A Review of ‘Playing Hurt’ by John U. Bacon

A Review of ‘Playing Hurt’ by John U. Bacon

Submitted by Ira on September 20th, 2017 at 8:00 AM

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[Ed-S: Bacon’s latest book is a personal memoir of John Saunders, and Saunders’ lifelong battle with depression. Ira Weintraub (@michiganinsider), co-host of WTKA The Ticket’s flagship, The Michigan Insider, offered to review it since he read it faster than I could.

Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope by John Saunders, is available from Amazon in hardcover, Kindle, or Audiobook format, or you can get a copy from the publisher directly. Take it away Ira:

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Let me start by making a few things very clear: John U Bacon is my friend, and I think he’s a terrific writer. So, yes, I am biased in his favor. But that did not influence my opinion of Bacon’s newest book, “Playing Hurt: My Journey from Despair to Hope,” which he wrote with his friend and long-time ESPN broadcaster John Saunders.

Let’s make one other point very clear – this is not a Michigan book, even though you are reading this review on a Michigan site. There are Michigan references, stories and anecdotes in “Playing Hurt.” But this is not a Michigan book. And, no, this is not a sports book, although sports is a big part of Saunders’ life story.

So what kind of book is it? It’s a life-lessons book. It’s a story of overcoming a myriad of obstacles and the ability to endure just about everything the world and society can throw at you. It is also the best book in the John U Bacon literary collection.

[Hit the JUMP for…an interview with Will Heininger?!?]

Unverified Voracity Sows Chaos, Reaps The Wildcat

Unverified Voracity Sows Chaos, Reaps The Wildcat

Submitted by Brian on January 30th, 2014 at 12:43 PM

Important (not important). This is a frog.

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I have been exhorted to call this MGoFrog and make it a thing. I'm afraid that by doing so I will give Adidas an idea for a Michigan uniform, unfortunately.

Important (important). Will Heininger features in an Outside The Lines article on mental health issues for athletes:

"I had emotional pain that was overwhelming; I would wake up, and from morning until I feel asleep -- when I was able sleep -- I had troubling thoughts that were utterly consuming," said the 2011 Michigan honors graduate. "Not a minute would go by in a day, without my depression on my mind … this, this felt impossible."

One of the things CAPA is fighting for is better treatment for these sorts of issues; read the whole thing. Both of the whole things.

image

"Please enjoy this punch in the nuts." –DJ Newbill

CHAOS! Did you happen to watch the rote blowouts in the Big Ten last night? You did not, because Ohio State and Wisconsin lost to Penn State and Northwestern, respectively. At home. As our own BISB said:

Yes. They're trying to push each other into the lava, but yes. Or Adam Jacobi:

The Big Ten Is Full of Blood and Spiders

Jacboi has a nice table that indicates the upcoming "no days off in the Big Ten"/"this conference is so deep" announcer memes are in fact on point:

Year Conf. Rating Rank Avg. B1G Worst Team Rating
2003 .7688 5 No. 56 Penn State 210
2004 .7520 5 No. 62 Penn State 218
2005 .7862 3 No. 47 Penn State 215
2006 .7831 4 No. 54 Purdue 152
2007 .8058 4 No. 51 Minnesota 170
2008 .7625 5 No. 65 Northwestern 192
2009 .8144 5 No. 46 Indiana 209
2010 .7851 4 No. 60 Indiana 198
2011 .8527 1 No. 31 Iowa 92
2012 .8263 1 No. 32 Nebraska 150
2013 .8459 1 No. 34 Penn State 148
2014 .8310 1 No. 42 Northwestern 118

The closest thing to an easy out is the Northwestern team that is a half-game out of a first round bye in the Big Ten tourney; there's not even a last year's Penn State to kick around. There's a last year's Penn State plus Tim Frazier. See cliff above.

This is good and bad for Michigan. In the Kenpom world it's good since Michigan's beaten PSU handily and has yet to play OSU, but in the NCAA seeding world you get more credit for beating 6-seed OSU and terrible PSU than you get for beating 10-seed OSU and mediocre PSU. Neither of these effects are huge, so the correct reaction is probably just to point and laugh*. (And fume at how bad Big Ten refs are.)

*[But probably not at Aaron Craft. He got crossed over for the game winner, which was Newbill rushing a wrist-flick shot because Craft was coming. Meanwhile, Tim Frazier's statline: 8 points on 9 shot attempts, 7 assists, 6 TO. No offense to Derrick Walton, but put Craft on this Michigan team and they are a juggernaut. I shouldn't have mentioned this.]

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Bill Carmody: gone, but not forgotten

The Wildcat conundrum. Meanwhile, we've been talking about how fascinating Northwestern is on the podcast for the last couple weeks. And boy, aren't they? Last year they were extremely bad, around 140th on both sides of the ball. The Wildcats then:

  • fired Bill Carmody
  • hired Chris Collins
  • graduated two low-usage, mediocre efficiency seniors
  • graduated a high usage, low efficiency senior
  • got Drew Crawford back
  • added a pretty terrible offensive player in freshman Sanjay Lumpkin, who they play starter's minutes

For some reason, the result is a massively unbalanced version of the team they were last year. Northwestern is 11th(!!!) in defensive efficiency on Kenpom for no discernable reason whatsoever. They have plummeted to 320th on offense. Their games are incredibly watchable for unwatchable games, because you're always trying to unravel the mystery of why the Wildcats are elite on defense. It makes no sense. No sense at all. Here's John Gasaway trying to figure it out.

Meanwhile, Northwestern is a half-game out of a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament and that gets BIG TENNNN, right? I think that's a BIG TENNNN.

By the way. Michigan shot 63% from two against the Wildcats and averaged 1.21 points per possession, and Alex Olah—Gasaway's best guess as to why NW is playing so much better D—was on the court for 30 minutes.

Recruiting battles past. OSU has a couple of guys on their team that Michigan pursued, and it's interesting to see their development. Or lack thereof, as the case may be.

Michigan stopped recruiting Amadeo Della Valle so they could go after Caris LeVert, who was right under OSU's nose. OSU grabs ADV; Michigan gets LeVert. In year two, Della Valle is a very poor man's LeVert: a skinny shooting guard with some ability to drive, but one who's only getting 30% of OSU's minutes as they struggle to generate anything on offense. LeVert generates a lot of assists; ADV is generating few. Hell, LeVert has replaced about 95% of Tim Hardaway's production a year after Michigan was trying to redshirt him.

The context of the team is important, but it seems like that Michigan made the right choice on that one.

The other guy on the OSU roster Michigan was involved with is Amir Williams, OSU's mercurial center. Williams has oven mitts for hands and gets pulled on the regular despite OSU's near total lack of post players to replace him with; he has seemingly not improved one whit from the absentminded freshman I remember from two years ago. Michigan was never really a consideration for Williams, but it's kind of amazing that OSU would probably trade him for Jordan Morgan without blinking.

Either way. In yesterday's post on Northwestern's prospective union I mentioned that the NLRB had flipped back and forth on the issue of student-employees being able to organize based on assertions from a 2006 paper. In that paper the most recent ruling had gone against the students trying to organize. Well, that has again flipped:

“There’s case law for the NLRB involving teaching assistants which supports their position,” Baum said. “There have been different decisions both ways. What they’re saying is that this really is a form of litigation to bring about change because they’re asking for something very similar.”

In December 2013, the American Arbitration Association announced that graduate teaching and research assistants at New York University had officially unionized. The group is the only graduate assistants’ union at a private university in the U.S.

Demonstrating the volatility of the NLRB, graduate assistants at NYU were granted the ability to negotiate a union contract and both improved health benefits and increased stipends in 2000. But in 2005 the ruling was switched following a case involving Brown graduate assistants in which the NLRB ruled that graduate assistants are students, not employees, and therefore cannot unionize.

The recent overturn of the 2005 ruling, though, is an encouraging sign for the newly formed CAPA.

One gets the sense that the NLRB tends to blow whichever way the White House does. In CAPA's case there seems to be no way to put the cat back in the bag if Northwestern does indeed get certified, so now is as good a time to strike as any.

Typical. FERPA means whatever Universities want it to mean, so the university says they will not release any details about Brendan Gibbons. This is in line with the university's general stance on releasing information—don't do it, because we have to cover our ass. Suspicious in most cases, here it verges on appalling given the fact that FERPA specifically states this:

The text of FERPA notes that the law shouldn’t “be construed to prohibit an institution of postsecondary education from disclosing the final results of any disciplinary proceeding conducted by such institution against a student who is an alleged perpetrator of any crime of violence … or a nonforcible sex offense, if the institution determines as a result of that disciplinary proceeding that the student committed a violation of the institution’s rules or policies with respect to such crime or offense.”

With lurid conspiracy theories flying back and forth, everyone would be better off if Michigan came forth and showed everyone exactly what happened to expel a student four years after the incident that got him expelled transpired. This is not an athletic department thing, but rather a larger pattern of CYA secrecy that's beneath the university. Or at least should be.

Etc.: Spilly's quest for balls. Death to the neutral site game. Penn State is discounting season tickets for recent grads. Men's basketball standings. Michigan gets a 2016 D commit.

2011 Preview Review: Defense

2011 Preview Review: Defense

Submitted by Ace on April 25th, 2012 at 2:01 PM


Vastly underrated; properly rated

Previously: The Offense

My look back at Brian's epic 2011 football preview continues with the defense. This one got a lot more interesting than the offense, because despite all the warm fuzzies we felt from the GERG-to-Greg transition*, expecting a jump from the #110 total defense to #17 would have been outrageous. As in get-this-man-a-straitjacket outrageous.

Thankfully, the performance of the defense exceeded all reasonable expectations, and even most of the unreasonable ones. Let's peep last year's predictions, shall we?

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*Not to mention the Tony-Gibson-to-Anyone-But-Tony-Gibson transition.

Greatest Hits

The move to three-tech won't be an issue [for Ryan Van Bergen]. He played it two years ago and when Michigan went to a four man front last year they stuck him back inside. He's now 290, a three year starter, and a senior. He's a good bet to crack double-digit TFLs and get some All Big Ten mention.

RVB actually ended up at strongside DE, which probably helped him lead the team with 12.5 TFLs. He ended up earning All-Big Ten honorable mention from both the coaches and media and graduating as one of the most beloved Wolverines in recent memory.

Demens will benefit from the move to back to the 4-3 under more than anyone save Craig Roh. With RVB and Martin shielding him from linemen he won't be in nearly as many hopeless situations where he's one-on-one with a guard He should be the team's leading tackler by a healthy margin and see his TFLs skyrocket from the measly 1.5 he managed a year ago.

Michigan's defense will probably be too bad to warrant much All Big Ten consideration, but honorable mention seems reasonable.

A year after inexplicably having to move past not just Obi Ezeh, but converted fullback Mark Moundros, on the depth chart at middle linebacker despite subsequently making it painfully obvious that he should've been the starter all along, Demens had his breakout season.  He led the team with 94 tackles—second was Jordan Kovacs at 75—and saw his TFLs jump to a respectable five. Like Van Bergen, Demens was an all-conference honorable mention.

Even so, [Kovacs's] season was a step forward from obvious liability to "certainly not a liability." Even if he's a walk-on and even if he's obviously small and slow, he should continue improving. He'll be a little less small and slow with another year of conditioning. Being in a coherent defensive system should help put him in positions to make plays. His redshirt year was not spent on the team so he's not as close to his ceiling as your average redshirt junior.

He's not going to be Reggie Nelson. That won't keep him from becoming the first Michigan safety you only hate a little tiny bit since Jamar Adams.

This may still be underselling Kovacs, who took to competent coaching even better than expected and became the team's rock in the secondary, covering for his athletic limitations with usually-impeccable positioning. No, he's not Reggie Nelson, but I don't think you can find a remotely rational Michigan fan who harbors even the tiniest bit of ill will towards Kovacs. Michigan's shocking lack of big plays allowed—both against the pass and the run—can largely be attributed to his play; despite missing a game, Kovacs led the team with 51 solo tackles. He also notched 8 TFLs. All hail Kovacs.

I have the same optimism about this Johnson/Gordon combo that I had last year. This, of course, terrifies me. It seems unnatural to think an unproven Michigan safety could be competent. I like Gordon's agility and tackling, though, and while there will be rough spots early by midseason he should settle into that midlevel safety range like Englemon or Barringer.

This time around, the optimism regarding the free safety position was justified. Thomas Gordon had his share of struggles, especially late in the season, but for the most part he was quite competent. Around here, safety competence is a luxury on par with consistent placekicking.

Sacks almost double from 1.4 per game to 2.4. That would be a move from 98th to around 30th.

Michigan finished with 2.3 sacks per game. That put them at... 29th. Tip o' the cap.

Turnovers forced go from 19 to 27.

Brian's continued insistence that turnover luck would someday go Michigan's way finally paid off; the Wolverines forced 29 turnovers. It also helped that this defense actually tackled people.

EVERYTHING SEEMS WONDERFUL

YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW RIGHT THIS WOULD BE.

Close Enough

Morgan was the MGoBlog Sleeper of the Year based on a wide array of scouting reports that praise his instincts, lateral mobility, and toughnosed hard gritty gritness. I thought he'd have to cool his heels behind Demens for a couple years, but he may get on the field quicker than anyone expected.

No full credit simply because Mike Jones was projected as the starter at WLB, a fact I had completely forgotten about until I looked back at the preview. Morgan ended up playing in 12 games, starting seven (the first being in week two against ND), and finished fifth on the team in tackles.

If [J.T. Floyd] gets a lot better this year it's time to take the Gibson chatter seriously.

This wasn't really a prediction, but... yeah. Tony Gibson minus all of the points.

Beyond Talbott it's true freshmen, but at least there's a horde of them. Maryland's Blake Countess arrives with the most hype and should be the biggest threat to play. (Caveat: last year Cullen Christian arrived with the most hype.)

Points for mentioning Countess as the most likely freshman to see the field. No points for giving him one sentence when he took over the starting job by midseason, especially considering the Christian caveat. As you'll see, the hype that should've surrounded Countess went—justifiably, in the preseason—to Courtney Avery.

Not So Much

Healthy again and less abandoned in the middle of the defense, Martin's numbers should soar. Before the sprain Martin was on pace for 11 TFLs and 4 sacks; after it he got just a half TFL the rest of the year. While the front of the schedule is a bit easier, Martin had 8.5 TFLs and 51 tackles a year ago. Reasonable progression should have gotten him to 11.  Add in further progression plus three DL coaches plus a bit more help on the line plus a free-roaming QB attack role and 15 to 18 TFLs plus a little more QB terror should be within reach. He should be All Big Ten. He might be better.

I hate that I have to put this prediction in this category, but here it is. While Martin was the best player on the defense, his numbers were hampered by having to play the nose; he finished with six TFLs and 3.5 sacks. Despite the lack of statistical production, Martin's efforts were recognized with second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also forced a pitch on a speed option. See you on Sundays, MM.

"Experience" was why [Will Heininger] got the nod; that experience consists of backing Brandon Graham up. In is time on the field he rarely did anything wrong; he rarely did anything right, either. He was a non-factor. As a guy spotting Graham from time to time that's cool, but as a starter or a guy rotating with another equally obscure walk-on that's a recipe for zero production out of a spot that should see its fair share of plays. If this spot averages out as a zero next year that's probably good—and that's not good.

The biggest swing-and-a-miss on the list. Heininger swapped spots with RVB and started all 12 regular-season games at five-tech DT before missing the Sugar Bowl with a foot injury. He exceeded all expectations of a walk-on raised in the shadow of the Big House, proving he could hold his own against Big Ten competition and be a positive force on the interior. After the season, Brian ranked him as the third most siginificant departure on the defense, behind only Martin and Van Bergen. While part of that is due to the remaining depth along the defensive line, I don't think anyone thought Heininger's absence would be felt in such a way.

Brink will play. After mentioning Heininger's experience he said Brink has "practiced very well, played well, been productive" and promised to rotate six guys on the line. Six is a weird number because it means one of Black, Campbell, or Brink is on the fringe. Given the lineups Campbell seems the most likely even though that seems unlikely.

If you're saying "who?" you're probably not alone (though you read this blog, so you probably aren't saying "who?"). Walk-on Nathan Brink was penciled in as the starting SDE at one point in the fall, earning much preseason praise for his unlikely rise up the depth chart. After garnering all that hype, however, he made almost no impact, recording just one tackle while barely seeing the field. He's a prime example of why you must take all offseason practice hype with a grain of salt, especially when said hype involves previously-unknown walk-ons.

We've yet to see the much of the pass-rushing skill that made Roh a top 50 recruit. He's displayed hints of the ability to zip past tackles before they know what hits them when suffered to rush the passer—there's a chance that when he puts hand to ground and is told to let it rip that he goes bonkers. Roh is the biggest X factor on the team. He could end up with anywhere from a half-dozen to twelve sacks.

Playing his third position in three seasons, Roh didn't quite go bonkers, tallying four sacks and eight TFLs. Roh's play still markedly improved from his previous two seasons, but he still hasn't lived up to the sky-high recruiting hype. Much of the blame for that can fall upon the shoulders of Greg Robinson and Co., and we'll see if one last position switch, this time to SDE, finally results in Roh producing double-digit sacks.

In high school, Ryan was an outside linebacker in an actual 3-3-5. As such, he spent a lot of time screaming at the quarterback from angles designed to make life hard for offensive linemen. That's not far off his job in the 4-3 under but it comes with a lot more run responsibility—the SLB has to take on blockers in just the right spot so that he neither lets the play escape contain nor gives him a lane inside too big to shut down. Expect to see him on passing downs but only passing downs this fall.

Ryan became a pleasant early-season surprise when he started against Western Michigan and made his presence felt by batting an Alex Carder pass that Brandon Herron would intercept and return 94 yards to the house. While certainly more of an asset against the pass than the run—his balls-to-the-wall approach was great on blitzes, but not always sound when keeping contain—Ryan proved that he was by far the best option on the strong side. Just one year later, all-conference honors are very much in play.

Assuming he's healthy, another year to learn the position and get bigger should see him improve on his previous form. There is a nonzero chance his earlier performances were not representative of his ability, but the smart money is on Woolfolk being at least average. It wouldn't be a surprise to see him go at the tail end of next year's NFL draft.

Troy Woolfolk's return from the exploding ankle of doom wasn't as triumphant as we all hoped. While he started ten games—six at corner and four at safety—Woolfolk never looked fully comfortable on the field and was supplanted at each position by a younger player (Countess at corner, Gordon at safety). It would be quite a surprise to see him taken in this week's NFL draft.

Courtney Avery busts out. Going into next year people are talking about him as an All Big Ten performer.

After showing much promise as a true freshman, Avery was the obvious candidate to grow into a big-time role as the team's top corner of the present and future. Instead, he started the first two games, then ceded that role to J.T. Floyd, Woolfolk, and eventually Countess. Avery was a solid nickel corner, and should reprise that role in 2012, but his progression wasn't as great as expected.

Craig Roh leads the team in sacks with eight.

Nein. Despite Michigan's impressive rise in team sacks, they were spread pretty evenly across both the D-line and the back seven thanks to Mattison's blitz-happy approach. Ryan Van Bergen paced the team with 5.5, with Jordan Kovacs actually tying Roh for second with four.

Michigan noses just above average in yardage allowed. Advanced metrics have them about 50th.

I know Brian has no complaints about being so hilariously wrong on this one. As noted above, the Wolverines finished 17th in yardage allowed, and they also shot up to sixth (faints) in points allowed. Football Outsiders's FEI metric ranked them as the #16 defense in the country. Despite watching every second of the 2011 season (usually twice), I still have a hard time not believing I'm the victim of an elaborate hoax or a drug experiment gone horribly awry. If you see me waking up in a gutter and GERG is still the defensive coordinator, please do me a favor and run me over with an SUV. Make sure to double-tap, please.

2012 First Look: Defense

2012 First Look: Defense

Submitted by Brian on January 11th, 2012 at 2:37 PM

DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE

MIKE-MARTIN-112109-1-thumb-320x389-17091[1]Will Heininger Notre Dame v Michigan ft_wTXsLodyl[1]

Van Bergen and Martin, Heininger

  1. NT Mike Martin. Penetrating, active nose tackle a major factor in Michigan's massive improvement in run defense; forced a pitch on a speed option; late-season run was absolute dominance; backed up by air, hope, and freshmen.
  2. SDE Ryan Van Bergen. Crafty veteran and iron man was less explosive than Martin but not by much; turned in huge OSU game; consistent production in UFR even if the actual numbers aren't that amazing; backed up by walk-on.
  3. DT Will Heininger. Walk-on evolved from liability against MAC teams to solid, maybe even better than that, Big Ten DT; made a play or two every game after the nonconference schedule; replacement will be Will Campbell and the hope he can finally play some football.
  4. CB/S Troy Woolfolk. Bounced from CB to S throughout career; basically a NEVER FORGET poster all to himself after series of injuries robbed him of all or much of his senior year twice; marginalized by injury and burned by Posey; did not start Sugar Bowl.

    [worry ceases]

  5. JB Fitzgerald. Touted recruit never managed to see the field except on occasional snaps spotting Demens or playing DE under GERG.
  6. Brandon Herron. Scored two touchdowns against WMU and was never heard from again.
  7. Jared Van Slyke. Saw some snaps due to injury over the course of his career.

WHAT'S LEFT

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Kovacs, Ryan, Roh

  1. SS Jordan Kovacs. Never going to be a great deep half guy but the best damn tiny linebacker there's ever been; great tackling in space; great angles; huge part of Michigan's lack of big plays given up; best safety since at least Marcus Ray and probably further back.
  2. SLB Jake Ryan. Explosive edge athlete with a burst opponents are unprepared for; did get confused sometimes as a freshman; outstanding flow; nickel DE.
  3. WDE Craig Roh. Solid, but did not provide the explosive edge rush Michigan was hoping for. May end up moving to SDE, but his size and body type seemingly disqualifies him from that.
  4. CB Blake Countess. Touted recruit stepped into the starting lineup when Woolfolk was struck down and played very well; crappy edge tackling needs work; had tough close to the season against OSU and VT.
  5. CB JT Floyd. Resurrected his career and even turned in a big play or three along the way; jumped a route against Illinois to salt that game away; best technique amongst cover guys; still not that fast; also crappy edge tackling.
  6. MLB Kenny Demens. Ate a lot of blocks after move to new system; hopefully will get more decisive in year two; highly underrated cover guy; not much of a blitzer; may seem a lot better if the NT in front of him is a space eater instead of a penetrator.
  7. FS Thomas Gordon. Also a big part of Michigan's excellent big play prevention; largely exempted from secondary criticism after OSU game because he was not on the field for the worst of it; sweet-ass interception against EMU; probably a better fit at SS.
  8. WLB Desmond Morgan. Wrested the job away from a couple veterans once he got healthy, whereupon he was okay for a freshman; problems in coverage; problems with misdirection; a big chunk of Michigan's outside vulnerability; will either improve or see someone yoink his job.

    [starters cease]

  9. Nickelback Courtney Avery. Diminutive but quality underneath cover guy; PBU and INT sealed OSU game; also a crappy edge tackler; fine option as a third corner.
  10. WDE Jibreel Black. Spotted Roh, could not take his job; may be a candidate to move to SDE if he can put on the weight; emergence of Frank Clark threatens to cut into playing time.
  11. DT Will Campbell. Alternates tossing his man into the quarterback with passive acceptance of blocks. Conditioning and effort an issue.
  12. WLB Brandin Hawthorne. Tiny safety-sized LB a man without a position after Michigan ditched the 3-3-5.

WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY

campbell-cosgrove

please don't be our DT.

Most of the DL. YAYAYAYAYAYAYYYYYYYYY. The best unit on the team is strip-mined by eligibility expiration, leaving the next generation to… oh, right, the next generation doesn't exist. Fantastic.

Michigan's options at SDE are redshirt junior walk-on Nate Brink, who saw occasional snaps this year and was blown up on 80% of them, guys no one has seen or heard from like Jordan Paskorz, or true freshmen. At defensive tackle they've got two spots to fill and two guys who have seen meaningful snaps, Quinton Washington and Will Campbell. Kenny Wilkins and Richard Ash exist, Chris Rock will be coming off a redshirt, and there are some freshmen arriving. The most prominent is 330-pound tank/battleship/Hoke impersonator Ondre Pipkins.

I'll wait for you to finish retching.

All right! We retched it real good! Anyway. Massive dropoff is all but inevitable here. I'm betting Brink, Pipkins, and Campbell are your opening-day starters with Washington a guy who rotates in on the interior; Godin, Strobel, and Wormley will all play immediately due to necessity, leaping past Wilkins and Ash. Rock may also get some PT.

Nothing else. So we've got that going for us. Except…

Maybe WLB. Desmond Morgan is far from invulnerable at WLB, especially with Joe Bolden and Kaleb Ringer enrolling early. James Ross is extensively praised for his play identification ability and should be a candidate for early playing time. Teeny-tiny Antonio Poole is coming off a redshirt and is presumably less teeny-tiny.

That is a lot of guys vying for a single starting spot, many of them more athletic than Morgan at a spot that puts a premium on athleticism. Meanwhile, Kenny Demens is backed up by Mike Jones and more freshmen. Like Omameh, displacing him from the starting lineup provides an ancillary benefit by creating a quality backup where there is none already.

WHAT'S THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

Sanity. O Mattison, without whom we are naught, yea, verily doth we bring these burnt offerings to your lustrous feet. May they keep your pecs jiggling as they command our forces to do something wondrous.

Experience. Michigan has it with eight starters back. For the first time since Carr's final season Michigan will go into the year running the same thing they did the year before. Run and tell that.

Depth at linebacker and quasi-linebacker. Michigan may have to pirate one of the three valid options at WDE to help out on the other side of the line but right now you can have decent confidence in any of Roh, Black, and Clark. At SLB, Ryan is a bust-out star, Brennen Beyer is coming off a freshman season with some promise and a role in short yardage, and Cam Gordon's still hanging around. In the middle, a flood of touted freshmen arrive to back up returning starters; Poole is also around.

Bending but not breaking. Kovacs and Gordon gave up vanishingly few big plays over the course of the season; both return.

WHAT'S THE LAST SEASON OF BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

The line, obviously. There's some talent there but if Michigan doesn't experience a massive backslide it's time to assume that Michigan's DL will be great as long as Hoke and Mattison and Montgomery are around.

Michigan-Jake-Ryan-tips-pass-by-Western-Michigan-Alex-Carder[1](caption) Michigan linebacker Craig Roh (88) and defensive tackle Ryan Van Bergen (53) get to Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller (3) for a sack. Michigan's Brandon Graham (upper right) was also in on the play. The Wolverines defense sacked Hiller twice in the game.  *** Michigan built a 31-0 first half lead, then coasted to a 31-7 season opening victory over Western Michigan University at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. True freshman quarterback Tate Forcier threw three touchdown passes to lead the Wolverines.   ***  The University of Michigan Wolverines open Rich Rodriguez' second season against the Western Michigan University Broncos at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Photos taken on Saturday, September 5, 2009. ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

okay, but what about, like, teams other than Western Michigan?

Getting to the quarterback. Roh did not blow up as we hoped and most of the options to replace other guys are ponderous. Campbell and Washington and Pipkins are going to be the sorts of guys who shove a couple dudes at the LOS on passing plays. Michigan got away with a lack of pass rush from the outside last year because a couple of their inside guys were great penetrators; next year Michigan needs their outside LB types (WDE and SLB) to MAKE PLAYS or opposing quarterbacks will be able to grow small businesses in the pocket.

Secondary athleticism. I love Kovacs with all of the hearts and think whatever athleticism he lacks is more than made up for by his smarts. At this point I'm not sure athleticism is even an issue. I can't remember the last time it came up in a game.

The rest of the secondary… we don't know about. Sometimes you're going to get burned over the top. When you have great recovery speed you can live. When you don't you die, which happened to Michigan time and again against Devier Posey. JT Floyd is much better but isn't likely to get a sniff from the NFL; Countess and Avery are faster but little buggers ill-suited to take on the Michael Floyds of the world. Thomas Gordon has decent to good speed; he still got burned over the top big time by Nebraska.

There are no blazers and the big guy in the secondary is almost kind of maybe outright slow. Yeah. So… could be an issue.

WHAT'S INEXPLICABLE JIMI HENDRIX

Can these coaches salvage the line? Tell me lies, baby.

How ready to play are some of these freshmen? If Bolden comes in and rips Morgan's job away from him that's probably good, but we're really talking about Ondre Pipkins, Chris Wormley, Tom Strobel, and Matt Godin here. Pipkins all but has to start from day one and two of the other three will be frequently-used depth guys.

Are the cornerbacks for real? They seemed fantastic over the first 11 games but the results against OSU and VT are alarming.

MANDATORY WILD-ASS GUESS

I'm torn. There is a case for a backslide despite returning eight starters. For one, the fumbles will not be as plentiful. For two, a lot of Michigan's weakness was covered up by Mike Martin being essentially unblockable the back half of the season and Van Bergen being so reliable. I'm worried that without those two, Michigan is going to have issues. In the best case scenario the new guys prevent OL from getting to the second level, making a lot of plays available for the linebackers that the linebackers might not make. I also don't see where the heat comes from.

But they do return eight starters and go from year one to year two in the same system. They seem pretty injury-resilient at spots that aren't Jordan Kovacs and bring in a lot of talented freshmen. They will be much older at just about every spot.

It's mandatory, though, so… yeah, they'll be worse. The lack of consistent pressure will be a year-long problem that exposes some of the issues in the secondary and the linebackers are not at the level they need to be to benefit from planetoid DL.

Sacks backslide into the bottom half of D-I after finishing 29th, total defense slides into the 30s, and the scoring defense does not repeat its top ten performance from a year ago.

Things That Happened

Things That Happened

Submitted by Brian on December 29th, 2011 at 12:22 PM

Hello!

The DL took a hit for the Sugar. Nate Brink is out, leaving I Don't Know behind RVB at strongside defensive end, and Will Heininger is "questionable" with a foot thing.  No one expects him to play. Heininger's absence would probably mean a start for Will Campbell and more playing time for Quinton Washington, plus a tired Mike Martin since he won't have anything approximating a plausible backup:

"(We have) two other seniors up front that are going to play their last college game and their last game for Michigan," Hoke said. "Sometimes, you’ve got to be an iron man."

The line is thin.

MonuMental dropped wallpaper. It's uncommonly gorgeous even for MonuMental.

michigan-football-wallpaper-2012-sugar-bowl-widescreen[1]

He also has a request for people who have enjoyed his work. Click through.

Denard got Sports Scienced. BIZANG

Virginia Tech's kicker got in jail. Like, jail-jail. I think I mentioned that already, but the new thing is VT's significant uncertainty at the spot:

Beamer said everyone made the trip except suspended place-kicker Cody Journell, who is facing a felony charge of entering a house with the intent to commit a felony. He spent six days in jail before being released this morning.

Beamer said senior Tyler Weiss will handle extra-point tries and field goals of less than 22 yards against Michigan, and senior Justin Myer will attempt longer kicks.

The Hokies have a guy who's deadly accurate from inside the five but can't get a 30-yarder over the bar. I look forward to seeing this strangely configured man.

The Big Ten and Pac 12 enjoyed a long, teary hug. Starting in 2017 the two conferences will have a scheduling alliance designed to "match teams of similar strength" in football, which is all that matters. The two leagues will also play in all other sports but in all other sports it's a matter of replacing one of your quality nonconference opponents with a Pac-12 school. Only in football does this make for real change.

While the move away from cupcake non-games is welcome, that was already on the docket as the Big Ten prepared to move to a nine-game conference schedule. That is now off the table:

The scheduling partnership means the Big Ten won't be moving from eight conference games to nine beginning in the 2017 season. The league had announced the increase in August.

"If it's not off the board, it's coming off the board," Delany said. "When this opportunity was raised, it's pretty much the understanding that it's in lieu of."

Instead of playing Wisconsin and Penn State more Michigan will play some Pac-10 teams. Honestly, I'd rather skip this business and expand the conference schedule. I'd rather have a more balanced conference schedule and more frequently revisited rivalries with the rest of the league than games Michigan could schedule anyway.

ANTI-BONUS: This hurts Michigan and Ohio State more than anyone else since they are locked into that cross-divisional protected rivalry. The other contenders in the West have annual matchups against Purdue (Iowa), Indiana (MSU), and the post-apocalypse version of Penn State (Nebraska). Michigan gets OSU annually. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes' main division rival's permanent crossover is… Minnesota. At least the Badgers won't be able to duck any and all plausible nonconference opponents anymore.

So it's a push leaning to not good right now. It will will be a total fail if Michigan takes the opportunity to ditch the ND series. Survey says… probably not($):

While Brandon said he wouldn’t want to predict anything in the long term -- and he said 2017 is not considered long term in his view of football scheduling -- if the current schedule were to remain the same, the Irish will remain on the schedule.

That schedule would be eight Big Ten games, a home or away game with the Big Ten/Pac-12 agreement, a home or away game against Notre Dame and two non-conference home games.

“They like to play us and we like to play them so that game continues to be on our schedule,” Brandon said. “As it relates to the long term, who knows. The long term is pretty hard to predict with the constant changes in college football, but for now we intend to play Notre Dame and they are on our schedule and we’ll be playing them for the next few years anyway.”

If the ND game stays in place that will take Michigan's interesting nonconference games from one to two in 2017, but you can say goodbye to the idea of playing anyone from the ACC, Big 12, or SEC in the nonconference unless Jerry Jones is throwing money around like a sad old lonely man. And that was going to happen in 2017 anyway with a move to a nine-game conference schedule.

The Big Ten got a lot of credit for envisioneering a multifaceted solution to the dynamic problems of college athletics. I don't get it. Not to pick on the MZone, but, uh:

And just like that, the SEC's addition of Mizzou and Texas A&M seems so...quaint.  The Big East's addition of Boise State and...who again?... seems so 2011.  As Scott points out, the B1G and Pac-12 gain a lot of the upside of expansion (broader reach, new markets and recruiting areas( without actually expanding.  And with the conferences' TV deals with ESPN expiring in 2016, the BTN and the Pac-12 new network stand to make a financial killing.

This is far from an isolated opinion; check the link blizzard in the second paragraph of Get the Picture's analysis of the situation.

The SEC diluting its product with Mizzou and A&M was never a good idea to begin with. This lacks any huge, stupid downsides like the SEC deal, so there's that, but at its heart it's one football game a year. Just because the man with the eyebrows says something doesn't mean it's true.

Michigan hired a soccer coach. He's from Providence, he's turned a nothing program into a consistent NCAA participant, he's not Caleb Porter, but he seems like a pretty good idea. More details in the board thread.

Tigerdroppings got cited by a newspaper. Tennessee WR DeAnthony Arnett is leaving Tennessee after Charlie Baggett's exit to be closer to his ailing father. You're probably wondering if Michigan will take a look after grabbing Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh in the last few weeks. There is a wild card spot open since Bri'onte Dunn decided to stick with the Golden Bobcats.

Michigan would be foolish not to explore the possibility. If he doesn't get a waiver he'd be coming off his redshirt year with three to play when Roundtree and Stonum exit. He fills a hole on the roster after Michigan didn't take any WRs last year. If Michigan doesn't hop on him his most likely destination is MSU. Since he's a transfer he doesn't have to be crammed into the 28 available LOI slots. His stock has not dropped over the last year: Arnett had 24 catches as a freshman. His timeline matches up well with Michigan's needs and he's got talent. I would grab him and see if Michigan suffers the one or two extra departures that would allow them to take 28 on Signing Day anyway.

That's beside the point. This is the point:

Arnett caught 24 passes for 242 as a true freshman for the Volunteers last season, but several factors have prompted Arnett to ask for a release from Tennesse, according to fan site tigerdroppings.com.

That link leads to a C&P of the Rivals article on his decision to exit.

OH TE Sam Grant is seeing Michigan's main competition fill up a bit. Kyle Kalis teammate Sam Grant just picked up an Oklahoma offer, which had the potential to significantly complicate what looked like a straightforward decision to avoid the tire fire that is BC football for Michigan. That offer may have just fell by the wayside with AZ TE Taylor McNamara's commitment to the Sooners($). McNamara was briefly a Michigan target before he decided Ann Arbor was too far from home.

That gives OU two tight ends in the last week, but Grant is still planning on a visit in January.

Josh Garnett said something reasonable. This was it.

Michigan recruit Josh Garnett: 'I'm like Suh, but on offense'

NotSureIfSerious

Also not sure if serious. Wait… what?

Despite his pro-style roots, Borges didn't shun the spread. After resigning from Auburn in December 2007, Borges took the next year off, his first since starting coaching, and made visits to college teams like Mississippi State, Florida and Cal as well as to the NFL's Detroit Lions.

Then, in preparation for Michigan's season, he consulted with spread-offense practitioners like Temple coach Steve Addazio.

Steve Addazio is a spread offense practitioner like Jim Tressel is an honesty practitioner.

Multi-year scholarships got overriden, too. That PDF only had 48 objections to the multi-year scholarship option so I thought it was in the clear. It is not:

More than 75 schools are asking to override a plan approved in October to allow multiyear athletic scholarships rather than the one-year renewable awards schools currently provide.

That's disappointing but at least the world is being alerted to the asshat factory that is the Indiana State athletic department. If it goes to an override vote, 5/8ths of the membership would have to vote it down to eliminate it.

Someone made Central Michigan's stadium in Minecraft. Srs.

CMU was not in my top ten "schools most likely to create 1:1 replica of their stadium in Minecraft." BOOM:

  1. Georgia Tech
  2. Stanford
  3. Cal
  4. Michigan
  5. Rice
  6. UCLA
  7. Illinois
  8. Florida
  9. Washington State
  10. Notre Dame

Bowl lol continues. It's costing LSU and Alabama almost a million dollars to buy their band tickets for the SEC West title game. Clemson expects to eat 200k in losses for winning the ACC, too.

Michigan's uniforms were named the best in college football by, like, fashion people. WSJ:

Michigan: Of all the traditional uniforms, the Wolverines' maize-and-blue unis earned the highest marks from the panel. (Michigan also wore throwback uniforms this season that received mixed reviews, but our panel didn't evaluate them.)

American fashion designer Marc Ecko especially liked the color weight on the jersey, while graphic artist Josh Vanover praised the "bold, bright colors" and "clean" fonts.

But what really pushed Michigan to the top was its iconic winged helmet, which received near-universal praise for its creativity.

"Anyone that uses it, no matter what color you put it in, it's Michigan," said Anthony Coleman, the managing editor of the fashion and street culture blog SlamxHype. "You can use it, but realize that you're stealing from Michigan."

Maryland also came in for praise for their whatever that was, as did Oregon, so this is not a panel of get-off-my-lawn types. Michigan does their thing so well they don't have to resort to goofy things they've done so far this year.

Basketball had a scare against Bradley. A second-half run finally broke open an uncomfortable game as Michigan put the nonconference schedule (mostly) to bed. Holding the Rope has a holistic overview. Jon Horford's lingering stress fracture forced McLimans on the floor and there were a fair number of "OH COME ON" shots made by the Braves as they isolationed their way to a barrage of shots Kobe Bryant would find difficult. Still… Bradley went out and got annihilated 90-51 by a very good Witchita State team yesterday and the Big Ten is terrifying.

Without Horford it is even more critical for Morgan and Smotrycz to stay out of foul trouble. That is not likely. Michigan cannot drop tonight's game against Penn State. There's zero room for error in the league this year and there is a bright line between 9-9—tourney lock—and 8-10. This game against PSU is just one of seven Michigan has left against teams ranked below them in Kenpom (#143 PSU x2, #69 NW, #122 Iowa, #126 Nebraska, #93 Arkansas).

INSANE SMOTRYCZ SHOOTING UPDATE: 22 of 38 from 3 (58%), fifth nationally in eFG%. Novak is 16th with his 64%/42% shooting.

Etc.: Michigan scores best comeback on Doctor Saturday's year-end list of said comebacks. The Rees fumble that greatly aided that comeback leads off the list of gaffes. Penn State tire fire claims Drake, McGloin, Paul Jones, forces Bolden to start against Houston. Penn State still has no coach.

Unverified Voracity Needs To Schedule Kansas Right Now

Unverified Voracity Needs To Schedule Kansas Right Now

Submitted by Brian on December 9th, 2011 at 12:17 PM

Rimington: acquired. David Molk is your 2011 Rimington winner as the nation's best center:

I haven't watched every snap of every other center's career in detail, but I have watched Molk and I would have scoffed if he didn't win. Good move, Rimington award. The scoffing… you don't want this, son.

With the award and the first-team All-American status that goes with it, Molk will be one of the guys you randomly stumble across pages for on the Bentley site when trying to figure out all-decade teams. He'll show up in an endzone of Michigan Stadium at some point, grudgingly waving at the crowd. This makes me happy.

Future centers need not apply for the 2010s All-Decade team, by the way. Your application is as likely to be successful as Charlie Weis getting another head coaching—SKREEEEEEEEETCH

Carry on my Weighward son. So this happened:

390006_10150419902218842_40139773841_8414634_1239908666_n[1]

I'm still waiting for Orson to email the Kansas AD asking "who are you and when did you think of this," thus exposing the brilliant hoax. Because that ain't real. Kansas did not just hire an old sociopath whose college tenure is spectacular failure at Notre Dame and leading the Florida offense into walrusball territory. They did not shell out three million a year for him. These are not things that happen without Batman villains intervening in the water supply.

In the unlikely event this is a real thing that really happened, Michigan needs to schedule an annual series with Kansas. That's how you create the future, by causing the media to reminisce about things that your fanbase remembers as awesome.

Weis II >>>>>>>> Horror II. EFACT.

And now a word from Orson.

YEAH THE REASONS YOU CAME HERE WHATEVER I DON'T CARE I ASSUME YOU CAME WITH A SKI MASK ON AND SHOULD LEAVE WITH ONE BECAUSE YOU STOLE MONEY AT NOTRE DAME AND YOU STOLE MONEY FROM FLORIDA AND NOW YOU'RE GOING TO KANSAS AND THAT MAKES YOU SOME KIND OF SUBTROPICAL DEPRESSION THAT GUSTS INTO PRESS CONFERENCES RAINS TURNOVERS ON AN OFFENSE AND THEN SUCKS THE CASH OUT OF THE AIR BEFORE BLOWING INTO THE NEXT STOP. WE BOUGHT THE MONORAIL. WE DIDN'T SEE A WICKED THING COMING THIS WAY. WE WROTE THE CHECK AND SAID SURE YOU SEEM TRUSTWORTHY PERSON WHO LOST TO GREG ROBINSON AT SYRACUSE ON YOUR OWN HALLOWED HOME FIELD.

THEN YOU LEAVE AND THAT'S GREAT. SERIOUSLY I WOULD HAVE THROWN BATTERIES AT YOU AT THE BOWL GAME. YOU THINK I'M JOKING BUT I'M NOT MY FRIEND JON SAID "I'M GOING TO THROW BATTERIES AT HIM" AND FOR ONCE THIS MADE SO MUCH EMOTIONAL SENSE TO ME. I WOULD HAVE FELT BETTER. MY HATE AND FRUSTRATION WOULD HAVE CHARGED THE BATTERY AND THEN LEFT ME IN ONE CATHARTIC JOLT IN A CLEAN TRANSFER OF ENERGY FROM ME TO THE BATTERY TO YOUR WORTHLESS CARCASS. I WOULD HAVE FELT BETTER EVEN WITH THE MISDEMEANOR ASSAULT CHARGE. I REALLY WOULD HAVE ESPECIALLY AFTER I WATCHED YOU MAKE UP THAT BULLSHIT PLAN FOR THE GEORGIA GAME AND WATCHED US DIE IN PERSON FOR THE ENTIRE SECOND HALF SERIOUSLY YOU OWE JOHN BRANTLEY SEVEN YEARS ON HIS LIFE.

And now let's reminisce.

"They're going to have to learn about us, OK? Let them try to stop a pro-style offense, which has multiple personnel groups and multiple formations. Let's see how they are going to do. They've had their advantage because I've come into recruiting late. Well, now it's Xs and Os time. Let's see who has the advantage now."

I wrote a thing after the above game with a photoshop Kansas fans may want to have handy.

The only wonder is that the media spent the better part of 2.5 years pumping him up as Weis E. Coyote, Certified Super Genius, largely because Weis spent every available moment telling the media that he and his ACME catalog of incredibly sophisticated devices were worth a foolproof touchdown every game. Somehow I doubt even Tyrone Willingham would have Notre Dame scoring -7 points per game.


By god, if EDSBS can have a horrible photoshop of Dennis
Erickson driving a golf cart into a volcano, I can have this.

The result of all these fantastic toys? Literally nothing. No touchdowns. No rushing yards. No hope.

No hope… no hope. [Kansas football flatlines.]

A witch! Find the witch! If you're wondering why the parents of former Michigan commits are telling recruiting reporters that their sons are qualified, yesterday Rivals claimed a current commit was not likely to make it past the clearinghouse and please don't speculate as to who, which worked as well as it always does: not at all. At least the Inquisition didn't last long. When Anthony Standifer decommitted soon after, two was added to two.

I'm not sure what the deal is here. Michigan's main competition for Standifer was Notre Dame, not often hot after kids who won't qualify. In the Trieu article above his mom doesn't sound mad, claiming it was a mutual breakup:

"Both parties have decided to go their separate ways."

So, whatever. For whatever reason Michigan is down one Standifer. This has two major impacts:

  1. Michigan probably wants another defensive back. Hot prospect is current PSU commit Armani Reeves, a four-star corner Michigan finished second for back when Penn State didn't have… events. He seems to be opening it back up; it appears M was ready to grab Yuri Wright even with Standifer in the class and would probably take both Wright and Reeves without thinking twice.
  2. If Michigan handled this poorly there could be some fallout with LaQuon Treadwell, the 2013 WR from Standifer's school who has visited multiple times and seems to favor M. FWIW, Ace has a report on that indicating it won't impact his decision.

And now: children who hate football. The father in the first one is kind of a jerk.

Try not to think of the latter one the next time Michigan loses a game.

The coming funpocalypse. Every report that BCS automatic qualifier status is probably gone further enhances the belief that BCS AQ status is probably gone. The bigger issue is if the cap on the number of teams per conference will be lifted, as that will determine who benefits from the AQ removal: Boise State or SEC #3? Actually, with Boise now moving to the Big East, they're hurt by this. They finally wrangle themselves an autobid just in time for them to go up in smoke. They have been trolled expertly.

Every report that an expanded playoff field is inevitable further enhances the belief that Jim Delany is a Centauri diplomat. Andy Staples quoting Stanford's AD:

"I happen to agree with my conference colleagues about the plus-one game," Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby said Wednesday. "I think it's inevitable at this point."

That's the Pac-12, man. With the Big 12 having their Okie State hissy, the SEC and ACC already on board, and the Big East able to calculate the chances of one of their teams ever getting in a two-team playoff, the Big Ten is about to be dragged into an arrangement they don't want. As I said, Delany should have thought about the slippery slope in 1998, not now.

In other quotes that make me pump my fist:

[After complaining about the Sugar Bowl, Kansas State AD John] Currie then said something that should strike fear into the hearts of overpaid, underworked bowl directors everywhere, because while Currie may be the jilted, angry one now, he isn't the only administrator who feels this way. "College football doesn't need the bowls like it once did to build the brand of college football," Currie said. In other words, the schools and conferences can stage exhibition games on their own at a far lower cost, increasing their profits and cutting the bowls out of the equation entirely.

YES THIS YES. The NCAA needs goofballs in yellow jackets in no way whatsoever.

Staples also discusses a potential split in D-I between haves and have-nots, something I either don't care about (if the split does not prevent you from scheduling lower division teams) or adore (if it does).

Well, maybe. Meinke starts the fretting about next year's defensive line with some quotes from defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery. This is the most interesting:

One question that likely will fester into fall camp: Will either Roh, who will be a senior fourth-year starter next year, or sophomore Jibreel Black be moved from weak-side to strong-side end to replace Van Bergen?

They both played well this season on the weak side, so splitting them could be a way of getting the best 11 on the field.

Montgomery's answer: "It could happen, but I’m telling you, Nathan Brink is going to be a good football player. To say anyone is going to pass him at five-technique (is premature)."

When Brink got hyped up in preseason camp, that was a sign the world was ending at the Will Campbell spot. When he immediately faded in favor of Will Heininger, that was a sign things were even worse than implied when one walk-on was in the conversation. And Heininger had some struggles early.

Then a funny thing happened: Heininger stopped getting beat up by Eastern Michigan

If the rest of the line did this there'd be nothing. Unfortunately, this is Will Heininger's fate (second from the top in the first frame):

heininger-power-2 heininger-power-4 heininger-power-5

You can see the blue stripe. Roh has his helmet on it. Heininger ends up a yard behind it and sealed away. That middle frame is a butt-kicking, and the third frame is the result: two Michigan players with no hope of making a tackle.

…and settled into a brief period of anonymity before emerging into a pretty good player late in the year. Heininger has been consistently positive in UFRs since about the midpoint of the season, and while he's not Mike Martin or Ryan Van Bergen he's far more effective than folks like Banks and Patterson were last year.

This realigns our perceptions. Michigan has never been a place that could get mileage out of walk-ons like Iowa or Wisconsin, so the default assumption has been walkons == doom. In certain cases (say, inserting a freshman student-body walk-on into the starting lineup) that remains true. But if Brink fends off Roh and Black for a job at five-tech there's reason to believe he'll be able to hack it.

Given his brief windows of play so far he'll have to improve massively to get there, but, hey, Will Heininger.

This year, last year. Stolen from the depths of the internet, a man who goes only by "Jeff" posts Michigan's plays of X yards or more allowed this year and last year:

Plays of 80+ yards - 2010 3, 2011 0
Plays of 70+ yards - 2010 4, 2011 0
Plays of 60+ yards - 2010 7, 2011 0
Plays of 50+ yards - 2010 8, 2011 2
Plays of 40+ yards - 2010 15, 2011 6
Plays of 30+ yards - 2010 29, 2011 13
Plays of 20+ yards - 2010 64, 2011 41
Plays of 10+ yards - 2010 211, 2011 150

Note that these numbers include *all* plays of longer than 10+, 20+, not plays for 10-19 yards, plays for 20-29 yards, etc. - we didn't give up 7 plays for 70+ yards in 2010, we gave up 3 for 80-100 and 1 for 70-79.

That is slight improvement there. Safeties, safeties, safeties. The difference doesn't really kick into full force until you get to plays of 30 and 40 yards. Too bad the defense had a bit of a meltdown against OSU or that plays of >30 yards number would be ridiculously low.

Etc.: Video from the 1930s. Of Michigan Stadium. The Daily notes that there are two guys in lobster costumes in the student section calling themselves "Smotrycz's Lobstryczs," which is incredible. You men are heroes.

The Return

The Return

Submitted by Ace on November 29th, 2011 at 2:05 PM

They marched past in tight formation, the drumline rapping out their cadence, occasionally punctuated by a solemn chant of "Ohio!" The Game was over, by now a good 15 minutes over, and the devastation set in as pandemonium ensued on the field of the Big House. You could tell instantly from the looks in their eyes—many welled up with tears—that the Ohio State Marching Band was not marching nearly fast enough.

I knew that look, that feeling. For the seven years prior, that was me, just doing my best to stay composed—it's a game, after all—until I could find a place away from everyone, and especially away from anything resembling football—because, after all, it's really more than just a game. On Saturday, however, I stood in the front corner of the tunnel, watching a beautiful scene unfold while doing my best to maintain some level of professionalism. Despite being all-too-familiar with their pain, I felt no sympathy towards the opposing band; they were merely collateral damage in a world returned to its rightful state.

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

I was spoiled. Since my dad decided to move the family from San Francisco to Ann Arbor—home of his alma mater—in the summer of 1993, Michigan had gone 6-4 against the Buckeyes, and 3-1 in games I had attended. This included Tim Biakabutuka's 313-yard game in '95 and the Rose Bowl clincher in '97, when Charles Woodson cut once, then once more, and streaked down the sidelines towards our end zone seats.

It was the fall of 2003, and I was a baby-faced high school sophomore. My friend Amy sat down with me in the lunchroom at Pioneer and told me she had her grandmother's tickets for The Game, and I could come if I want. She already knew the answer. What she didn't know—what none of us could know—was that we would be watching the last Wolverine victory in the rivalry until we were both out of college. At the time, I watched the game with the full expectation that Michigan would win—despite the presence of some vest-wearing guy from Youngstown State named Tressel, who had inexplicably coached OSU to victory the previous two years—and when they did, we walked home with little fanfare. This was normal, and it was good.

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

Avery Interception

After eight games, there is still no part of me that feels like a day in the Michigan Stadium press box is just another day at the office. That feeling was only reinforced as Jake Long strode by amidst awkwardly-loud whispers of "Is that Jake Long?" Meanwhile, a relaxed Gene Smith schmoozed with some unidentified bigwigs, the press box was announced as being full for the first time all year—yes, including the Notre Dame game—and Mike Rosenberg even made it for the first time since the release of the advance copies of Three and Out. In a year chock-full of remarkable scenes, this stood out as particularly surreal.

Still, once the game began, I fell into routine easily. Watch the play, attempt to think of something insightful, tweet (usually regardless of whether or not an insightful thought actually occurred), perhaps crack a joke to Heiko, rinse, repeat. At halftime, the nerves began to kick in, because despite seven years of misery the thought never crossed my mind that this game could end in anything but righteous victory.

With seven minutes left in the fourth quarter—not long after I tweeted "End of third quarter update: I'm dying inside"—I packed up my laptop and followed TomVH and Chantel Jennings down to the field. By the time we reached the concourse, we were practically running. Michigan held a three-point lead and was driving, and this was no time to be cooped up far above the action where anything resembling a partisan cheer is met with withering glares of contempt.

We watched, helpless, as Fitz Toussaint scored but did not score, as Denard ran it in only to be rebuffed by yellow flags, as Michigan settled for a Brendan Gibbons field goal, and then as Devier Posey ran right by J.T. Floyd, only to be overthrown by a margin too close to keep my heart from nearly escaping my chest cavity. The next thing I knew, Braxton Miller had spiked the ball on third down—to the amazement of the surrounding media members and the incredulity of the Buckeye fans in the visitor's section behind me—and then Courtney Avery came down with the football.

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

IMG_0060

As Denard Robinson chucked the ball high into the sky, setting off the "bomb" celebration that so hilariously rankled Zach Boren, I was already walking onto the field. I never had the chance to rush the field as a fan, but now, thanks to a job I did not possess a mere four months ago, here I was accidentally walking right behind Fitz Toussaint as he answered a television reporter's questions.

Toussaint wrapped up his interview quickly and sprinted towards the end zone, to his teammates and their student brethren. I followed, snapping pictures on my phone and keeping an eye out for my younger brother, who had lucked his way into a front-row seat in the student section. By the time I reached the end zone, the stampede began—the players ran towards the tunnel as the first wave of students streamed onto the field, and for a moment I wondered if I would be trampled. I wasn't worried about myself, but instead hoped that my parents would understand that I died happy, doing what I love.

I snapped out of it, because getting bowled into by a drunk, screaming engineer in a "Shoelace For Heisman" shirt will kick in your survival instincts. I turned and went with the flow of the crowd, capturing a few poignant moments along the way: a homeless-looking Steve Everitt hugging Taylor Lewan, Brendan Gibbons embracing Mark Huyge, walk-on Zac Johnson—one arm raised in triumph—soaking it all in.

By the mouth of the tunnel stood Mike Martin—and I didn't realize it at the time, but he was next to John U. Bacon—and his look of pure elation nearly brought a tear to my eye. To the right, Denard Robinson flashed his 1000-watt smile as he was mobbed by adoring students, then lifted a cheerleader off the ground—Lewan would have been proud. The players, the fans, and yes, the media members, nobody wanted to leave. We were unleashing seven years of pent-up frustration, but more than that, we were basking in the joy of the players, the guys who have been through more than any others in program history.

After several minutes, when the team had finally gone off to the locker room, I slipped into the tunnel to watch the recruits—and, as it turned out, the Ohio State band—make their way through. The faces of the visiting prospects said it all: a mix of jubilation and wonder, the wide-eyed looks of those wondering if this all was real. Devin Funchess snapped out of his joyful daze just in time to sidestep an equipment box being pushed by some Buckeye band members—"Man, they're trying to kill me!"—then proceeded to laugh his way out, bouncing with each step.

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

Just when things seemed to be quieting down, the traffic through the tunnel thinned out, three men emerged from the Michigan locker room, smartphones in hand: Captain Mike Martin, the heart and soul of the defense; Ryan Van Bergen, the face of "Those Who Stayed"; and Will Heininger, the Ann Arbor native who turned down a potential baseball career to walk on to the team he grew up idolizing. They headed back into the fray, capturing the moment for eternity.

They didn't just stay. They had returned.

Michigan Museday: What We Asked of Them, Part II

Michigan Museday: What We Asked of Them, Part II

Submitted by Seth on November 23rd, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Seniors2

(Compare to yesterday's)

We're talking about these seniors. Yesterday was the Class of '08 plus Grady, players who either committed to Rodriguez or at least had time to break their commitments to Michigan after the coaching change. The level of commitment to the program by those guys may have been unparalleled in Michigan history but for some of their fellow seniors from the Class of 2007. This is Part II. It's running long still and I have family in town so the last four guys will have to be a Part III. Anyway, 2007…

This class committed to 'Lloyd Carr's University of Michigan' while the Wolverines were riding the best defense in the country to 3 points shy of playing for the National Championship. Their careers began by watching, redshirted, as The Horror obliterated every shred of mysticism the program had, yet they stuck by Michigan. They stuck by Michigan when their coaches and systems were replaced, stuck by Michigan when outsiders trashed the program and some insiders were actively trying to sabotage it. TroyFS_spreadThey stuck by coaches they hadn't chosen, right up until those coaches were shown the door. Then they met with their teammates, told their story, and made sure that when another staff came through the door, everyone would stick by Michigan.

It would be ungracious to not mention some of their classmates who stayed until their health or eligibility ran out: Renaldo Sagesse, a bonhomme Quebecois and one-time 20-year-old freshman. Secret weapon Martell Webb, a blocking tight end whose great contributions to the 2010 offense went largely unremarked. Michael Williams, maligned in these parts as only bad underclassman free safeties can be, who had to choose between the best years of his football career or having a functional brain the rest of his life. And James Rogers, a positional vagabond who finally went wherever he was very needed indeed. And some of the walk-ons like John McColgan, Jered van Slyke, Zac Johnson, Tony Anderson, and Tom Pomarico who've had to earn their roster spots (and some, scholarships) from three different coaching staffs. What follows is the story of eight more guys like that, again in reverse order of length of commitment.

Will Heininger had a story written about him once in the Daily by the inimitable Joe Stapleton. Will was the kid in Michigan gear who became the teenager who knew more about the team than the lifer sitting next to him, who gave up a likely career in baseball to walk on to the team of his dreams. As a redshirt sophomore Heininger beat out scholarship upperclassmen like Sagesse, Greg Banks and Adam Patterson to be the first guy rotated in when Brandon Graham needed a breather. With Graham in the NFL a 2010 starter role was in his grasp, but then Heininger tore his ACL at Will-Heininger-celebrates-Michigan-win-over-Notre-Damethe end of Spring Practice. He missed the first 10 games of the season, but fought his way back on the field, albeit not yet fully back to form, for Wisconsin, Ohio State and the Gator Bowl.

Finally this year he earned the starting job as a utility D-lineman, over guys like Jibreel Black and Will Campbell. While doing all of this Heininger has been named Academic All-Big Ten every year since '08, and has been nominated for his third Big Ten Distinguished Scholar award.

Yearbook quote:

My Papi, my grandpa, I like to have his initials or his name somewhere on me. My tape, or something like that, during the game to see him always …He’s from Columbus, but he’s a Michigan Man. He’s the biggest influence on my life and he passed just this past spring. He’s a great man and he’s part of the reason I’m here. He’s always out there watching over me."

Brandon Herron was a project*, a Texas (same school as TWoolf) kid built like a safety who played defensive end and projected as a linebacker. He had good athleticism but was consistently listed as something less than 200 which your mind rounds up to 200. He was raaaaaaww.

Raw freshman often don't pan out even if they're recruited by a competent coach for their specific skillset, and that coach then spends five years drilling a single system into the player's brain. Herron didn't have that; he was an afterthought classmate-of-a-recruit body in a "NEED LINEBACKERS LIKE WHOA" class, given first to Steve Szabo (the guy who spoke for Carr's assistants in Bacon's book, now EMU's LB coach), then to Jay Hopson, then to GERG. Other than an ankle injury for a chunk of 2010 his career was a lot of "contributed on special teams."

Herron kept plugging along, even when his name hardly popped up in the carousel of "Which weakside linebacker impressed Mattison today?" of this spring and fall camps. Then on Opening Day 2011 versus WMU he was suddenly the starter and proceeded to score two defensive michigan-western-michigan-interception-brandon-herrontouchdowns (one a 94-yarder that still stands as the most significant swing play of the year). Those won him a handful of national defensive player of the week awards (UFR of that game revealed his play was really just so-so). Then he got hurt, and fell back behind Hawthorne and the freshmen and his career was cooked.

Yearbook quote:

When Kovacs sacked the quarterback and he forced the fumble, we saw something in the offense so we made a check, which led me to come off the edge so it opened up a hole for him to get through. [The WMU OT] he kind of brushed me off, he didn't really pick me up, so I just kind of went around, then [breaks into huge smile] heard the hit, saw the hit, and saw the ball on the ground, and just went out there, and next thing you know I'm running towards the end zone.

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*BONUS: The 'Hello:' article for Herron has their coach saying "I really believe he's a safety" about Woolfolk, and Brian saying 'not gonna happen.' Oh hindsight.

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When Coaching Change the First happened, the offensive line was already one year into transitioning from MANBALL blocking to zone. The tackles were senior All Everything Jake Long, Mt. Alex Mitchell, and a collection of eh man-blocking dudes. Redshirting was one of just two offensive linemen (and sole tackle) recruited in 2007, and to be honest the 6'6, 280, two-star obscure guy whose next-best offer was Ball State was more someone's backup plan than a system diamond they'd uncovered. So came Mark Huyge. Brian wrote him off as "Unlikely to ever play extensively."

Huyge sat buried on the depth chart for a few years grumbling about having to puke for Barwis instead of down pizzas for Gittleson, took some padded LSA classes with some of the other dissatisfied guys from the Lloyd era, then watched as successive RR jackrabbits displaced him and finally transferred to Someplace Division II College Tech. That's about how it went, right Mark?

huyge-3huyge-2

Well, he could have done that. What Huyge did do was embrace the new staff, lifted his way up the depth chart against established returning starters, and by 2009 was Schofielding his way into whatever guard or tackle spot was available. Every time a guy like Omameh in '09, Lewan in '10, or Schofield in '11 emerged to finally displace him, Huyge would manage to either fend that guy off, or pop up to displace the next weakest starter on the line. He's never been spectacular, never threw a safety into Manti Te'o or killed a donkey, but he's been in there, so much now that when he's not there next year I'll be sorely missing him.

Had Michigan got any of the OTs they were after in '07, Huyge would probably have committed to Brady Hoke, then seen Hoke take off for SD State. So when the old staff entered and the new one came, Huyge 'grabbed the helm' as a senior leader and oft team spokesman. He was one of the seniors who organized the "don't anybody bail on your teammates" meetings that held the players together in the darkest days of last winter.

Oh and somewhere in there Huyge also managed to take a thousand bus trips up to North Campus; he'll walk in December with a degree in naval architecture and marine engineering, then marry his fiancee. That must have been what the second star from Scout was for.

Yearbook quote:

“It’s going to be a big one next week. We’ll enjoy this one for a little bit, but the whole emphasis starting back in January when these guys got here was this game coming up. We’ll be really looking forward to them, and we’ll be ready.”

(caption) Michigan OL Mark Huyge (72) savors the Wolverines comeback victory. Michigan rallied from a 24-7 deficit with 28-fourth quarter points to beat their rivals 35-31. ***  With a miraculous second half, junior quarterback Denard Robinson led the Michigan Wolverines to a comeback victory 35-31 over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame in the first-ever night game at Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines battled back from a 24-7 deficit to eventually beat the Irish for the third year in a row.  at Michigan Stadium  in Ann Arbor. Photos taken on Saturday, September 10, 2011. ( John T. Greilick / The Detroit News )

Tomorrow (sorry it's taking so long): Hemingway, Molk, Watson, Woolfolk, RVB.

Upon Further Review 2011: Defense vs Iowa

Upon Further Review 2011: Defense vs Iowa

Submitted by Brian on November 9th, 2011 at 3:53 PM

Formation notes: Michigan debuted a big set that features two SLBs. Here Ryan is to the top of the screen and Beyer the bottom; Countess was lifted.

4-4under

Michigan was in this set for both of the late third and ones on which Michigan punched Iowa off the field, though on the second they put Beyer and Ryan in a bear front.

Michigan also showed a fair number of over fronts with the line shaded strongside and the SLB off the line: 

form-4-3 over

They've dumped the flipping seen earlier in the year in favor of sucking it up and running this from time to time. I assume the flipping was a sub-optimal thing Mattison felt forced into because his defense couldn't run an over front effectively what with all the freshmen at SLB and WLB.

Substitution notes: Secondary was Countess/Floyd/Woolfolk/Kovacs the whole way with Avery the nickelback. The linebackers were Demens and Morgan for the most part—Hawthorne got one drive right after the "Morgan is killing us" touchdown drive.

Ryan picked up a stinger on the first play and sat out a big chunk of the game. Cam Gordon was in briefly before being replaced by Beyer for the bulk of the extra playing time; Clark assumed Ryan's role as a nickel DE. As noted above certain short yardage plays late Beyer and Ryan were on the field at the same time as Michigan lifted Countess.

There was less substitution on the line than usual. Campbell only got a few plays, I did not see Brink, and Black was an infrequent participant as well. It was mostly the starters. I don't think RVB and Heininger came off the field.

Show? Show.

Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O24 1 10 I-Form 4-3 over Run N/A Inside zone Van Bergen 3
M linebackers seem misaligned, too far to the weakside. On the snap Michigan slants strongside. Martin(-1) is doubled and gives a ton of ground—way too much. He does take both blockers the whole play. RVB(+2) drives his man down the line, eventually shoving him so far that Coker bangs into the left tackle. Morgan(-1) flew up past the Martin double to meet a G and gets pancaked at the line; Demens(+0.5) and Heininger(+0.5) manage to tackle thanks to the delay.
O27 2 7 Ace 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Martin -1
Ryan out with stinger; Cam Gordon does come in. This time the center ignores Martin(+2), leaving him to get cut by the backside G. This does not happen even a little bit. Martin contacts Coker three yards in the backfield; dude manages to burrow his way back to the LOS. Morgan(+1) did blitz effectively inside of a tight end and was the second man on the scene; even if Martin isn't here instantly Morgan is probably making contact behind the LOS. RPS +1.
O26 3 8 Ace 3-wide Nickel even Pass 4 Drag Countess 44

The obvious problem on this play is Countess(-2, tackling -1) turning this from a first down into 44 yards by letting Davis outside of him. Then I had Heiko ask Mattison about what happened to open up the completion, whereupon Mattison answered:

What happened on Keenan Davis’s catch and run with Kenny Demens chasing him en route to a 44-yard gain? “That’s cover-2. Kenny Demens doesn’t have him all the way to the sideline. Kenny Demens has him to the hash and we should have had a corner that should have rolled up on that.” Was he Courtney Avery’s assignment? “No. [Avery] was the nickel. He was running with the vertical. When you’re playing that coverage, any time No. 2 runs up the field, he has to run up with him. So it comes all the way to the corner. The corner’s the flat defender. He turned his back trying to be physical with that guy, and the guy was by him by then.”

So Countess gets the ding there, too(-2, cover –3). Harsh, but if Avery's doing what he's supposed to do and the cover-two corner doesn't even tackle the guy after the first down it's all him.

M30 1 10 I-Form Twins 4-3 over Pass 4 PA slant Demens 20
Iowa motions Davis outside of McNutt, drawing Countess wider and getting Morgan matched up over the slot. Not good. They run play action that sucks Demens(-2) up and Morgan(-1) lets McNutt inside of him after starting with a four yard head start to the interior of the field. Demens makes things worse by moving out on a nothing dumpoff, opening the center of the field like whoah. Kovacs(+1, tackling +1) makes a tough tackle on the catch; this was such a quick hitter that it looked like it might go the distance. RPS -1, Cover -2)
M10 1 G I-Form big offset 4-3 over Run N/A Down G Black 6
Narrow WR, TE motion to wide side, offset FB. They're trying the same stuff MSU did. Black(-2) fails to understand this and gives up the edge by moving straight upfield; he gets sealed out of the play. Heininger will end up closer to Coker than he does. Martin(+1) tears through the line and would kill this if there was any delay on the edge. There isn't. Morgan(-0.5) stood up by a cracking WR; tough with that guy's angle but still a missed opportunity to do something. Kovacs and Countess maintain leverage against two guys; Woolfolk is there to tackle with help from Heininger(+0.5) and the aforementioned Martin.
M4 2 G I-Form big offset 4-3 over Run N/A Power off tackle Morgan 4
Same setup with a widened WR; they run power at the same place that just ate the outside run. Black(+1) dives inside to cut off the intended flight path, taking out both the puller and the lead back. Morgan(-2) is a free hitter on the outside. He takes a crappy angle and sees his arm tackle run through(-1 tackling). Woolfolk(-1) was sitting in the end zone wondering what to do too long; by the time he makes a decision it doesn't matter what Coker picks because he can't do anything until the guy is already in the endzone. More on this later.
Drive Notes: Touchdown, 0-7, 10 min 1st Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
M48 1 10 Ace 4-3 under Pass 4 Quick out Floyd 4
Three step drop against soft coverage with an immediate tackle from Floyd(+0.5) to keep it down. Push.
M44 2 6 Ace twins TE 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Kovacs 3
Motion of a twinned TE to the two WR side. Kovacs starts signaling others but no reaction. Morgan(-1) doesn't react to the motion at all and runs too far upfield instead of widening out to cut off the outside. Roh took a double and didn't win; he also didn't get beat up enough to allow a linebacker out on Morgan... not that it mattered. Push. Kovacs(+1.5) avoids a cut block from the slot receiver and gets out on the corner himself, saving Morgan considerable blushes. He can't quite tackle; Countess(+0.5) finishes it off. Excellent edge play by the secondary. Martin(+0.5) again blew through the line.
M41 3 3 I-Form Nickel even Run N/A Iso Martin 3
Jesus, Iowa can't block Martin(+1) . This time he slants under the G in the intended hole and comes underneath him quickly enough to also take out the fullback. Michigan is in their nickel package with only six in the box so both linebackers still get blocked. Demens(+1) beats his and gets to the hole. Coker meets him a yard and a half short of the first; Coker pushes the pile because he is Coker. Morgan did a pretty good job too, and RVB beat a block and almost made a play in the backfield. RPS -1; an actual 4-3 against this I-Form and this is potentially a loss.
M38 4 In I-Form Nickel even Run N/A QB sneak Van Bergen 0
Excellent coaching for Michigan to know Iowa does this and show up in force on the interior of the line when Iowa hurries to the line. RVB(+2) is the key guy, getting under the G and push him back; Martin(+1) also got key push. RPS +2. Huge swing play due to coaching.
Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 0-7, 7 min 1st Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O23 1 10 Ace twins 4-3 over Run N/A Inside zone Morgan 10

I'm not 100% on this. What happens is Iowa runs a zone at the short side of the field, away from Beyer (over the slot) and at the overhanging Floyd. Roh ducks under the tackle at the snap, which gets him in the backfield. That and total inability to block Martin means Coker has to bounce, which he does. That duck inside should mean a LB is exchanging over the top, which would be Morgan, but Morgan sucks inside. Heininger is moving out but can't make the diving ankle tackle, leaving Coker the corner. Morgan recovers to tackle from behind after a big gain.

Heiko asked about this. Mattison's answer is below; in short, this is an RPS –1.

O33 1 10 Ace twins 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Martin 0
This is nuts. Every play Martin(+2) is beating blocks. This time he momentarily takes on the C before shedding him to the playside, which forces an uncomfortable cutback. I think Martin actually grabs a foot; either that or he trips. Heininger(+0.5) and Morgan(+0.5) did well to constrict the space so he could not fall forward for a gain.
O33 2 10 Ace 3-wide Nickel even Pass N/A Deep hitch Martin Inc
Michigan brings a safety down as a withdrawn MLB type person when Iowa motions a TE into an H-back spot; pass anyway. Martin(+1, pressure +1) beats the LG and forces a throw; Vandenberg has a guy open in front of Floyd(-1, cover -1) but airmails it.
O33 3 10 Ace 3-wide Okie Penalty N/A False start -- -5
Martin as quasi-LB. LT moves early.
O28 3 15 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel press Pass 4 Slant Roh 11
M stunts the DTs. Roh(+1, pressure +1) drives the RT back into Vandenberg as RVB(+1) arrives; he has to throw. Despite going to the ground as he releases this he gets off a dart to McNutt on a slant that Countess(+0.5, tackling +1) is there on; he tackles. Great play by Iowa just to get the completion.
Drive Notes: Punt, 6-7, EO1Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O22 1 10 I-Form 4-3 over Run N/A Inside zone Morgan 27
I blame Morgan less for this than I did live because M was pretty screwed either way once Campbell(-2) was slashed to the ground. This is their first play without Martin. But... that just means he gets -2 instead of -3. When he shoots the interior gap he gives up the outside; Heininger is flowing well but once the tackle realizes he's got no one showing in his gap he doubles on Heininger and seals him; no chance. Even if Morgan pops out Coker probably picks up a big gain because not only Campbell but RVB(-1) got cut. It wouldn't be nearly as big because forcing him back inside makes Kovacs relevant. Coker runs through a Woolfolk(-0.5, tackling -1) tackle attempt at the end, getting five or so additional yards.
O49 1 10 I-Form Twins 4-3 under Pass 4 Waggle deep hitch Kovacs 14
Michigan burned on play action; Kovacs(-1, cover -1) does not get enough depth as he's running to the sideline and opens up a deeper route when he could have mitigated the damage that was coming. Countess has no chance; he does tackle immediately. RPS -1.
M37 1 10 I-Form Twins 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Demens 2
I keep using "inside zone" but the formations and motion provides subtlety no one other than the coaches will ever pick up, which is my way of saying this is kind of an iso. The TE motions back into a FB spot and then heads straight upfield as everyone else zone blocks. This clears the frontside as Martin and others fight to defend the zone; RVB(-0.5) gets sent upfield, though I think that might be part of a playcall. This leaves Demens(+1) one on one with the TE in a fairly big space. He stands up the guy; Coker bangs into the guy from behind. Morgan(+1) crushed his blocker backwards and now peels off to help tackle. Rare play from the LBs here.
M35 2 8 Ace twins 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Heininger 1
Michigan blitzes Floyd off the edge and stunts the DTs. Heininger(+1) ends up blowing up about three guys; Martin and Morgan flow to the hole. Coker has to cut back; he does. RVB(-0.5) has been blown down the line a bit too much and can only make a hopeful diving attempt on Coker. He runs through it; Martin(+1) does the same and manages to trip him up. Beyer(-1) took a turrible angle and is the main reason this is scary. RPS +1.
M34 3 7 Shotgun 3-wide Okie Pass 6 Hitch Floyd Inc
Martin LB thing. Michigan doesn't get there with six(pressure -2) and Floyd(-1, cover -1) is beaten for the first down; dropped.
M34 4 7 Ace 3-wide Nickel press Pass 4 Out Avery 8
This is tough; Avery is in inside leverage, takes a shove, and has man on an out route. He gets beat. Sometimes that's life. I don't get what Morgan's doing; everyone else is in man and he's sitting in a short zone not getting after the QB or doing much of anything. Could be a call; who knows with Mattison. (Cover -1, RPS -1)
M26 1 10 I-Form 4-3 under Pass 4 PA deep hitch Countess Inc
Plenty of time(pressure -1) albeit on first down play action. Vandenberg looks for McNutt on a deep-ish comeback route that is low and difficult to catch; Countess(+1, cover +1) is there making life difficult and possibly getting a PBU.
M26 2 10 I-Form 4-3 under Run N/A Iso Martin 13
Martin(-2) gets locked onto by Ferentz and blown out. He tries to chuck after he's given up a bunch of ground and still can't manage it; backside G peels off on Demens as the FB kicks Morgan. Both LBs hold their ground well enough but Martin getting blown up means a big crease and a first down. Kovacs comes in to tackle.
M13 1 10 I-Form Big 46 bear Run N/A Iso Demens 3
Vandenberg sees the bear front and checks. They run away from it, to ungood effect. Campbell(-0.5) gets kicked and pancaked. Morgan(+1) is moving to the play at the snap and takes on the FB at the LOS, funneling back to help. Demens(+0.5) does not get a blocker because RVB(+1) tripped his dude, whether accidental or not. Demens makes a decent tackle attempt but does give up a yard or two YAC before the rest of the defense arrives.
M10 2 7 Ace twin TE 4-3 under Pass 4 Waggle TE flat Kovacs 9
Kovacs(-1, pressure -1) is sent on a backside blitz and sucks in on the run fake instead of getting in Vandenberg's face. Morgan(-1, cover -1) does the same thing on the TE drag route, opening it up; Woolfolk(+1) does a good job of reading it and almost getting to it but can't; he tackles at the one.
M1 1 G Goal line Goal line Pass N/A PA TE flat -- 1
If you're going to call it, first down is the time. Damn you Ferentz. No minuses assigned for a difficult job not quite done.
Drive Notes: Touchdown, 6-14, 7 min 2nd Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
M31 1 10 I-Form 4-3 under Pass N/A WR pass scramble Demens 7
Hawthorne comes in. Iowa goes for the jugular by running an end-around pass; no sale from the secondary(cover +1). McNutt runs. Ryan(+1) does a good job of stringing it out and live I was mad at Hawthorne but he is the LB away from this play and he beats Demens(-1) to the sideline by yards. He still takes a crappy angle(-0.5) and gives up an extra couple yards.
M24 2 3 Ace twin TE 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Van Bergen -3
Iowa derfs on their blocking and lets RVB(+3) through clean. He does take a good angle under the tackle and to the ballcarrier, getting the TFL by himself, so nice job. RPS +1.
M27 3 6 Ace 3-wide Nickel even Pass 4 Tunnel screen Avery 2
Not sure what Iowa is thinking here but they've got no one to block Avery on this play, so Avery(+1, cover +1) shoots up into McNutt and grabs him. He ends up missing the tackle but takes so long to do so three guys grab McNutt after two yards. I think Iowa might have screwed something up here.
Drive Notes: FG, 6-17, 2 min 2nd Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O25 1 10 I-Form 4-3 under Pass 4 Scramble Van Bergen 6
Coverage(+2) is good but pressure(-2) is stoned; Van Bergen(-1) is trying to get to Vandenberg and gets out of his lane, opening up a scramble.
O31 2 4 Ace twin TE 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Van Bergen 9
RVB(-1) sealed quickly; Demens(-1) gets locked away by a guy releasing off RVB, and that's enough for a crease. Coker picks up like 4 YAC on the Woolfolk(-0.5) tackle.
O40 1 10 I-Form Twins 4-3 under Pass 4 Sack Heininger -8
Martin(+2) chucks a center by him and starts attacking vertically once he reads the PA,which draws attention from the G and FB. His motion upfield accidentally takes out the legs of the guy blocking Heininger. Heininger(+2) takes advantage of the opportunity to sack. (Pressure +2)
O32 2 18 I-Form 4-3 over Run N/A Iso Morgan 2
Running at the gap between martin and WDE Black. Morgan(+1.5) runs downhill at the FB and meets him at the line; Black(+1) chucks his blocker to the outside. Martin(+0.5) does a decent job against a double to not provide a cutback lane. Play goes nowhere.
O34 3 16 Shotgun 3-wide Okie Pass 4 Sack Roh -4
There are like two DL with Kovacs, Morgan, and Demens hanging around the line and Martin a quasi-LB. Michigan zone blitzes, sending only four. As Martin drops into a short zone right in front of a TE slant. Vandenberg pumps, freaks out, starts running out of the pocket, and gets sacked by Roh(+2). Cover +1, Pressure +1, RPS +2.
Drive Notes: Punt, 6-17, 11 min 3rd Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O40 1 10 I-Form 4-3 over Run N/A Inside zone Morgan 4
Running away from Martin at the overloaded side of the line; Roh(-0.5) manages to get outside and does not give ground but ends giving too much width. Morgan(+0.5) takes on a block okay and funnels to help; Demens(+0.5) fights through a block to get to the hole and tackle. Heininger may have had a play a couple yards further upfield but he was held. Refs -1.
O44 2 6 Ace twins 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Martin -3
They again run away from Martin; Martin(+2) slants under the guard as the C releases immediately—not a good idea—and runs right into Coker's path. Heininger(+0.5) also beat his block and would have been there to finish the play if necessary.
O41 3 9 Ace 3-wide Nickel even Pass 5 Slant Morgan Inc
Michigan tips a zone blitz early. It looks like it's about to get picked up when Vandenberg releases the ball seemingly too early. He's got two receivers within about a yard of each other. Morgan(+2, cover +2) makes the hash to hash zone drop with aplomb, getting a PBU on a ball that if better thrown could have been a pick. RPS +1.
Drive Notes: Punt, 9-17, 4 min 3rd Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O38 1 10 I-Form 4-3 under Pass 4 PA hitch Countess 8
Easy pitch and catch that Countess(-1, cover -1) allows to be turned up for 4 YAC.
O46 2 2 I-Form 4-3 under Run N/A Iso Morgan 3
Heininger(+1) fights through a single block to the hole and absorbs the FB. Coker has to cut behind. Morgan(+0.5) scrapes to the hole and hits at about the LOS; Coker falls forward. That's life against Coker. Martin(-1) was blown out by a double, which gave Coker the room.
O49 1 10 Ace twins 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Demens 4
No real creases. Martin(+0.5) fights through a double okay and Demens(+0.5) pops a releasing G near enough to the LOS to convince Coker to cut back. Heininger(+0.5) also deals with a double in a moderately effective way, preventing the second guy from really doing anything to Morgan. Coker falls as he passes the LOS; Morgan probably would have stopped this for a similar gain anyway.
M47 2 6 I-Form 46 bear Pass N/A Hitch Countess Inc
Vandenberg checks when he sees bear + man coverage. He goes after Countess on a McNutt hitch; Countess(+2, cover +2) is right there to break it up. Nice play. RVB(+0.5) was getting some pressure, perhaps forcing an inadvisable throw.
M47 3 6 Shotgun 3-wide Nickel even Pass 5 Hitch Floyd 15
Michigan shifts late and blitzes. Avery(-1) doesn't time it that well and is about a yard or two away from crushing Vandenberg from behind when he gets the ball off to McNutt. McNutt got separation from the press coverage of Floyd(-1, cover -1)
M32 1 10 Ace big 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Van Bergen 2
Third TE motions over Beyer and then runs straight to the safety. Weird. Iowa doubles RVB and looks like they will seal him and get a crease but he manages to get playside of the interior guy(+0.5) and force a cutback. Beyer(+0.5) fends off a block and starts tackling from behind when Martin(+1) and Demens(+0.5) meet him in the hole.
M30 2 8 Ace twins 4-3 under Pass 4 Hitch Countess 6
Countess(-1) is a little late here and is very fortunate his desperate lunging arm tackle(-1) brings McNutt down. A little more balance and this is six on a nothing hitch.
M24 3 2 I-Form Big 46 bear Pass 5 Quick out Floyd 4
This is tough to stop if executed well; it's a three yard route. Floyd can't do it, but I won't ding him.
M20 1 10 I-Form 4-3 over Run N/A Inside zone Campbell 7
Campbell(-2) in; he is easily slashed to the ground by the backside G. Heininger(+0.5) does a good job of cutting off the frontside but that cutback is there all day with the NT on his knees at the LOS. Morgan, getting blocked to the other side, reaches out an arm and slows Coker down but there's no way that's actually going to get him to the ground. Kovacs comes up and gets plowed over, but that's not his fault. That's physics.
M13 2 3 I-Form Big 4-4 under Pass 4 PA throwaway Demens Inc
Kovacs rolls up. Iowa goes play action with essentially a one-man route... McNutt jogs off the LOS as a TE releases. No sale from Demens(+1); Woolfolk(+0.5) is over the top and Vandenberg chucks it OOB. Weird call. Cover +1.
M13 3 3 I-Form Big 46 bear Run N/A Lead zone Roh 13
Beyer and Ryan in the game at the same time, with Beyer the rolled up LB on the line. Kovacs is going in man with the TE coming across the formation. Roh(-2) gets blown up by that TE; crushed to the inside that is it for the line. Morgan(-2) runs straight into the LOS. Kovacs has to keep contain and gets kicked out; TD.
Drive Notes: Touchdown, 9-24, 10 4th Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O24 1 10 I-Form 4-3 under Pass 4 PA Dig Floyd 24
Floyd(-0.5, cover -1) beaten on a dig route for a round first-down yardage; Woolfolk(-1, tackling -1) whiffs embarrassingly on the tackle, running right by the dude without even getting a hand on him and banging into Demens. Morgan(-1) vacated his zone by biting on the PA as well.
O48 1 10 I-Form 4-3 under Pass 4 Slant Floyd Inc
An I form version of QB oh noes with the entire line blocking as if it's a run and Iowa throwing a wide open slant against Floyd(-1, cover -1); dropped. RPS -1.
O48 2 10 I-Form 4-3 over Run N/A Iso Heininger 9
Iowa runs at the strong side of the line. Martin(+1) beats the G and takes out the FB. Heininger(-1) is kicked out big time; Demens(-1) takes a block a couple yards downfield from a releasing G. Beyer(-1) fails to read the play and gets himself out of position, then absorbs Coker, falling backwards and giving up near first down yardage.
M43 3 1 I-Form Big 4-4 under Run N/A Iso Demens 0
Beyer and Ryan in. Beyer rolls to the line when Iowa evens its strength so you've got a 4-3 under with SLBs on both sides of the line, basically. Heininger(+0.5) and Morgan(+1) do well enough on the playside to force a cutback, with Morgan impacting the FB at the LOS and removing any hole. Demens(+3) sees the iso and roars at the line, taking on a block from the second guy releasing off Martin at the LOS and getting outside of it. Coker runs into him and Demens friggin' sticks the guy, holding Coker not six inches from where the impact happened until the cavalry arrives. That is almost unbelievable.
M43 4 1 I-Form Big 4-4 under Penalty N/A False start -- -5
Illegal snap prevents Ferentz from going for it here in a horrifying, exactly-right game theory play.
Drive Notes: Punt, 16-24, 5 min 4th Q
Ln Dn Ds O Form D Form Type Rush Play Player Yards
O36 1 10 Ace twin TE 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Demens 4
Beyer(+0.5) sets up well on the outside, restricting space but not offering a bounce. RVB(+0.5) is blown out by a double but recovers after the second guy releases downfield to trip Coker a couple yards downfield. Need Demens(-1) to do better here; he took a block and got shoved back, eventually doing nothing.
O40 2 6 Ace 4-3 under Run N/A Inside zone Morgan 5
Demens(+0.5) hits the LOS quickly and Martin(+0.5) shoots to the intended spot, forcing a cutback. Heininger(-1) has been blown off the ball by a double, so it's there, but he fights through the block; Morgan(-1) is the bigger issue since he took the block of the other guy and lets Coker outside. He gets off it to tackle but momentum carries them both forward three yards before they run into Kovacs and his blocker.
O45 3 1 Goal line Goal line Run N/A Power off tackle Ryan -1
Beyer and Ryan to one side of the line in a bear front. Iowa runs power at them. It is a heap of bodies. Ryan(+2) takes on a TE's block and sheds it to the outside, falling into Coker's feet in the backfield as Demens(+1) reads the G pull and scrapes to the hole on the outside; he's not needed because Ryan tackles but he would be there if needed. RVB and Martin(+0.5 each) help by standing up to double well enough that Coker couldn't try to cut it inside.
Drive Notes: Punt, 16-24, 2 min 4th Q. Michigan's next drive is the rest of the game. EOG.

That was totally acceptable.

Yes.

Was it better than acceptable?

No. It was exactly acceptable despite the low yardage totals. That was a short game. Iowa only had nine drives and scored long touchdowns on three of them; they did not turn the ball over. They didn't even come particularly close—the closest thing was a Desmond Morgan PBU (about which more later) that would have been a spectacular catch.

Iowa averaged 6.7 yards per passing play* and 4.6 per rush. That's meh. Vandenberg's actual YPA was 8.1—not good; Iowa averaged 5.3 yards a play. Etc. It all points to an average performance against an average offense. Iowa is hovering around 60 in all the yardage metrics and is 29th in FEI, Michigan gave up an average number of points, etc. etc.

*[IE: I added in Vandenberg's rushes to get 167 yards on 25 attempts]

But acceptable is good?

Excellence is good. Acceptable is acceptable, which is unbelievable in this context.

I'm confused.

This is what it's like to live in GERG's head, I think.

Chart?

Okay, yeah, that's a good idea. Chart.

Defensive Line
Player + - T Notes
Van Bergen 11 4 7 Busy, busy. TFL or two and usual level of stoutness.
Martin 17.5 4 13.5 Essentially unblockable. What we expected from him the whole year. Think Iowa's inside zone game plays into his strengths.
Roh 3 2.5 0.5 Sack was kind of a gift from freaked Vandenberg. Didn't do much else.
Brink - - - DNP
Heininger 7.5 2 5.5 Quality day. Will take this the rest of the year.
Black 2 2 0 Limited time.
Campbell - 4.5 -4.5 Got cut to the ground and was a major culprit on two long runs.
TOTAL 41 19 22 The Mike Martin we've been waiting for; 2:1 ratio is the usual at this point.
Linebacker
Player + - T Notes
Morgan 9 12.5 -3.5 Not as bad as you might think, but still a problem.
Demens 10 6 4 Stuck Coker cold a half yard from a critical third down conversion. I be like dang.
Ryan 3 - 3 Michigan missed him.
Fitzgerald - - - DNP
Beyer 1 2 -1 Lacks the impact of Ryan, didn't do anything too obviously wrong.
Hawthorne - 0.5 -0.5 Brief cameo.
C. Gordon - - - One play, I think.
TOTAL 23 21 2 Average average average.
Secondary
Player + - T Notes
Floyd 0.5 4.5 -4 Struggled with McNutt.
Avery 1 1 0 Seems quality at nickel.
Woolfolk 1.5 3 -1.5 Tackling questionable, not tested deep.
Kovacs 2.5 2 0.5 Ah, Kovacs.
T. Gordon - - - DNP(!)
Countess 4 6 -2 Great day except for the 44 yards that were all on him.
Van Slyke - - - DNP
TOTAL 9.5 16.5 -7 A bit of a letdown, but expected given opposition.
Metrics
Pressure 8 6 2 Decent job; few blitzes.
Coverage 11 14 -3 Good recovery after weak start.
Tackling 1 5 13% Coker.
RPS 7 6 1 Old school push.

Martin was crazy good. Just 1.5 TFLs but was the primary force for a large chunk of Iowa's other not-so-good plays, including the Heininger sack on which three guys tried to block Martin and Heininger squeezed through some befuddled dudes. This was all day:

Heininger, meanwhile, had his best day as a Wolverine. He looked like an above-average Big Ten player. I wonder if Iowa's interior line is not very good.

The linebackers felt Ryan's absence mostly in his lack of playmaking—both ways. Beyer was out there but not tested often. Demens seems to be topping out at just okay, but he had one of his better games of the year. Twice he took on a lead block and came off it to tackle Coker, and the second was a critical play I still find hard to believe:

If you could freeze time at the moment it became clear Coker was going to cut back into a blocked Demens a yard from the first down, what kind of odds would you get on a stop? I submit the odds would be very low.

The secondary… well, I think we knew something like this was coming. Countess froshderped that long completion on Iowa's first drive and Floyd is just never going to do well against top flight receivers. That's life.

ARGH MORGAN AWFUL ARGH

He obviously had some problems but since we can now ask the coordinators direct questions and get straight answers we know it's a little more complicated than just that:

The first play of Iowa's third drive was an inside zone that bounced outside the end for ten yards. Roh dove inside the tackle. Was that something you called? “That would be me. In coaching Craig and watching everything they did -- I know exactly what you’re talking about -- every game that they’ve played so far this year, they’ve brought the tight end in motion, and he blocked out on the end man. Well when that tight end is in Craig’s area right there, most times you have him attack that tight end. Well they kind of wanted you to do that in other games, so now the tackle has an angle on you and he can knock you out farther. So I just told him, I said, ‘Craig, don’t mess with that. When that guy comes over in motion, just attack the tackle and hold the edge on the tackle.’ Looking back on it, I told him straight out, I said, ‘Craig, they changed. They did the same thing Michigan State did and they hadn’t done it all year. They kind of influenced him to keep him from being able to attack that tight end. That’s not him.”

MGoQuery: Was Desmond Morgan supposed to scrape over the top? “Desmond Morgan’s supposed to stack behind him. He’s not running outside of him. Because Craig didn’t play through the tight end like he probably thought he should have, and I wish I would have told him to do that, the guy got knocked back a little bit and got kind of in Desmond’s way and he got caught up in the trash. That’s what happened on that one.”

My natural inclination on that play is to ding Morgan because a junior dives inside and a freshman doesn't come over the top to pick up the trash. It turns out this is one of those hidden RPS things that we can never know, or at least couldn't before the Great Hoke Coordinator Presser Revolution, and that this is somewhat on Roh but mostly an RPS thing.

I do think Morgan has the opportunity to read what's going on in front of him and adjust to the changing situation to make a great play… when he's a junior, and if he's an All Big Ten level player. So I don't know if giving Morgan a –2 on the first Coker touchdown is actually right since Black might be freelancing inappropriately and Morgan's assignment is not something that matches my expectations. This is a necessary limitation of not actually being Greg Mattison. As always, numbers in these posts are helpful summaries and useful… but not gospel.

Anyway, Morgan did some good stuff. He actually executed a successful hash to hash zone drop:

I've seen a bunch of people try that this year. No one has actually done it until then.

Now that we've got the defending out of the way… yeesh, Morgan had some problems. This is not even a little bit of a surprise when you run a freshman out against Marcus Coker and Iowa's zone running game. It's a sore spot, though:

That is not good. /science!

Is there anything you have ever loved in your whole life more than the coordinator pressers?

Not related to football media. I think they even beat out Star Control II. I mean, you can ask Mattison about a specific ten-yard run in the first quarter and he knows exactly what you're talking about and can explain what happened. No longer do we have to have months-long arguments about whether Kenny Demens or a corner was the problem on a 44-yard drag. We can just ask.

I know I've been critical of Borges but Borges's pressers are about 95% as awesome as Mattison's. While I'm frustrated with the steep costs of the transition (on offense, anyway), reading the presser transcriptions from Heiko fills me with confidence this is going to be a national program once they get the pieces they need in. The contrast between this and GERG is immense.

Any other worries pop up?

Yeah, this was not a good game for Campbell. Contrast the above video, where Campbell gets put on his knees, with anything Mike Martin did. Campbell went down on two of the few snaps he was in and both of those turned into big runs. If Campbell is on his feet and moving on the above, does Morgan still run up into that gap? Maybe, maybe not. The dropoff from Martin to Campbell in this game was ominous. With Heininger established Michigan is now replacing 3/4ths of their defensive line with not a whole lot of playing time going to backup options.

Heroes?

Martin had his best day of the year; Heininger and RVB also played well. Mattison's short-yardage attack is killing people.

Goats?

Countess is going to be a real good time, with emphasis on going to be. Floyd can't quite check McNutt, and the wildly oscillating item that is Desmond Morgan ended up considerably in the red.

What does it mean for Illinois and the future?

I'm sure the Illini will test Michigan with the triple option after watching them struggle with it against Northwestern… but I think Michigan will have ironed out many of their issues.

Unfortunately, AJ Jenkins is going to be an issue. I assume Woolfolk will be over the top on him. That will be a test for a guy who's bounced back and forth from safety and hasn't really gotten his feet under him since returning from his ankle injury.

As for the near term future, it looks like Cam Gordon is way down the depth chart and the defensive line is going to be an issue next year. On the bright side, for the rest of this year it looks like we may be getting an improved (healthy?) version of Mike Martin and Will Heininger seems to be approaching average.

Generic Midseason Evaluation Post

Generic Midseason Evaluation Post

Submitted by Brian on October 24th, 2011 at 2:03 PM

So it's been seven games and it's a bye week so TACO PARTY—

birthday-party-with-mister-taco-and-piata-charles-harrison-pompa[1]

this is a thing you can purchase at "Fine Art America"
or steal from your crazy Aunt Betty in Pensacola

—also generic bullety midseason-type post.

BEST DEVELOPMENT. Confirmation of the offseason's Greg >>> GERG theory.

hearts[1]209972[1]hearts[1]

he's like defensive coordinator Zooey Deschanel.

There are still obvious weaknesses and no obvious stars past a slightly disappointing Mike Martin, but it turns out having a coherent defensive philosophy is a lot better than running around screaming "we're all gonna die but at least my hair is fantastic!!!"

Pick a metric, advanced or not, and the improvement is incredible. The advanced ones are even more enthusiastic than the regular ones: Michigan is actually a top-20 FEI defense. Top 20! They were 108th last year! Excuse me, I have to go list this pool of razorblades, despair, and misery on Craigslist! Where an Ohio State blogger will purchase it to talk about their offense!

You can apply every massively-deserved caveat you can think of and the author will nod sagely about how that is a concern and the end result is still something that should approximate giddiness. When the turnovers stop coming in droves and a smaller percentage of games are played in a trash tornado, Michigan will backslide. But, like… backslide into the 40s or something. IE: the offseason's best-case scenario that didn't involve installing robots from the future at key spots.

RUNNER-UP, BEST DEVELOPMENT. Jordan Kovacs ending the debate about Jordan Kovacs.

If you strain your memory you can think back to a time where it was very warm and people had heated debates about whether Jordan Kovacs was any good or not. This was summer, and it was a silly time. A major reason the defense is scraping the ceiling of the ceiling above its best-case scenario is the near-total absence of big plays. Michigan still hasn't given up anything over 40 yards. Kovacs and (to a lesser extent) Thomas Gordon are primarily responsible for shutting down the Wolverine Free Touchdown Factory and shipping it to Thailand. WOO OUTSOURCING JOKE

WORST DEVELOPMENT. Denard's inability to hit Charlie Weis in three tries.

Even if you ascribe to the theory that Denard's passing success last year was largely a mirage when it came to Actual Big Ten Defenses*, his numbers against the two actual-seeming defenses on the schedule thus far have been horrendous. At least half of that can be ascribed to Denard just missing dudes.

Even running in place would have been disappointing after the quantum leap it seemed he made last year. He was still raw as sushi and could still be expected to move more towards quarterback-dom than a guy who'd had the slightest amount of polish. Instead the Al Borges-Denard Fusion Cuisine has shoved him back to being that guy who heaved it up against Iowa when he had a wide open Odoms running underneath. I didn't like that guy as much as the one from last year, warts and all.

*[Which I don't, FWIW. I UFR this stuff for a reason, and that reason is "so I can do something more than wave my hands in the air and say 'nuh-uh' when I would like to dispute someone else's assertion." I charted all of Denard's throws before the dismal end of the RR regime and there's a definite backslide.]

RUNNER-UP, WORST DEVELOPMENT. What happened, offensive line?

Last year you were all like blocking your way to an insane YPC and hardly giving up anything on the ground and this year you can't pull to save your life; the impregnable wall of no sacks was punched into smithereens by Michigan State. Now it's hard not to look at next year without a sense of panic.

MOST MIDDLING DEVELOPMENT. The tailbacks. It's still Vincent Smith and increasingly less Fitzgerald Toussaint (for reasons that are opaque to me). They're not awful. I still covet any tailback who wanders by to break a tackle or two.

MOST MISLEADING DEVELOPMENT. The defense's turnover-fu. It is not sustainable. Repeat this in your head a thousand times in a futile effort for its lack to be tolerable.

MOST DEVELOPING DEVELOPMENT. Special teams. They've been bad so far but the sample size is small. Brendan Gibbons made three(!) field goals against Minnesota and is 4/6 on the year. His two misses were both blocked. He might be serviceable. He might be benefiting from a bunch of chip shots—he still hasn't made one past 40 yards.

Meanwhile, the starting punter was suspended for the first four games and is averaging under 34 yards a kick because he was a nonfactor against Minnesota and Northwestern and seven of his punts came in a howling windstorm, six(!) of those from the Michigan State half of the field.

They can't cover kicks and can't return them, either. So… yeah. The jury is still out.

OFFENSE: FOCUS: OFFENSE

100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jeremy Gallon cloaking device engagement.

The play that followed it was pretty sweet, too, but that thing took Michigan from dead in the water to fightin' chance in The First Night Game Evar.

100% WORST THING EVER. Fourth and inches play action pass from the nine against Michigan State. I assume this needs no explanation.

THING THEY DO THE MOST. Run inside zone.

THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Throw deep.

THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Use stretch blocking and deploy the quick screen with the wide receivers to force a third defender to live outside the tackles. Michigan hasn't attacked the outside enough, allowing Michigan State's double-A-gap blitzes to be ludicrously effective.

BEST PLAYER. Well… Denard, despite obvious issues.

SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Taylor Lewan. Lewan has been near-flawless in pass protection, and has generally done well when the run game has come his way, which hasn't been often given their inability to pull left.

PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Michigan hasn't been able to pull left largely because Patrick Omameh can't get to the hole before the tailback, which is not so good.

GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Vincent Smith. He's a third down back and useful player who's not a guy you want to give 20 carries.

GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. Denard. Please, baby, please.

DEFENSE: FOCUS: DEFENSE

100% PURE COLOMBIAN AWESOME. Jordan Kovacs depositing his head into a ball Alex Carder happened to be carrying.

That sack is like the awful Nick Sheridan interception that kicked off the Rodriguez era and made its way into the Worst Plays of the Decade more for what it symbolized than the actual impact of the play. It heralds a sea change in Michigan's fortunes.

Caveats, caveats, caveats: Michigan is now deploying a zone-blitz heavy 4-3 under that will draw valid NFL comparisons and will hopefully start playing like Michigan defenses of old, and by "Michigan defenses of old" I mean "Michigan defenses of very old or more recent Ohio State outfits."

100% WORST THING EVER. It's a tribute to Michigan's safeties and Greg Mattison that the only long-ish touchdown they've given up was the no-safeties formation that handed Notre Dame a freebie right before the Gallon cloaking device play. But, man… that was kind of not good right there.

THING THEY DO THE MOST. Zone blitz.

THING THEY DO WAY TOO MUCH. Let guys outside the tackles.

THING THEY DON'T DO ENOUGH. Uh… you got me. /shakes fist at format established by himself

BEST PLAYER. Ryan Van Bergen, I think. It's close between RVB, Martin, and Kovacs, but Martin had a tough outing against Michigan State. Van Bergen played well. Kovacs had a storming game the first time out and is a major reason for the lack of long touchdown but has not has as much down to down impact. Maybe that's just the nature of being a safety. If Michigan gets through the rest of the year without getting bombed deep he'll win by default.

SECOND-BEST PLAYER. Kovacs. I don't hate Michigan's safeties except from time to time when Johnson is missing tackles.

PLAYER WHO MIGHT WANT TO WORK ON SOME THINGS. Weakside linebacker du jour. Woolfolk hasn't been good  but that's obviously an injury thing. I've been leery about Jake Ryan from time to time but he's turning in enough good plays with his bad ones to nose above even most days.

But whoever's been at weakside linebacker has had issues. Brandon Herron started the year, had two defensive touchdowns, and got benched. Brandin Hawthorne came in for him, played okay for a bit, made some mistakes, and has rotated in and out with true freshman Desmond Morgan the past couple weeks.

GUY WHO JUST IS WHO HE IS. Will Heininger. Heininger hasn't been a disaster or anything but he is single blocked often, rarely makes plays, and is pretty much what you'd expect a walk-on to be at defensive tackle.

GUY WHO MIGHT GET A LOT BETTER IN THE LAST FIVE GAMES. There are two: Jake Ryan and Blake Countess. Both are freshman starters* turning in promising plays amongst the youthful head-vs-wall moments. Ryan in particular has cut down his blatant errors to getting cut to the ground a few times per game.

*[Countess is not technically starting. He is getting the bulk of the playing time.]

THE BIG TEN

THE WORST. Minnesota. We have a GopherQuest dedicated to their badness.

THE SECOND-WORST. Everyone else. This league is not so good. The team leading the East division starts Matt McGloin at quarterback and is coached by a guy without a headset who isn't on the sideline. The team leading the West division is Michigan State. There are no undefeated teams, no national powers, and it's inevitable that the league's bowl record is going to be 2-6.

FUTURE OPPONENTS IN ORDER OF CONCERN.

  1. Nebraska
  2. @ Iowa
  3. Ohio State
  4. @ Illinois
  5. Purdue

BALLPARK RECORD AGAINST THOSE FOLKS. 3-2.

WHO'D TAKE 9-3. That's everyone.

WHO'D WHIMPER AND HIDE AT THE BOWL OPPONENT IN THAT EVENT. Also everyone. Okay, not you, message board hero who spent the last week calling Michigan fans whiners. You will say unreasonable things about the prospect of beating…

Wait. There are only two good SEC teams this year. Am I going to tremble at the sight of Arkansas or Georgia or South Carolina? No. Nevermind.

FIVE GUYS WHO SEEM PRETTY GOOD WHOM INSUFFICIENT DISCUSSION IS HAD ABOUT.

Bryce McNaul, Northwestern LB. (Heady, quick the hole, part of Northwestern's good run defense, injured too much, can do nothing about the nonexistent Wildcat secondary.)

Marcus Rush, MSU DE. (Rush has been overshadowed by the Gholston controversy but is actually a better player. Gholston does nothing once he is blocked; Rush will shed guys. Gholston would be on the bench if Tyler Hoover was healthy.)

Devon Still, PSU DT. (Still may be a reach since he is reaching tongue-bath levels but I was all about Still last year.)

Kawaan Short, Purdue DT.

Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota WR. (Winner: most futile B1G existence.)