomas (#2 ND), Josh Metellus(#2 SMU), Brandon Watson(T1 MSU), Lavert Hill(T1 MSU).
1: Will Hart (#3 NW), Mike Dwumfour (T2 NW), Kwity Paye (T2 NW), Khaleke Hudson(#3 Maryland), Ben Bredeson(T2 PSU), Nico Collins(T3 Rutgers).

Who's Got It Better Than Us(?) Of The Week

Harbaugh's post-game press conference in which he noted that all of Michigan's injuries were minor.

Honorable mention: Eh, most of the rest of the game.

image​MARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

An 80 yard touchdown run from a guy whose name is misspelled allows Rutgers to close the first quarter 7-7.

Honorable mention: Karan Higdon cuts away from a first down on fourth and short; Ben Mason loses his mind on a short yardage run shortly after; various other Rutgers first downs.

[After THE JUMP: what happened on the 80-yarder]

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Upon Further Review 2018: Defense vs MSU

Upon Further Review 2018: Defense vs MSU Comment Count

Brian October 31st, 2018 at 2:24 PM
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image-6_thumb_thumb5_thumb_thumb_thu[1]SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). It's right next to the train tracks on Hoover. The band goes right by it on their way to the stadium, which is cool. Say hi.

When not tailgating Matt is also a person who will get you a mortgage right quick from the comfort of your own home.

FORMATION NOTES: Just one 3-3-5 snap, which didn't go so hot. Michigan is continuing with their rush package with Uche/Dwumfour/Paye/Winovich across the front, and semi-frequently went with a dime behind that. I have been filing Uche as a linebacker but I'm on the verge of calling him a DE.

SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Paye and Winovich nearly omnipresent with Hutchinson picking up a few late snaps. DT snaps got split about equally between all five contributors (Solomon, Marshall, Kemp, Mone, and Dwumfour).

Bush and Hudson omnipresent, as per usual. Ross and Gil split WLB snaps. Uche got about 20 snaps as a rush end; cameos from Furbush and Glasgow.

Secondary the usual. Long and Hill got more snaps than Watson but it was close to even. Thomas got in at the end.

[After THE JUMP: one broken QB, barely more yards]

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View from the Sidelines: Over the Hump

View from the Sidelines: Over the Hump Comment Count

Ethan Sears October 20th, 2018 at 9:29 PM

Remember the third quarter?

 

Michigan State scored off a trick play, after a turnover, tying a game in which it had been outplayed and it was like every iteration of this rivalry amalgamated into a five-minute span. It felt like you knew exactly how the rest of this thing was going to go, because we had seen this movie before.

 

When Michigan went three-and-out on the ensuing drive, Khari Willis dropping a surefire interception, it seemed like a prelude. Instead, it was another break in a game full of them, ending in a narrative-changing 21-7 victory.

 

If some of those breaks go a little differently — if the Spartans come down with a first quarter tipped ball instead of Nico Collins, if they do the same in the third quarter instead of Zach Gentry, if Willis doesn’t drop that pick — this might be a column about how the Wolverines still can’t get over the hump. Those plays have gone Michigan State’s way of late in this rivalry. And being able to win that weird, intangible element — clearing the “everything always goes against us” hurdle — might say more about Michigan than anything else it has done.

 

“Our team never blinked the entire time,” Jim Harbaugh told reporters. “They played hard, they played smart. From the pregame shenanigans, there was no backing down today by our guys. From then on.”

 

[After THE JUMP: A column]

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