SPONSOR NOTE: Reminder that Matt is hanging out at the Charity Tailgate at 327 East Hoover (if you were at the preseason MGoEvents this year and last it's the same place). Food trucks, beer, TVs, and also those things. When not tailgating Matt is also a person who will get you a mortgage right quick from the comfort of your own home. If you need one, he's the man, man.
FORMATION NOTES: Closer to a 50/50 gun/under-center split, although a high number of goal line snaps (6) and short yardage I-Form (5) distort things. Outside of short yardage is was close to the 2/3rds gun ratio we've seen so far this year. SMU responded by playing MSU's defense, more or less:
4-3 over, over and over. Their safeties were less aggressive; their linebackers were more aggressive; their CBs were more prone to off coverage than press. Still pretty close.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: As per usual on the OL and at TE. With Higdon out, Wilson got maybe a third of the snaps. O'Maury Samuels got one near the end. WR rotation also pretty much what you'd expect, except Grant Perry got a fair amount of his PT as an outside WR since Michigan ran a ton of 2TE sets—2/3rds of their snaps. There were even three 3TE sets.
Ben Mason got his usual dozen snaps, in this case heavily slanted to short yardage.
obvious thing preceded and followed by eons of nothing [Eric Upchurch]
9/15/2018 – Michigan 45, SMU 20 – 2-1
The sequence that really, truly broke me was in the middle of the second quarter. For some reason, Sonny Dykes thought that if his team was prepared it could stop a Michigan fullback dive. So he called timeout. Then he saw Michigan had cannily lined up in the exact same way they had before the timeout. Sensing a trap, he called timeout again. This became the dreaded Full Media Timeout.
In the stands, I baked. Because Michigan has made no attempt to improve connectivity in the stadium I held up my phone as it told me it could not retrieve tweets. The clock ticked down.
Michigan took the field again and lined up in the exact same way, but Dykes could not respond—he'd used all his timeouts. Ben Mason scored from the one-inch line, extra point... Full Media Timeout.
I baked further. It sucked. It was hot and boring and also hot and also boring.
Because I was so bored I started counting commercial breaks, finally giving up when the number hit a staggering eight in the first 22 minutes of game clock. There are eight commercial breaks in the entirety of a 40-minute basketball game, plus some timeout-induced ones. And that frequently feels excessive; a couple of years ago the problem seemed so severe the NCAA even stripped coaches of one of their precious timeouts. Football is now throwing up timeouts at almost twice the rate of basketball, a sport where the clock only runs if something is actually happening.
This is close to intolerable when it's nice outside. When it is not, and when there is a steady stream of baffling penalties from the part-time refs from a podunk league, and replays to fix some of the baffling issues the part-time refs are creating, and many more stoppages for injuries—one of which takes a long time and then gets a Full Media Timeout appended to the end of it—you wonder why you're doing this instead of sitting at home with air conditioning and connectivity. Several years ago I probably would have yammered about the students leaving early. Now I just envy anyone with the common sense to bail when they are so clearly being told to bail.
Falling attendance is a nationwide problem often blamed on The Youngs for being addicted to their phones, but the folks behind us show up maybe twice a year and sell their other tickets for whatever they can get. There's a noticeable variance in section density between the many garbage games (hi, division-mates Rutgers and Maryland) on the schedule and the actually worthwhile ones, and there are no students where I'm at. When the Wall Street Journal FOIAed actual ticket scans they found that 21%(!) of Michigan's announced attendance was fictional, tickets that sold but did not scan. This is actually pretty good in the wider context of college football, which says somethin' about somethin'.
It says that college football used to be a great bargain. Tickets were relatively inexpensive, games were fun and not largely spent watching people have conferences. Great fanbases sprung up around the teams starting in the 1960s, when Don Canham was packing bands into the stadium so it would be sort of full, and lasted more or less through 2000 without being seriously impinged upon. Ticket prices were absurdly stable. Television was more of a boon than a hindrance because its proliferation allowed you to watch more road games; breaks were relatively rare and tolerable.
Then things got monetized. Ticket prices approximately tripled in 13 years and have kept going up since. The commercial breaks have proliferated madly. Unsatisfied with their massive uplift in revenue, the athletic department has continued to nickel and dime the fanbase even after the departure of Dave Brandon. And for what? For who? For the benefit of ever more absurdly over-compensated coaches, staffers, and especially executives. Every commercial break is Jim Delany—the man who ruined the conference—giving me the middle finger while he dumps another gold brick on the Big Ten's grave.
Delany and his fellow parasites have latched onto the great oilbeds men like Canham laid down and are sucking them dry without regard to what happens after they're done. They don't care. They'll be dead. Michigan will still be playing Rutgers.
I dunno man. This would certainly be more tolerable if Michigan had won some more games over the past ten years. But probably not that much more. There's nothing I can do, really, but I'll tell you one thing: I'm never buying any fucking Rotel again. Until there's a cap on the number of ad breaks, every single college football TV advertiser can die in a fire for all I care. I've had it.
Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week
you're the man now, dog
#1(t) Donovan Peoples-Jones and Zach Gentry. Gentry had a drop but also rescued a ball that would have been an IN if thrown at anyone else. Four catches for 95 yards from a nominal tight end is a thing and if anything Patterson didn't take full advantage of his height to make his other catches indefensible. DPJ scored three touchdowns, completely imploding that stat. Two were relatively simple, sure. The fade was not. DPJ and Gentry get two points each because they're made up and don't matter.
#2 Josh Metellus. INT and weaving TD return were the difference between a relatively comfortable second half and a full on terror-dome. PI on him was iffy; he had another PBU and seven tackles; did get hit a bit on those slants but Kinnel was SMU's preferred target.
#3 Chase Winovich. Ten tackles, three for loss. Had a really impressive track-back on a third and long screen that looked set up for the first down. Also knocked down another screen on third down earlier in the game. Now the subject of a hilarious meme.
Honorable mention: Will Hart added two more 50-yard punts to his collection. Bryan Mone and Carlo Kemp made SMU runs up the middle, which were oddly frequent, entirely futile. Devin Bush exists and is still Devin Bush. Tru Wilson had some more lethal blitz pickups.
Shea Patterson’s body language spoke more than his words.
Sitting at the podium, eye black smudged all over his face, Patterson was asked about the man seated to his left — Donovan Peoples-Jones. Do they practice back-shoulder fades often? Patterson tried to keep down a smile and failed.
“That’s something we work on pretty often,” he said. “The whole fall camp after our practice, we would get about 10 to 15 back-shoulder and then just regular fade routes, just to get our chemistry and timing.”
Seems that worked out pretty well. Peoples-Jones caught a back-shoulder fade Saturday for his second of three touchdowns — the shortest (only seven yards), but also the one in which Patterson played the biggest role. That’s partly because fades are really hard to complete in a condensed space, but it’s mostly because Peoples-Jones did a lot of the work on his own for the other two.
SPONSOR NOTE: Hey new logo. Matt Demorest has boiled the logo down to its bare essentials, thus symbolizing how simple a mortgage can be when acquired from a qualified, dedicated provider running his own business. At this point the logo can get no simpler, and therefore Matt has reached his final form as a very fast mortgage acquisition machine. Take advantage of this.
FORMATION NOTES: Nothing particularly odd from Michigan. They were about 70% gun, which is obviously a huge uptick. A couple of hurry-up drives (-ish) at the end of the game were always going to be from the gun; even without those Michigan was almost two-thirds shotgun.
ND ran a very standard 4-2-5.
SUBSTITUTION NOTES: Patterson except for the extended cramping period in the second half when McCaffrey played. Runyan/Bredeson/Ruiz/Onwenu/JBB the whole way except one snap for Spanellis after Ruiz's helmet came off. Higdon got a large majority of the RB snaps, with Chris Evans the only other back to play.
At WR Collins, DPJ, and Martin got all the outside snaps with Perry getting all the slot snaps. McKeon and Gentry got almost all the TE snaps with the occasional contribution from Eubanks.
[After THE JUMP: it says something about expectations that I felt this could have been worse?]
[Ed-Ace: Please join us in welcoming aboard new press conference correspondent Ethan Sears, whose work you may have seen at the Michigan Daily and UMHoops. Don't worry, Adam isn't going anywhere—you'll be seeing his posts soon, too.]
“How we doing?”
(Everybody, all together) Pretty good.
So, what were sort of the qualities that set Shea (Patterson) apart from the other quarterbacks, that you feel won that job?
“I think Shea has shown in big games, over the course of his short career that he can make plays. And,not that the other quarterbacks can’t make plays, but he offers just an ability to make the on-schedule plays and the off-schedule plays, and we’re excited about having that element in our offense.”
So was experience a big part of that then?
Exactly how close, was it a close competition? And at what point in camp, any point I guess, was it clear that Shea was the guy?
“Yeah, it was an extremely close competition. I think coach (Jim) Harbaugh had talked throughout the offseason about the possibility of making that decision right up to gameday at Notre Dame. Possibly take that long. And the other guys, they showed tremendous growth from spring practice to training camp, and they played well. They did a lotta good things as well, but ultimately, coach decided to go with Shea.”
So would announcing Shea as the starter two weeks before, I guess that kinda gives the idea that you guys have known for a while. So, would it be unfair to assume that it wasn’t a close competition?
“That wasn’t the case at all. I don’t know that we’ve known for a while. Only coach Harbaugh knew when he wanted to announce it and who that guy would be, but we thought we have four candidates that are very qualified to go out and play a high level of football for us.”
Pep, how are Brandon (Peters) and Dylan (McCaffrey) different now than they were maybe in January?
“They’re a year older. You know, they have more experience and more time with the offense and within the system. They have — Brandon in particular — having played in games last year, just has a better understanding of the urgency with which you have to make decisions in real games.”
And how has Brandon handled this whole thing from your — you’re around every day. How has he handled Shea coming in and now he’s not the starter and all that sort of stuff?
“He has been consistent. He’s never stopped preparing. He’s a competitor, so of course he wants to be out there, and if he ever had to get out there, I feel like he would go out and play at a high level.”
Who’s number two on the depth chart right now?
“I don’t know. We don’t have a depth chart.”
Who would go in if Shea got hurt?
“Coach Harbaugh would decide.”
[Hit THE JUMP for more Nico Collins hype plus much more.]
FORMATION NOTES. Hello, manball. Michigan's approach in this game was downright neolithic, featuring 32 snaps with one or zero WRs. Feel the Harbaugh goodness as Michigan goes with a goal line set on first and ten on their own 34 (the "WR" is Gentry and he will motion to a TE spot presnap):
Michigan did suffer to allow two wide receivers on the field 22 times; three WRs managed to get out there on 14 snaps.
But you know Harbaugh wants to. Probably not enough to do it... much. But if you're telling me he's got two returning starters at TE with NFL upside and a third guy who ran past the Florida secondary last year and he's not going to do it at all, well, sir. I disagree.
And now it's time for...
ANNUAL EXPLANATION OF THE FINE GRADATIONS OF BLOCKY/CATCHY
A few years ago we split tight ends from the WR post and fullbacks from the RB post, figuring that under Brady Hoke there would be enough of them to warrant it. We even split guys into various categories because a tight end is not just a tight end. Then Jim Harbaugh came in. After an internal struggle this site has decided not to split each one of these columns into its own post, but it was a near thing. Those columns are:
FULLBACK: a man with a steel plated head who runs into linebackers, gets two 50 carries in his career, and has six catches. See: Kevin Dudley, Sione Houma.
H-BACK: A "move" tight end who motions all about, rarely lines up on the actual line of scrimmage, often goes from fullback to a flared spot or vice versa, and operates as more of a receiver than the fullback. Must be a credible threat to LBs; ends career with 40 catches. See: Aaron Shea, Khalid Hill.
TIGHT END: Larger than the H-back, the tight end is a tight end who is actually tight to the end of the line. He comes out, lines up next to a tackle, helps him win blocks, and clobberates linebackers at the second level. He goes out into patterns as well, and may end his career with 40 catches himself. See: AJ Williams, Jerame Tuman.
FLEX: Big enough to play on the end of the line credibly. Agile enough to play H-back credibly. Not great at either. Capable of splitting out wide and threatening the secondary. Sacrifices some blocking for explosiveness. Can be a prime receiving threat. See: Jake Butt.
And of course many of these people bleed into other categories. Think of these position designations as Gaussian distributions in close proximity to each other.
TIGHT END AND FLEX: HOW FAST DOES THIS BATTLESHIP GO ANYWAY
Last year's preview threw all available guys in more or less the same bin and then selected Ian Bunting and Tyrone Wheatley Jr out of that bin as the nominal starters. Nope and nope: both guys got scattered snaps as the younger generation pushed through. Now both Bunting and Wheatley have read the writing on the wall and lit out for greener pastures, leaving Michigan's tight end corps somewhat thinly populated.
But hoo boy the remaining villagers could really be something. ZACH GENTRY is the headliner despite a bit less playing time than his compatriot. This is because Gentry is a 6'8" guy who was Michigan's fastest and most agile tight end in last year's team combine. As Jay Harbaugh put it when they moved him late in his freshman year:
"He's got what we call a 'dominant trait.' He's super fast and super tall and has very good hands. He has something naturally that gives him a chance to beat everybody as a route-runner.
He only got to show his dominance sporadically due to the environment around him, finishing with 17 catches. But his per-target numbers are flatly unbelievable in context even if they are a small sample size: 17.8 yards a reception. 11.7 yards per target(!!!), a 65% catch rate and zero catches that did not move the chains or improve Michigan's chance of doing so on a subsequent down. Michigan's next-best YPT receiver who got the whole QB smorgasbord was Kekoa Crawford at 7.2. And that sample size would have been larger in--all together now--better circumstances:
Gentry is a giant man and delivers on his height. He's capable of plucking balls out of the air that are well outside his frame and when Purdue went cover zero he demonstrated excellent body control to punish that decision:
As safety blankets go, the dude nearly a foot taller than most defensive backs and much faster than most linebackers is a quality option. And he is on another level athletically from most of the front seven guys who could deign to cover him.
That tall guy seems like a good person to throw to since he's the closest thing to an imaginary eleven-foot tall person we have.
Yeah, Zach Gentry started going from potential to production in this game. His big catch and run was a great route that suckered a linebacker outside and opened up that YAC:
83, TE to top of line
That is exactly what Michigan was hoping for when the moved him there. That throw's a bit high, except Gentry is 6'7". Also he dusted a guy and ate up 20 yards after the catch.
And if Michigan wants to get weird, Gentry has flashed the ability to hack it on the outside.
WR #83 top of screen
What he hasn't done so far is high-point the ball over two-to-seven helpless defensive backs, a la former Penn State tight end Mike Gesicki. This has been entirely due to a lack of opportunity. I charted Gentry with one drop on 13 routine opportunities last year; more telling was a lack of non-routine shots. He had just one opportunity at a moderately difficult catch (which he made); I put those in a bin labeled "2" and they encompass almost all of the things that a pogo-stick giant should be doing downfield. There were only two circus opportunities, and sometimes pogo-stick shots downfield should land there, as well.
Gentry was not Gesicki by any stretch of the imagination, but largely because Michigan didn't give him the opportunity to be Gesicki. Again, offense bad sad emoji etc etc. In a functional offense with a fade machine quarterback, Gentry could blow up. Should blow up.
Gentry's blocking was meh but not a disaster. PFF had him about 200th of ~300 qualifying tight ends but I'm pretty sure they grade like me and those numbers aren't necessarily adjusted for individual "strength of schedule." So he's probably not worse than whatever MAC tight ends he's behind, he's just playing tougher opposition. And Gentry's issues were at least half mental issues that generally come with being a guy getting his first playing time. When he was on the right page he did well:
#83 TE to bottom
He was fairly regularly able to get under not-so-good players and drive them:
Gentry was generally able to control Big Ten LBs and weakside ends; it was only when circumstances forced him into trying to control a Big Boy that his lankiness worked against him. Here he catches an MSU DT and suddenly looks like a 6'8" TE trying to survive:
#83 TE to bottom of line
When he set up in-line and took a thunk from a DL who knew what was coming he'd give some ground but he'd usually stay attached and fight his way through it. When able to take on someone in his weight class things went well, for the most part. And even when he took on a Big Boy if he was able to surprise him he delivered a blow.
#83 TE motioning to top of formation
He pancaked a DE once! A Rutgers DE. But still! Seriously, by Wisconsin he was capable of legitimately impressive moments:
#83 TE to bottom of line
That is palpable movement on a DE and then a TJ Edwards pancake. Was that consistent? No. Was it there? Yes. What's more important for Michigan going forward are not the 2017 results, which did indeed top out at "eh"--he was 55% in UFR charting--but the approach. Gentry was a very willing blocker, one who got results when he got the call right and wasn't placed in an adverse situations. PFF had him one of Michigan's best offensive players against the Badgers and 24/7 noted that three of his four highest grades had come in the run-up to The Game. He improved greatly over the course of the season.
A year of experience and 15 extra pounds should improve his output further, and this will give Michigan a dual threat that someone like Mike Gesicki did not provide. Now just go be Gesicki when the ball is in the air and we're cooking. Survey says: maybe!
[After THE JUMP: tbh probably Michigan's best tight end]
Anyway, this kinda looks like a down year for wideouts in the conference, though there’s a crop of rising sophomores—as Michigan fans may be aware—that could change that in a hurry.
Seth: It always looks like a down year because the breakout guys don't leave any trace of being good before they do so.
BiSB: If this was a real draft—SHUT UP, I SAID IF—you probably wouldn't see a receiver off the board in the first, what, five rounds?
Ace: I think this conversation has to start with Nebraska’s Stanley Morgan, who’s thrived despite some awful QB play. I’d take Morgan and maybe Juwan Johnson relatively high and otherwise there’s not much proven anything out there.
Alex: One recent development to consider: Ohio State’s receivers may actually be well-coached this season.
Brian: No comment.
Ace: They’re just gonna promote the GA who’s actually been coaching them the last year.
BiSB: In the land of #Zone6, the Random GA is king. And Parris Campbell is pretty dang good.
Ace: But, yeah, Parris Campbell may be able to catch footballs thrown more than five yards downfield, and that’d be scary. Jinx.
Brian: I don't think one fall camp is going to turn that situation around.
Ace: He was still pretty scary without that ability, unfortunately.
BiSB: I can see them throwing downfield more with Haskins.
Seth: Someone would take Stanley Morgan and then there'd be a long drought. Morgan is legit and has produced through some dark quarterbacking years. But I'd be sweating Quintez Cephus. We discussed the windows that Hornibrook throws at, and Cephus's target numbers are insane: 79% catch rate, had a 71% success rate, 13 YPT.
[After THE JUMP: Let's all imagine Michigan's catchies in a competent passing offense.]
Rules: He had to play at least a season or a snap at a significantly different position at the college level (so no ATHs), and BEFORE this position. Jake Ryan’s move from quasi-DE in a 4-3 under to the Mike in an 4-3 over counts; Matt Godin going from 5-tech to DT does not. Neither does moving between safety positions unless you’re a FS who became half-linebacker. Also no pro moves (sorry Cato June), or playing a second, non-primary position (sorry Charles Woodson) even if you won the Heisman (sorry, Tennessee fans, but he did).
Cutoff Point: Recruited Post-Bo, so I don’t have to remember positions from when I was ten (sorry Tripp Welborne).
Quarterback: Devin Gardner
“Wonky throwing motion” indeed. [Eric Upchurch]
In between the times he wore 7 and that awful Nebraska day, Michigan of the Denard era couldn’t resist getting one of their best athletes on the field. So despite no backup quarterback plan other than Russell Bellomy for Denard Robinson (who’d been knocked out for that nerve in the elbow before), for 2012 Mr. Gardner was shipped off to receiver. At first it looked to be a good idea: Gardner had touchdown passes in his first three games (Bama, Air Force, and UMass). He wasn’t a great route runner but with Denard getting the ball every play the receivers got a lot of one-on-one matchups, and Gardner was a big dude. Then Denard went out and we had to wait until the following week before the Devin at QB era could begin. The receiver experiment thus ended at 16 receptions, 266 yards, and 4 touchdowns.
As for quarterback, the end of that 2012 season was magnificent enough to portend great things, but the offensive line was never enough. Two virtuoso performances against Ohio State and Notre Dame as a redshirt junior, then a senior year of a lot of heart but a broken body and a coaching situation. If we do a “man I feel sorry for that guy” team he’ll be back.
Other candidates: Nope.
[Hit THE JUMP unless you’re an Iowa safety then you probably don’t want to know what’s next]