Formation/Substitution notes: Only change of note is subbing Kekoa Crawford out for Ambry Thomas on kick return. Crawford was the deep man for the first two returns of the game, both of which went out of the end zone. Michigan then inserted Thomas to start the third quarter. Timing is a bit odd considering Crawford didn’t have a shot to return the first two kicks before ceding his spot, but there’s a chance he can earn it back considering how the third-quarter return went. More on that later.
It’s not a substitution, but Brad Robbins’ redshirt is gone and Will Hart’s on the bench. Robbins did an excellent job getting distance and hangtime on his punts. It’s hard to tell whether they just drifted or were intentional, but it seems more likely that Robbins executed two directional kicks—Hart’s bête noire—in the second half. All told, it was an excellent debut for the touted freshman.
Other than that, Michigan would often hold three guys in a zone short of the sticks on punts. This was a smart decision and likely something Michigan picked up on film, as Purdue was frequently motioning out one of the members of the shield wide. The only all-out rushes were when Purdue was punting from inside their 10-yard line. They also went safe on Purdue’s lone field goal.
Makes perfect sense considering Purdue’s Brohminess and where the ball is located.
[After THE JUMP: Robbins’ new gig; roughing vs running into the kicker; and Foug, god of hangtime, ruler of return teams]
Substitution/formation notes: As far as I could tell, coverage and return units featured the same personnel as they did against Cincinnati. The most noteworthy non-change was Donovan Peoples-Jones as punt returner—more on that after the jump.
Michigan’s formations were the same as they’ve been, but they brought pressure on punts and field goals infrequently. Earlier this week Chris Partridge said that they try to limit instances where they bring everything to keep the defense guessing. When Michigan doesn’t bring pressure on punt return, sometimes just one guy will release toward the shield, and even then he will sometimes stop and peel back before hitting the shield. On field goal defense, Michigan only brought pressure from one side and had Lavert Hill step to the line and hold on the other side. As close as the game was, Michigan decided not to gamble. Thanks to Donovan Peoples-Jones, that worked out.
[After THE JUMP: don’t have to bring the house when you take it to it]
Red zone: how much of a concern is that that you aren’t getting more touchdowns in those opportunities?
“I thought both teams played really good red zone defense today. Good. We had the right calls on at the right time, pushed them back out of the opportunities to score touchdowns and they held the line as well. Hats off to both teams for really good red zone defense.”
Talk about the challenge of having to switch gears on defense for a team like this and how your guys responded defensively.
“I thought we responded really well. For the most part, with the exception of a few drives. I thought we shut them down well and I thought we won all three phases. They play a brand of football I really like, which is you just keep jabbing away and you don’t make mistakes, you don’t turn the ball over, few penalties, and you get first downs… push the opponent back in field position. They make you go beatcha. They don’t beat themselves and it’s a good brand of football. Our team was able to make plays offensively, defensively, special teams was a huge factor in today’s ball game.
“Donovan’s punt return was fabulous. Our kickoff coverage was excellent all day, and right on down the line. Punt protection was really good as they were bringing 10; we got the all-out rush and we were able to block it up. Each phase. And the standout was Quinn Nordin and the snapper, Cheeseman, Garret Moores, the holder—that whole battery. And the field goal protection was outstanding. Tied a record, Michigan record, for most field goals in a game. Really proud of the way our special teams played. Offensively, defensively, special teams: thought we won all three phases.”
Rhythmically, where do you see the offense going and specifically with Wilton and Donovan, looked like that could be a connection. How do you assess that?
“Yeah, it was good to see Donovan go and make a big play offensively. Made the big play special teams-wise, so great to see him a factor in the third game of his freshman year. Just terrific. Like Tarik has done, one of those freshmen that are playing in their third ballgame and are huge factors in where we are, 3-0, and the ballgame we had today.”
[After THE JUMP: getting RPS’d, the kicking battery, jamming it in in the red zone, and how to use DPJ]
imagine the ferocity of James Franklin’s fist pump at this exact moment
Hello. Welcome to the inaugural 2017 Special Teams UFR. You like analyzing blocks on a kickoff return, seeing who got push on a PAT, and making fun of a decision James Franklin made in 2014? Great, we’ll get along just fine.
There are a couple of things worth noting before we dig in. First, special teams all-22 footage isn’t happening. It’s hard to find good footage; directors seem to use punts as their art house. That makes grading the blocking of each player on each unit impossible, so instead we’ll look at obvious gains and losses in terms of yardage. This is very much a work in progress, the point of which is to gain a better understanding of what’s going on in the third of the game that leads to Australians traveling thousands of miles from home to go full Superman on a prolate spheroid. Feedback? Hit the comments.
SUBSTITUTION/FORMATION NOTES: Peoples-Jones got five chances to field punts, did a nice job with two of them, then found himself on the bench in favor of Grant Perry. More on that later.
Kick returners were Crawford and Hawkins, with the ball never going anywhere close to Hawkins. He found himself forming a wedge with Mason every time.
Michigan’s PAT defense team is going to block one soon; with Metellus coming off the edge, Hurst teleporting through seemingly shoulder-to-shoulder linemen, and Rashan freaking Gary out there, it’s just a matter of time.
Cincinnati doubled Cesar Ruiz on every PAT and got knocked back the first time, then held his own. Not bad for a true freshman.
[After THE JUMP: Charts! Then Bolded Alter Ego (NTBAE)! Then more charts!]
Nordin's huge field goal was close to being blocked by Hudson [Barron]
This section last year was dedicated to bemoaning the departure of impact special teams coach John Baxter after just one year. Baxter's teams had an unparalleled ability to block kicks over a decade plus at Fresno State and USC. While the block parade didn't get underway last year, Michigan did call time out in anticipation of a squib and return it to midfield and recruit an Aussie punter who had creepy Orin Incandenza skills. Last year's preview projected a "dropoff in effort applied" under Chris Partridge and Jay Harbaugh.
Naturally, Michigan blocked seven punts to lead the nation by a mile, got astounding punt returns from Jabrill Peppers, punted and covered excellently, and finished #1 in FEI's special teams metric. Michigan's special teams performance a year ago was sufficient to get me to shut up about how I hate pro-style punting. Some combination of passed-on Baxter experience, Harbaugh mania, and plain old shoe leather from the new coaches paid off immensely.
Now if they could do it again with entirely new dudes, that would be great.
KICKER: IF YOU KICK IT THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS, AROUND THE WORLD, AND THROUGH THE UPRIGHTS AGAIN DO YOU GET SIX POINTS
Rating: ?, but call it 4.
don't forget holder of the year Garret Moores's contributions [Barron]
That is a 48 yard field goal that I swear to God would have been good from 70. That thing barely passed its apex before hitting the net. It's deeply unfortunate that BTN never provided a sideline angle, which would have better communicated just how high and fast that thing was when it went through—actually over—the uprights.
So that's 1) awesome, 2) almost as much data as we got from Nordin's senior season (2/3 on FGs), and 3) probably not relevant until it's time to kick a 57-yarder at the end of a half or, God forbid, game. The jury is still very much out, as it has always been for kickers and always shall be until they have a season of efficiency in the books.
For what little it's worth, Harbaugh seemed positively upbeat about the kicking situation a couple weeks back. New longsnapper Cameron Cheeseman is "fabulous" because "you can visibly see more velocity on his snaps" and Nordin is "really kicking well." This hasn't been a competition, and that's good news. It's been Nordin's job the whole way, so he keeck a touchdown.
Michigan also has walk-ons KYLE SEYCHEL and RYAN TICE. Both looked smooth hitting field goals of their own in the spring game and would likely be adequate replacements in case Nordin's guidance chip fritzes out. Harbaugh said he's going to split the kickoff duties from field goals and Seychel is in line for the former job, FWIW.