WTKA Roundtable 8/11/2017: Did You Not Hear About the Shark?

WTKA Roundtable 8/11/2017: Did You Not Hear About the Shark?

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[SI]

Things discussed:

  • Is Michigan getting overrated? Weakness of the national picture makes 9th-ish okay. 15th seems about right. Hope is one of those Ohio State-like years when they’re super young and super talented and the next generation of NFL talent breaks out.
  • The spread comes back to Michigan. Patriots offense: spread out and work one-on-one and then Blount them. M’s personnel really fit more wide stuff.
  • Reviewing Speight’s 2016.
  • The returner battle is ON: Nate Johnson is good, Oliver Martin is forcing his way in, McDoom still exists. Nobody will be Peppers. How did Michigan block all those punts?
  • Offensive line: Bredeson, Kugler’s being a senior. Onwenu is all about endurance; can Ruiz give him a breather?
  • Is this a 9-3 team or a 9-3 team?
  • Ed doesn’t know about Jim McElwain and the shark.

You can catch the entire episode on Michigan Insider's podcast stream on Audioboom.

Segment two is here. Segment three is here.

THE USUAL LINKS

Big Ten Media Days Presser 7-25-17: Jim Harbaugh

Big Ten Media Days Presser 7-25-17: Jim Harbaugh

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on July 26th, 2017 at 10:00 AM

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[Isaiah Hole/247 Sports]

I wasn’t there but I figured this would make for a good workday read since it took place during a workday. Have at it, you transcription junkie.

“Good afternoon. Wonderful to be here. Gotta come from behind the curtain. Can’t enter from in front of the curtain, apparently. I can take questions.”

Your team took a trip to Rome in April where they practiced and had many unique experiences mixed in. You said about the trip that it was the best thing you’ve been a part of on a football team and that not all learning is done in the classroom and not all learning is done on the football field. After this season you plan on taking a team trip to Paris, Normandy, and London. My question is can you expound on why the Rome trip was valuable and why trips in the future will be valuable to your football team?

“Yes. It’s just incredible to connect with somebody from a different country, to see something that you’ve never seen before, taste food that you’ve never tasted or hear a language that you’ve never heard and then experience it as a team, like eighth grade classes that go to Washington D.C. for a field trip or a twelfth grade class the goes to Rome, much like that.

“To be able to experience it as a group makes it so much better, 900x better, because you’re getting not only your own experience but everyone in the group’s and it’s a chance to put the ‘college’ back in ‘college football.’ It’s a chance to have the whole world be your classroom. Not all learning is done in a classroom or on a football field. It’s out there living, out there seeing and doing. I would recommend it because it has bee the best thing that I’ve ever done personally as a part of a football team.”

Could you talk about Rashan Gary? I can’t recall any D-lineman at Michigan having this much preseason hype since LaMarr Woodley. Talk about how Rashan has handled that and how high the ceiling is for this young man.

“Thank you, yes. Very interesting to see how Rashan has handled it. To me, I’ve watched it—was one of the top recruits, maybe the top recruit coming out of high school. He’s had a lot of hype. He’s had a lot of adulation. You know, there’s some people that that’s what they live for. They live for that approval of others and to be recognized as a hyped-up player and then there’s other people that they see that hype or that adulation and they go by it like it’s a cone, an orange cone, on the side of the road.

“There’s some people that are just aspiring to greater things than just the adulation of somebody, and I think Rashan is that type of guy. You really like him. He really doesn’t care too much about that. He’s gone by it like it’s a cone, an orange cone, on the side of the road. He just works, and I really think competing is his favorite thing to do. And he has the license and ability to be great, to be really good. I don’t know what more to say about that.”

[After THE JUMP: thoughts on every class, dropping two-a-days, how long it takes to find a starting QB, and tapping a losing streak for motivation]

Top Ten Returning Players in the Big Ten

Top Ten Returning Players in the Big Ten

Submitted by Seth on July 10th, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Just kidding!

Draftageddon 2017: It Begins

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What is this: It’s pre-season All-Big Ten #content given the ol’ MGo-Really-Do-A-Job treatment. We hold a snake draft of Big Ten players and try to build the best teams. You come out of it with a four-deep preseason All-Big Ten. We come out of it primed to cover the upcoming football season. Side effects include arguing with a vocal minority who think an unscored draft with offensive linemen is a fantasy league, and bloggers who drafted Ramcyzk, Cichy, and Igwebuike in late rounds finding flimsy exuses to remind people of that. #ItsTotallyNotAFantasyDraft

We have rules: if 3 guys have drafted a position you have 2 rounds to follow suit. Teams are a QB, RB, OLx5, WRx2, DEx2, DTx2, LBx2, Sx2, CBx2 K, P, and some flex players. RANDOM.org determines the draft order, which this year is BiSB, Brian, Seth, and Ace. Let’s begin.

BiSB: ROUND 1, PICK 1: SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, Penn State

Running back is one of the deeper position in the Big Ten this year. But I don't think there's another position where the best player is so clear-cut. And while we Michiganders aren't allowed to use the B-word lightly, watching Saquon Barkley run makes even the most reverent among us mutter "Barry Sanders" involuntarily.

See poor damn #35 in that video? The guy who seems unfamiliar with how football works? That's USC's leading tackler and second-team All-Pac-12 linebacker Cameron Smith. And he never had a chance.

Barkley led the Big Ten in yards from scrimmage. His 5.5 yards per carry were best among players with at least 15 carries per game. His 402 receiving yards were best among all running backs (excluding Curtis Samuel, who was listed as a back but usually lined up as a receiver). His 14.62 yards per reception was 13th best among ALL Big Ten players with 2+ receptions per game, and was the best number put up by a running back in at least a decade. 

He has straight-line speed. He has almost unparalleled lateral quickness. He runs behind his pads. He runs excellent routes and can catch the ball out of the backfield. He's very adept at pass protection and blitz pickup.  He's Pro Football Focus's best returning Big Ten player. Vegas has him as one of the pre-season Heisman front-runners. He did... this?

He's just really dang good.

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

Seth: Some of that Sanders comp might be because he's dodging his first two tackles immediately after the handoff.

BiSB: Indeed. If you recall this from last year, we had reason to believe two things about Penn State's running game; that Barkley was going to have to do a lot of stuff by himself, and that he probably could.

[After the jump: backups and belly rubs]

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Unverified Voracity Is Getting The Harbaughs Back Together

Unverified Voracity Is Getting The Harbaughs Back Together

Submitted by Brian on June 22nd, 2017 at 12:22 PM

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Exit Jeff Meyer. Lavall Jordan's first act as Butler head coach was to snatch longtime Beilein assistant Jeff Meyer out from under Michigan's Walter White. The parting was amicable:

The list of guys Meyer recruited at Michigan is a long and impressive one; also he got bizarrely chewed out by Tom Crean that one time. He will be missed. Beilein's had a knack for finding new coaches of late, so the program probably won't take much of a hit. The most relevant bit of this for Michigan fans may be what it says about Jordan: being able to snag a high profile assistant from Michigan is impressive. If he can keep Butler at its current level, Michigan's post-Beilein coaching search may well be one phone call.

I haven't seen any names for Meyer's replacement yet, which is somewhat unusual. Saadi Washington was instantly a likely hire when Alexander and Jordan departed for head jobs elsewhere. There is someone available…

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[Bryan Fuller]

Before you spit roast my head, consider that this would get Jim Harbaugh behind Michigan's bench at basketball games? And it would be really funny? And Crean might do it to get his furious revenge on Indiana? Yes? Maybe? No. Fine.

NORM. Here's something barely related to sports but good enough for this here site: Norm MacDonald infuriating a collection of Iowa honchos 20 years ago.

University of Iowa Athletic Department officials were teed off enough about Norm Macdonald’s Sunday night comedy act that they yanked his golf invitation for Monday.

Several members of the audience left during Macdonald’s act, which contained references to sex acts, AIDS and homosexuality. The comic alluded to the stream of people leaving the auditorium, but continued his set. “What do you want to talk about? Losing your luggage at the airport?” he asked as people left.

U of I Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby said Macdonald’s act “would be considered to be in very bad taste in nearly every venue in America.” Athletic Department spokesman Rick Klatt said the U of I was assured during contract negotiations that Macdonald could meet guidelines. “We were very explicit about the details of the event, and about the type of people who would be there,” Klatt said.

Mike Bridenstine, Los Angeles-based comedian/writer who grew up in Muscatine and attended the show as a teen:

“The joke that got the biggest/worst reaction was about bestiality porn. Old people and little kids were filing out. My mom felt so uncomfortable that she walked into the lobby, but complained, ‘They piped the sound out there too.’

“I physically hurt from laughing."

I went to a Norm MacDonald show at about the same time—maybe a couple of years later—and the main thing I remember from it is somehow Norm arrived at a point where it made sense to say "this cake here is my girlfriend. I f---ed it last night." I did not realize it at the time but I now know the show would have been greatly improved if Kirk Ferentz was there, fuming.

Norm himself:

“I didn’t even know anything was wrong. And then the next day these guys ... from some radio station or something, like I was sleeping, and they start asking these questions, you know. I didn’t know what to do, so I just tried to be funny. They go ‘Do you think your act is obscene?’ So I said ‘No, I think what’s obscene is there’s like kids dying in Vietnam, you know?’

“He goes ‘There’s no war in Vietnam!’ He like got all mad at me.”

I like Norm.

Angelique on Speight. He's been working to stay in front of Peters:

After returning from Michigan’s trip to Rome, Speight continued to watch every play from the entire season.

“I watched a little bit before spring ball, as well, but I got back to America and immediately went and clicked on the film and started watching that and knocked it all out,” Speight said. “Watched every game twice. There were certain plays in a few games at the end of the year that I wish I could have changed, but that’s what you live and learn from and you get better.”

He's imbibed the tao of Harbaugh when it comes to his injury:

He won’t be specific about the injury but said the shoulder is “back to 100 percent.” He also won’t say if he had surgery and turns coy when the subject comes up.

“I can’t remember,” Speight said, smiling. “That was way back in January, February, December.”

You know that thing where you turn into your father as you age? Yeah, that.

Catching up with Vincent Smith. Dan Murphy profiles Michigan's toughest running back in recent memory:

Vincent Smith is building momentum. He takes two short strides, sinking his hips like a retracting pinball plunger, and then launches himself clear over an 8-foot swath of freshly tilled and seeded earth. Smith gathers the five-gallon bucket of winter rye seeds next to his landing spot and moves on to the next patch of dirt.

It's late October in Michigan, and Smith is doing what he can to prep his garden-in-progress for the cold months ahead. The vacant lot he is trying to repurpose sits two blocks from the infamous Flint River, which in recent years delivered lead-tainted waters to the citizens of one of the Rust Belt's most down-on-its-luck cities. The rest of the street is lined by houses that range from worn but loved to dilapidated. The house that once stood on Smith's lot caught fire, and the city ordered its demolition several years earlier. He and a band of helpers spent weeks picking pieces of the old house and other garbage out of the ground when they decided last year that it was a good candidate to be turned into a community garden.

DJ Wilson scouted. DX on Wilson:

It will be interesting to see how his frame develops as he matures, since he already possess the skill set of a stretch-4, but he needs to add toughness and competitiveness to not emerge as a one-dimensional player. With NBA teams continue to search for big men who can shoot, handle, pass and switch, Wilson is a strong first round pick candidate and should have plenty of chances to break into an NBA rotation. - Source:

That's why he's in the draft: he's perfect for the modern NBA, where centers are power forwards who are expected to switch onto point guards and shoot threes. There's a 0% chance someone doesn't take him in the first round, because if he continues developing he can be part of a devastating five-out offense. Also despite being 21 he's got the upside of a younger player. Beilein:

"He’s just on his way to being a really good player," Beilein said. "He can really shoot. Put it together with his defense … he’s 21 with a body of a 19-year-old. The best is yet to come for him. He’s a super kid on and off the court; very coachable.

"Whoever gets him is going to be very fortunate."

If we could stop with the "DJ got bad advice" thing that would be great. He supposedly has a promise from the Nets, even.

Nope. Texas OT Brandon Hodges is looking to grad transfer but if Barking Carnival is right about the reason for his departure this will be a non-starter for Michigan:

Hodges was projected to start at right tackle, but he was reportedly done in by grades. Eric Nahlin at Inside Texas alluded this news coming a couple of days ago.

Michigan's last best shot at a grad transfer was Sunny Odogwu.

Etc.: Former NFL RB Alfonso Smith is joining the program as a staffer. David Harris to the Patriots. Ann Arbor is expensive.

Rome Wrap: Feelingsball, Offense

Rome Wrap: Feelingsball, Offense

Submitted by Brian on May 1st, 2017 at 1:34 PM

One of the nice things about Michigan dragging reporters a long distance is that Harbaugh has pity on them and opens practice. Last year the IMG trip saw three or four practices open to the public, and the just-concluded Rome trip finished with three as well. The first day in Rome was just shells and a walk-through since the team had downshifted from full-on padded practices after the spring game, but there's a fair amount of useful intel coming out of the latter two.

Feelingsball section

It would be hard for a trip to Rome to not look pretty cool for the croots; Michigan really hammered it home with all-access media coverage and an itinerary that ranged from seeing the sites to drinking out of public fountains...

...to paintball (in khakis, naturally)...

...to hanging with the Pope...

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...to coach-versus-coach gladiatorial contests:

It looked better than any vacation I've ever taken by an order of magnitude.

All of this was documented by Michigan's own social media team and a legion of reporters, with an embedded ESPN guy.

Quite a turnaround in public relations skills from the last regime, and all of it pushed by a guy who is also the football coach.

This no doubt had various SEC coaches seething in rage and there will be a proposal to ban or limit such things as soon as possible. Michigan chose wisely by going to the center of Western Civilization(tm) and meeting the freakin' Pope, but no educational argument is going to withstand the white-hot fury of a bunch of dudes who can't imagine why you'd ever go anywhere but Waffle House.

That would be sad, since this seemed like a life-enhancing experience in a way a week in central Florida is not.

Most of the players had never been overseas.

Senior fullback Khalid Hill, a Detroit native who attended East English Village, said his biggest takeaway from the trip was the learning experience.

“Coming over here, learning different things, seeing different things, it’s amazing,” Hill said. “It’s something you don’t usually get a chance to do. I can go back home and say, ‘Man, I’m a kid from Detroit that got a chance to come over here and play and practice.’

“Not too many kids from Detroit can say that, even kids from Michigan. To do that is amazing. I love the experience of my last spring ball.”

We'll see what happens, but when the NCAA's official site is promoting your trip...

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...you might have a shot. This is supposedly part of the NCAA's core mission.

Harbaugh’s motivation for the trip was to, as he has said on multiple occasions, put the student back in student-athlete. He has seen college football become a 12-month a year sport, and wanted the players to have some breathing room in May.

Many of the players are venturing off on backpacking trips for a few days before returning home, while others are leaving for three-week study-abroad programs.

Michigan plans to go to South Africa next year; let's hope they get to go.

Football section

Not enough data to go position by position but some additional practice buzz from folks who were in Rome mixed in with some standard insidery takes follow. There wasn't much on either line because of the nature of the practices, in which a lot of 7-on-7 was played while the linemen did drills.  7-on-7 is a lot more immediately comprehensible than line drills and thus understandably drew the bulk of attention from observers.

Nick Baumgardner's headliner was WR Tarik Black, who showed he can run a lot more than fade routes:

He caught a crossing route over the middle that was thrown high and behind him, with a defender on his hip, where it was simply all hands. The ball looked like a sure incompletion -- and in a live setting, maybe worse. But he was able to time his leap right, reach back and just glide through the catch. He has a unique ability to make difficult receptions look relatively easy.

For a first-year receiver, this seems rare. I've seen so many freshman receivers get into a camp -- whether it be in the spring or the fall -- and just look lost with their fundamentals. Black is not one of those guys.

Baumgardner threw in another Black mention in a subsequent article to emphasize his take, and Black also led Sam Webb's practice take roundup. Good news with a "right, still a freshman" twist:

Tarik Black looked impressive once again. At this point the coaches are really working him hard on route precision. Rounding off routes... standing up at the top of routes... things that he will improve upon in time. He's trying to learn the playbook while working on those things, so it's going to take some time. But he's too good right now to not see the field. He'll play. A lot.

Players ranked in Black's range are even less likely to be year one contributors than five-stars that hit at only a 33% rate (in year one), but enrolling early and impressing are big steps. One insider report has Black, not Donovan Peoples-Jones, starting next to Crawford if the season started today. It does not, and DPJ was limited for much of the spring with a series of minor injuries so he is a candidate to surge back into the lead. Black's prominence is worse news for Drake Harris and Moe Ways, neither of whom generated any spring buzz.

Quarterback is in a bit of a weird spot where... well, here's Sam describing the situation in an extensive board Q&A:

If you're asking me if what I've seen is further confirmation that Brandon is the most talented quarterback on the roster, my answer would be yes. No one is disputing that.  I don't think the quarterbacks themselves would dispute that.

Despite that everyone has Wilton Speight the clear leader for the job, as rising juniors who finished in a dead heat for second in the Big Ten in passer rating tend to be. A couple of turnovers he coughed up while playing with a busted collarbone and a big-time spring game from Brandon Peters have everyone and their mother clamoring for the backup. The many upward pointing arrows on various parts of Peters's profile don't mean he's a favorite, or even particularly likely, to wrest the job away this fall. If Speight struggles or get hurt, I don't expect last year's Indiana game.

As far as the projected starter goes, he was locked in on Friday for the second practice:

On Friday, though, he was dealing.

Once Michigan cranked up the intensity of practice and got a little bit more live, Speight seemed to settle right into a groove and made some really, really impressive throws.

He hit a 25-yard corner route to a receiver in stride -- inside an air-tight window -- on an absolutely beautiful throw.

Pep Hamilton thought so, too.

"That's what we gotta do," Hamilton belted, pumping his fist into the air and slapping Speight on the back after the throw.

From there, he was on the money the rest of the day.

This is both a reminder that the spring game is a weak indicator and a throwback to last year, when Speight had spurts where he looked like the best QB in the country... and spurts where he looked like Michigan's biggest problem. I may be thinking of several deep balls that landed about four yards too long one night in Iowa City.

My operative theory last year was that the Harbaugh-ized version of Speight is a very, very good QB but he reverted to previous bad habits too often. If that is the case and the guy who is spooky accurate goes from 40 of snaps to 70% this year Michigan will have a hell of a passing game. Don't write off Speight yet.

Finally in passing game notes: Ian Bunting is still the expected starter as an inline TE, with Tyrone Wheatley's blocking still inconsistent.

Interestingly, Zach Gentry was mentioned as the starting FLEX, which is probably good news. Nick Eubanks has looked impressive this spring, so Gentry potentially forcing his way onto the field says good things about his ability to deliver matchup problems to opposing defenses.  He's not far off Mike Gesicki, the Penn State tight end. Gesicki is the only football player in history worse at TE blocking than Devin Funchess, but 48 catches for 679 is outstanding receiving output.

Offensive line is status quo: Cole/Bredeson/Kugler/Onwenu/Runyan, with JBB held out of contact in Rome. Per Baumgardner, Bredeson did take some tackle snaps but his impression was that Michigan was relatively set with that line, give or take a freshman at right tackle. Per Webb there's good news and bad news here, with Cole "going toe to toe with Rashan Gary" and Ben Bredeson improving a great deal. On the downside, Mike Onwenu's weight is still an issue and Michigan is insisting he get down to 360.

I have a dollar on Andrew Stueber as the opening day RT, FWIW.

Spring Practice Presser 4-6-17: Pep Hamilton

Spring Practice Presser 4-6-17: Pep Hamilton

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on April 7th, 2017 at 10:36 AM

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[Campredon]

Your initial impressions of Wilton?

“I’ve been very impressed with Wilton. Wilton is a conceptual learner, and so some of the things that we’ve put on his plate up until this point in the spring, I mean, he’s a quick study. And football’s important to Wilton. Winning is important to Wilton. So, very impressed with him.”

I don’t want to say you’re inheriting a quarterback, but he was here before you got here. What are the challenges of that, because he was actually here before Jim got here as well—what are the challenges of stepping in and having a guy who’s already been tabbed the starter and going from there?

“I wouldn’t say that it’s a challenge for me. I think it’s probably more of a challenge for Wilton to adjust to a different style of coaching than what he was used to, than what he had in years past. We haven’t had any issues. I think Wilton understands that, as the quarterback for the University of Michigan, the expectations

You’ve moved back to the college game from the pro game. Do you have to change how you coach or your expectation level when you’re dealing with a college kid as opposed to who you’re dealing with in the pros?

“No, you don’t have to change how you coach, but you have less time with your players. I think it’s more of a challenge when you’re trying to put a lot of volume or put a lot on their plate to get them to the point where they can handle all of the information and all of the strategy that you try to implement at times. But the kids here at the University of Michigan, they’re tough and they’re smart so they’re able to adjust and adapt to some of the concepts, for example, that we’re going to use this upcoming season.”

Why come back to the college level?

“I want to win a national championship.”

[After THE JUMP: working with Wilton, rotating centers, and Don Brown’s headache-inducing defense]

First Look: 2017 Offense

First Look: 2017 Offense

Submitted by Brian on January 12th, 2017 at 1:21 PM

DEPARTURES IN ORDER OF SIGNIFICANCE.

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[Bryan Fuller]

  1. TE Jake Butt. Mackey win might have been a career award but it was warranted in that context. Sure handed, huge catching radius threat. Blocking indifferent. Butt will be missed by more than last name aficionados. 69% catch rate is nuts. He's off to the second round of the draft unless people are spooked by a bowl-game ACL tear.
  2. WR Amara Darboh. Delivered on Jim Harbaugh's assertions that he was Michigan's best receiver with an All Big Ten year. Still left you wanting a bit more, though, as he had multiple opportunities to bail Wilton Speight out of iffy throws and took few of them during Michigan's unfortunate finish.
  3. RT Erik Magnuson. Quiet, steady performer at tackle. Was never a star and I'm a little dubious of people projecting him on day two in the draft, but if Michigan had five Erik Magnusons the year ends very differently. Alas.
  4. WR Jehu Chesson. Never recaptured his stellar late 2015 form as a senior. Still moderately productive, but only that. Speed did not translate into downfield production, or even many targets. Those went to Darboh, with iffy success.
  5. RB De'Veon Smith. Workhorse back had solid season. Detractors will point to middling YPC (4.7) relative to the rest of the platoon; this is unfair since Smith got all the short yardage work and was often making yards on his own just to get to that number. Pass protection dipped in senior year.
  6. LT Ben Braden. Pressed into service at left tackle after Grant Newsome's injury, where he was neither as bad as expected nor actually good. Reduced his tendency to lean on guys as his career went on but never fully excised that from his game. Draft chatter minimal, understandably.
  7. RG Kyle Kalis. Promising start to senior season submarined by a recurrence of mental errors and then just straight up getting crushed by top-level interior pass rushers. Extravagantly whipped by Jaleel Johnson, Nick Bosa, and DeMarcus Walker in Michigan's losses. I will never say "it can't get worse" in reference to a Michigan offensive line again, but Kalis seems eminently replaceable.
  8. RB/QB Jabrill Peppers. Offensive output was minimal after wildcat QB business was diagnosed. Effective decoy mostly.
  9. QB Shane Morris. Never found playing time and is taking a grad transfer.
  10. OL David Dawson. Announced a grad transfer even before spring practice, further emphasizing how thin Michigan was on the OL this year: either he or the coaches didn't think he had any shot at a job this fall.

WHAT'S LEFT

 

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[Fuller]

  1. OL Mason Cole. Move to center went relatively well, though I was less into him than PFF was. Had difficulty moving large nose tackle types and didn't get to do much operating in space, oddly. Pass protection was very good once he was removed from edge types, and I might be expecting to much. He had an NFL decision to make at a spot that usually doesn't see a ton of guys go.
  2. QB Wilton Speight. Debut season was solid statistically: 7.7 YPA, 62% completions, 18-7 TD-INT, third in the Big Ten in passer rating, 29th passing O in S&P+. Michigan's sack rate allowed was pretty good (27th) largely because of Speight's excellent pocket presence. Late wobbles leave the door open a crack for Brandon Peters.
  3. The rest of the running back platoon. Chris Evans will headline after the bowl game touchdown; Ty Isaac and Karan Higdon also had their moments. Evans is a jittery speedster who promises to hit the home runs Smith could not. Higdon will probably pick up most of the mooseback work since he's a low-to-the-ground guy who runs behinds his pads, as they say. Isaac's never had it click, really, but played well in relatively limited opportunities last year.
  4. OL Ben Bredeson. Flat out bad most of the year, because he was a true freshman. Should get a lot better, whether it's at guard or tackle. Honestly we should just forget about this season entirely when it comes to projecting him down the road.
  5. FBs Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill. FB duo was quite a dichotomy. Hill led the team in touchdowns and paved various players on spectacular edge two-for-one blocks while catching 89% of the balls that came his way. Poggi was not the threat as a receiver or runner and was substantially below average as a blocker. Despite this the two FBs split time about down the middle.
  6. Kaiju. Devin Asiasi and Tyrone Wheatley Jr were mostly blockers. Both were up and down, as freshmen tend to be, flashing A+ power while occasionally falling off dudes. They were not targeted often but made the most of their opportunities. With Butt's absence Michigan will rely more heavily on both; the potential for a Leap from one or both entices.
  7. TE Ian Bunting. Looked like Butt 2.0 on a slick seam catch in the bowl game, and also looked like Butt 2.0 when he gave up a comically easy sack a few plays later. Previous bullet makes his role in the offense somewhat in question
  8. (Probably) WR Grant Perry. Legal troubles probably get pled down to misdemeanors and allow him to stay on the team. Slippery slot receiver will have a role if still around.
  9. RB Drake Johnson. Star-crossed running back lost last season to a forklift accident and will apply for a sixth year. Fast straight-line runner who will find a role.
  10. OL Juwann Bushell-Beatty. Temporarily the LT after Newsome left. Displaced after struggling mightily.

WHAT'S NEW, OR CLOSE ENOUGH, ANYWAY

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Bredeson is a returning starter, sort of[Fuller]

 

Basically the whole offensive line. For purposes of this bullet we're pretending freshman Ben Bredeson and not freshman Ben Bredeson are different people, because we need that to be the case. Michigan needs to replace three starters and get a transformation from the aforementioned; this is a lot of turnover. Mike Onwenu is penciled in at right guard and unlikely to be dislodged by anything short of a supernova; Bredeson will start somewhere. Cole exists. The other two spots are anyone's guess.

Ditto the receivers. Michigan got some good blocking, one bad drop, and one badass catch from Kekoa Crawford this year; Eddie McDoom took a bunch of jet sweeps and had one nice slant catch; Drake Harris was targeted deep several times, all of those incompletions except for one sweet catch invalidated by an unnecessary offensive pass interference call. That is the sum total of returning experience for the WR corps.

Tight ends in a post-Butt world. Ton of potential at the spot; probably fine; need to see that potential develop.

WHAT'S ROD STEWART 1977

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[Fuller]

Probably Wilton Speight. Speight's 2016 did not have the clear takeoff narrative that Jake Rudock did. He was great for a couple games early, then bad, then indifferent, then awesome after the bye week until he turned into a pumpkin a third of the way through Iowa. He was terrific against Ohio State despite an injury that seemed to prevent him from throwing it downfield whatsoever... except for two turnovers 100% on him that lost the game. He gets an incomplete for the Orange Bowl since every time he dropped back he was beset by hounds instantly.

It would be much easier to draw an upward arrow if he'd packed the bad stuff in early and then got a lot better; unfortunately that is not the case. I'm still a Speight optimist for three reasons:

  1. Harbaugh. This should be self-explanatory but if you need a refresher here's the QB season preview.
  2. Speight seems to have the hardest thing down: pocket presence. His ability to turn garbage into first downs is exceptional for a guy his size.
  3. His good periods came after an opportunity to take a breather and focus on the things Harbaugh was coaching him to do. Speight was hot at the beginning of the season, after the bye, and after he missed the Indiana game. As we go along here he should be more that guy than the one who forgot and reverted to high school/Borges stuff when the heat got turned up.

Also, redshirt sophomores generally get better. It's not a big step from where he's currently at to an All Big Ten type season.

The three to five horsemen. I really like Chris Evans and Karan Higdon, and with Johnson, Isaac, Kareem Walker, and O'Maury Samuels also available this looks set to be a very deep and good running back crew. It may lack the out and out star that Najee Harris would have provided; I'm not stressing about the ballcarriers not getting what they should. All three returners graded significantly positively on PFF (relative to workload).

Blocky/catchy blocking. If one or both Kaiju takes a Williams-esque step forward and Hill gets most of the fullback work, Michigan's ability to generate yards off tackle will take a big step forward. Butt was an excellent player overall; he was average-at-best as a blocker.

WHAT'S ROD STEWART 2017

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Newsome's injury recover is critical [Bill Rapai]

Tackle. Hoke's OL recruiting was, in a word, disastrous. Michigan enters 2017 with exactly one Hoke-recruited OT: Bushell-Beatty. That means Michigan will have to do two of the following:

  • Get Grant Newsome back from a terrifying injury that kept him in the hospital for over a month. (FWIW, there's been some chatter that Newsome's injury doesn't have an unusually lengthy prognosis despite the hospital stay.)
  • Move Mason Cole back to the tackle spot he couldn't pass protect at.
  • Move Ben Bredeson out to tackle, where he might have the same issues Cole does.
  • Start Bushell-Beatty, who got beat up by Rutgers last year.
  • Start Nolan Ulizio, a low-rated redshirt sophomore.
  • Start a true freshman.

Two of those options might work out really well. But probably not.

 

 

WHAT'S HEISENBERG ROD STEWART UNCERTAINTY

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[Patrick Barron]

The guys on the end of Speight passes. Young receivers are usually bad. Of late, however, you're seeing a couple guys a year break through as true freshmen. Michigan has a couple of candidates in the 2017 class. Both Tarik Black and Donovan Peoples-Jones enrolled early, and both seem like sharp guys who will pick up the offense quickly. Add those guys to the McDoom/Crawford/Johnson troika that the coaching staff is high on and Drake Harris and it's not too hard to see Michigan being at least as good as they were this year.

Or they could be first-and-second year guys and run into each other on the regular. Ask again later.

Meanwhile, Michigan has a solid candidate to do Butt stuff in Ian Bunting. Still a difficult ask for anyone to live up to Butt's ability to reel in anything in his area.

The interior OL. At guard, a dropoff is unlikely from a true freshman and a guy who ended up –12 on the season per PFF. Michigan needs to do much more than tread water, though. Mike Onwenu is a unique prospect at one spot, and Bredeson will either be a lot better... or playing tackle, and then the other guard spot is a series of question marks. Cole stabilizes; whether or not these guys are any good is still very much an open question.

The Pep effect. Is Pep Hamilton an upgrade on Jedd Fisch? Does it even matter when Harbaugh's running things?

MANDATORY WILD ASS GUESS

Another mediocre season is in the offing unless Michigan gets a Christmas miracle an the offensive line that will probably feature one upperclassman and is 50/50 to sport another true freshman. That is a tough hill to climb for anyone. The skill positions should be good but are likely a year away from being able to offer win-games-on-our-own help—again Michigan is all but devoid of upperclassmen.

A projected Speight uptick is the main reason for optimism; it's asking a lot of him to be Andrew Luck in an environment where he's going to be running away an awful lot.

The good news is good news about 2018, when Michigan loses only a few projected contributors: Mason Cole, the fullbacks, Drake Johnson, and Ty Isaac. Whatever they find this year will enter 2018 just about unscathed.

Florida State 33, Michigan 32

Florida State 33, Michigan 32

Submitted by Ace on December 31st, 2016 at 12:43 AM


Dalvin Cook lived up to his billing. [Bryan Fuller/MGoBlog]

Sometimes you make it a game despite yourself and the human lightning bolt that is Dalvin Cook and then a freshman receiver who looks like a tight end turns a dumb play into a game-swinging kickoff return and a 5'11" guy beats Jourdan Lewis for a touchdown because sure why not and a series of improbable events occur and a laugher turns into a heartbreaker.

For most of the game, Florida State showed why Michigan is on the wrong side of the playoff bubble. Michigan's offense couldn't overcome a shaky offensive line to put any sort of consistent attack together, mustering only 83 first-half yards. Florida State's couldn't either but for the notable exception of Cook. The future Pro Bowl running back had 141 yards and a score on 16 touches. Nyqwan Murray exploited a busted coverage for a 92-yard touchdown. The rest of the FSU offense had 22 yards on 17 plays. The Seminoles held a 20-6 lead at halftime.

Neither team did much of anything in the third quarter until Kenny Allen, for seemingly the umpteenth time, backed up FSU deep in their own territory with 1:12 left in the quarter. Facing second-and-ten from his own eight-yard line, quarterback Deondre Francois rolled right to escape pressure and threw a pass directly to Mike McCray, who ended his short trip down the sideline with a dive into the end zone to make it 20-15. Michigan had pulled within a score for the first time since the opening quarter, setting up one of the wildest finishes of this college football season.


Chris Evans, flying. [Fuller]

Cook once again pulled the game almost out of reach, breaking a 71-yard run on third-and-22 to set up a three-yard touchdown run by his backup, Jacques Patrick. After the teams traded punts, Wilton Speight capitalized on great field position with a third-and-goal touchdown pass to Khalid Hill. The Wolverines returned to the end zone less than four minutes later, forcing a three-and-out before Chris Evans juke-posterized an FSU safety on a 30-yard touchdown scamper. Before you could say "Captain America," Michigan had taken a 30-27 lead.

The ensuing kickoff looked as innocuous as could be. FSU freshman Keith Gavin fielded Allen's boot a couple yards deep in the end zone, surveyed the field, and paused. In football, when you pause on a kickoff return, you kneel for a touchback. That is the only play. Except for this play. This play, Gavin belatedly took off despite the protestations of fellow return man Kermit Whitfield, burst through a tackle, and was finally dragged down 66 yards later by Jourdan Lewis.


The winning touchdown. [Fuller]

Cook got the Seminoles to the 12-yard line on a screen pass. Two plays later, Murray rose over Lewis to haul in the go-ahead touchdown. As if this game wasn't frantic enough, Michigan blocked the extra point and Josh Metullus, filling in for an injured Jabrill Peppers, brought it all the way back for two points. With 36 seconds left, down a point, Michigan had the opportunity to give this meandering game one final twist.

Instead, the Seminoles held strong, intercepting a desperation fourth-and-ten heave by Speight forced by instant—perhaps too instant—pressure by DeMarcus Walker.

It may be coachspeak cliché, but it's true: Florida State made more plays. The better team, at least tonight, won the game. Cook showed Michigan what they lack: an offensive playmaker that makes opponents sigh with relief every time the ball goes elsewhere. That, or an elite quarterback, can overcome a porous offensive line. The Wolverines had neither.

Maybe next year.

Pre-Orange Bowl Presser: Players, Part 2

Pre-Orange Bowl Presser: Players, Part 2

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on December 7th, 2016 at 10:02 AM

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[Upchurch/Fuller]

Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Wilton Speight

Wilton, what are your thoughts on Florida State and playing them?

“Yeah, pretty cool. I saw that the last team, the last Michigan team, to go to the Orange Bowl was Tom Brady’s team that went to overtime with Alabama, so that was a cool little piece of history that I saw. Really athletic team in Florida State. Lot of studs on that team and real well coached by Coach Fisher, so I’m excited to hit the film with Coach Fisch and figure out the gameplan for what we’re going to do.”

What was the rollercoaster of emotions today? Did you wake up feeling you still had a chance to get into the playoff and when you found out, how did you guys cope with that, deal with that, move forward from that?

WS: “I think we all woke up hoping something might still happen. We knew Clemson or Washington had to lose for us to really have a solid chance, but it’s not done by computer; it’s done by people with brains and emotions and thoughts, so we thought there was still a chance. But we put ourselves in this position to leave it up to other people. Four points away from sitting here up in front of you guys undefeated. It’s tough, but at the same time we’ve got a lot to prove. We can really make a statement in Miami.”

RG: “Yeah, I agree with Wilton. I think that this game in Miami is going to be a statement game. We want to leave this program on top and [with] a step in the right direction. Chris and I are leaving, but Wilton has two more years here to lead this team. So yeah, we want to make it a statement game. We want to show that we’re in the top four teams in college football.”

CW: “I agree.”

Wilton, how’s the shoulder, collarbone, whatever’s going on? How healthy were you last Saturday?

“I was healthy enough to play, to be able to try and make as many plays as I could for the team. This week off has helped. We didn’t practice this past week; coaches were out recruiting. We’ll start back up on Tuesday. Not sure the extent of how hard we’ll go this first week, but the week off definitely helped. I’m getting healthier every day.”

[After THE JUMP: “I think we’re gonna be hungry, we’re gonna be angry, and we’re gonna want to take it out on a team, and Florida State’s the next team up.”]

No Damn Reason At All

No Damn Reason At All

Submitted by Brian on November 28th, 2016 at 1:06 PM

11/26/2016 – Michigan 27, Ohio State 30 (2OT) – 10-2, 7-2 Big Ten

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[Eric Upchurch]

After all that, the thing that sticks with me is something much more prosaic than the various outrages everyone's going on about. It's third and four in the fourth quarter. Ohio State literally triple-covers Jake Butt; Wilton Speight finds Amara Darboh open on a quick slant. The ball is behind Darboh, tough but catchable. Darboh does not catch it. Michigan punts with five minutes and change left on the clock.

Why did that happen?

I don't know. Nobody does, but very few people tasked with writing about a thing will tell you that. Everyone else will reach for any explanation of remote plausibility, from an injured shoulder to CHOKING like a CLOWN FRAUD. Whatever, doesn't matter. Just as long as there's a reason a thing occurred, we can go on with our lives.

I think that happened for no damn reason at all. Yes, if you replaced Speight with Tom Brady that pass was more likely to be accurate. If you replaced him with Tyler O'Connor, less likely. It is still a simple five-yard throw that is amongst the easiest in the quarterback's repertoire. It is within the capabilities of the QB. Speight probably hits 90% of them, especially on a day where he is locked in. The most likely explanation for why he did not hit that one is none at all. The most likely reason Darboh did not catch a tough but catchable pass is none at all.

There are entire fields of study dedicated to the fallibility of the human brain, which refuses to operate cleanly. (I just put a D into the word "entire" as I was typing that sentence out.) These exist mostly because planes crash into each other and space shuttles explode and not because football happens sometimes, which just goes to show that people have strange priorities.

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

Speaking of the fallibility of the human brain:

It is hard to take that sort of thing. Michigan had just gotten a flag on a similar, but less severe, defensive holding incident on the prior Ohio State drive. That ended a Michigan drive that had reached midfield; if called correctly Michigan has first and ten at the Ohio State 40.

Later in the game the same pattern would repeat. Delano Hill was flagged for pass interference on third and 14 when he unnecessarily grabbed the waist of Curtis Samuel before the ball arrived; the exact same thing happened to Grant Perry on a third down conversion attempt and was ignored. Again, that sets Michigan up with a first down, this one on the ten in the second overtime. Again it was preceded by a call so similar against Michigan it beggars belief that a flag did not come out.

That's tough to get over. The spot was close enough and chaotic enough that it falls within the realm of the unknowable. An MGoUser who knows what parallax is and went over available evidence with a fine-toothed comb thinks Barrett made it by literally an inch or two. While I thought the spot was wrong I knew they would not overturn it, because they never overturn spots without some sort of egregious his-knee-was-down-ten-yards-ago kind of thing. In isolation that call is, in the cold light of day two days later, too close to have a definitive resolution. If it was wrong it very well could have been an honest mistake.

It is difficult to interpret either of the above incidents as honest, or a mistake. It's difficult to see a standard-issue Harbaugh blowup get flagged in the Game when we've seen the same thing tolerated all year. It's difficult to believe that Michigan's defensive line hasn't benefited from a holding call since the Illinois game.

This is the point at which newspapery types come in with the You Had Your Opportunities To Win The Game, an asinine criticism since that's literally true of both teams in every close game ever played. You can believe that Michigan had opportunities to win they did not take and simultaneously believe that the officiating gave you less than a 50/50 shot in a 50/50 game.

And then you're putting guys out on the field from the state of Ohio who were previously banned from working The Game because of how it might look? What the fuck are you even doing, Big Ten?

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[Patrick Barron]

What's that? Counting your money? Right. Well done.

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

Michigan lost this game. They did so for many reasons.

Their mistakes were punished as ruthlessly as possible. A floating ball goes directly to a defender. A fumbled snap is recovered by the defense. Curtis Samuel escapes a huge loss three times and sets up the fourth down that falls within the margin of error.

They did not take advantage of plays that were there to be made. Speight threw behind Darboh twice; Darboh did not bail him out. Karan Higdon missed a cut on what would have been a huge gain. Smith did not run over a safety prior to the fumble.

They did not get a fair whistle. See above.

All that and it came down to a literal inch. A rivalry classic, and an invitation for a bunch of hooting jackals to hoot some more. As for us on the other side, nothing to do but soldier on in the gray light of morning.

AWARDS

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there is another [Bryan Fuller]

Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

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

#1 Taco Charlton was the most rampant of Michigan's very rampant defensive line, acquiring two and a half sacks and forcing Barrett to move around several other times.

#2 (tie) Ben Gedeon and Mike McCray shut off the Ohio State edge except on a couple plays where Michigan was successfully out-leveraged pre-snap. It was weird to see neutrals on twitter wondering why anyone would run east-west against The Michigan Defense, but they were, because it didn't work. They picked up 19 tackles between them, two sacks, another TFL, and McCray batted down two passes. McCray also forced a sack when he leapt in the passing lane of a third.

#3 Kenny Allen bombed all but one of his punts; he mastered the Ron Coluzzi hard right turn; he had just one touchback, that on a punt that still had a 40+ yard net; Curtis Samuel had just one quickly snuffed return opportunity; he hit a couple field goals; none of his kickoffs were returnable.

Honorable mention: Channing Stribling broke up the only deep shot on the day; OSU decided they were not going to bother with either him or Jourdan Lewis. The rest of the defensive line was terrific all day; the tackles were very good in pass protection against some tough customers. Peppers had a big KOR, an interception, and was also a major part of the edge being closed down.

KFaTAotW Standings.

10: Wilton Speight (#1 UCF, #1 Illinois, #3 MSU, #1 Maryland), Taco Charlton(three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #3 Maryland, #2 Iowa, #2 Indiana, #1 OSU).
9: Jabrill Peppers(T2, Hawaii; #3 UCF, #1 Colorado, #2 Rutgers, #2 MSU)
5: Ryan Glasgow(#2 UCF, #1 UW), Chris Wormley (three-way T1, PSU, same vs Rutgers, #1 Iowa).
4: Jourdan Lewis (#3 UW, #2 Maryland, #3 Indiana), Mike McCray(#1 Hawaii, T2 OSU), Ben Gedeon(#3 Colorado, #3 PSU, three-way T1 Rutgers, T2 OSU).
3.5: De'Veon Smith (four-way T2, PSU, #1 Indiana).
3: Amara Darboh(#1 MSU).
2.5: Karan Higdon(four-way T2, PSU, #2 Illinois).
2: Jake Butt(#2 Colorado), Kyle Kalis (#2 UW)
1: Delano Hill (T2, Hawaii), Chris Evans (T3, Hawaii, four-way T2, PSU),  Maurice Hurst (three-way T1, PSU),  Devin Asiasi(#3 Rutgers), Ben Braden (#3 Illinois), Channing Stribling (#3 Iowa), Kenny Allen (#3 OSU).
0.5: Mason Cole(T3, Hawaii), Ty Isaac (four-way T2, PSU).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

This week's best thing ever.

It's a goat in a duck costume!

Honorable mention: is that not sufficient

WGIBTUs Past.

Hawaii: Laughter-inducing Peppers punt return.
UCF: Speight opens his Rex Grossman account.
Colorado: Peppers cashes it in.
PSU: Wormley's sack establishes a theme.
UW: Darboh puts Michigan ahead for good.
Rutgers: Peppers presses "on".
Illinois: TRAIN 2.0.
MSU: lol, two points.
Maryland: very complicated bomb.
Iowa: The touchdown.
Indiana: Smith woodchips Michigan a lead.
OSU: Goat. Duck costume. Yeah.

imageMARCUS HALL EPIC DOUBLE BIRD OF THE WEEK.

This week's worst thing ever.

The Spot.

Honorable mention: The ensuing play. Speight fumbles the snap; Speight gets hit on the throw and offers up a pick six; Speight throws an INT that is on him; various refereeing malfeasances.

PREVIOUS EPIC DOUBLE BIRDs

Hawaii: Not Mone again.
UCF: Uh, Dymonte, you may want to either tackle or at least lightly brush that guy.
Colorado: Speight blindsided.
PSU: Clark's noncontact ACL injury.
UW: Newsome joins the ranks of the injured.
Rutgers: you can't call back the Mona Lisa of punt returns, man.
Illinois: They scored a what now? On Michigan? A touchdown?
Michigan State: a terrifying first drive momentarily makes you think you're in the mirror universe.
Maryland: Edge defense is a confirmed issue.
Iowa: Kalis hands Iowa a safety.
Indiana: A legitimate drive.
OSU: The Spot.

[After THE JUMP: ~3000 additional words, 43% of which are swears.]