Anonymous Quotes from Big Ten Players Comment Count

Michael Spath July 29th, 2016 at 4:07 PM


[Patrick Barron]

[Ed—Seth: Every year, by tradition, Mike Spath (@MichaelSpath198), one of the best journalists on the Michigan beat and bar none the best source of Michigan hockey info, also generates the only content I ever care about from Big Ten Media Days, offering anonymity to opposing players in return for their unvarnished opinions on Michigan players.

Spath has departed The Wolverine, but he still went to Media Days and got those golden quotes. He was at WTKA this morning and shared some of them with Sam Webb. You can listen to the entire segment on WTKA's website here. With their permission, Adam and I transcribed the parts that were paraphrased from those players.

Note: "paraphrased." Note again: I SAID PARAPHRASED. On a lot of these Spath is combining several players' thoughts, and he was talking on the radio. Please don't construe that into misquotations that result in me being chased by a tall blond man who in turn is being chased by a Big Ten athlete.

If you want more Spath, he'll be contributing some at, and is expected to become a regular contributor on WTKA.]


HOW THIS WORKS: So I’ve gotten some harsh feedback on Twitter saying “you know, if I was going to say something critical I’d put my name to it,” but that’s not the way that it goes. I don’t go up to them and say “Sam, I’m going to ask you a question and I want you to put your name on it.” I’ll say “Sam, I want to ask you some really honest feedback about Michigan football,” and the only way you’re going to give it to me is if I don’t quote you—if I don’t use your name.”

And so that’s how I do it and I would say this: if you’re a pretty smart person you can probably figure out that I went up to Indiana players, I went to Minnesota players, Rutgers players, Illinois players … and Northwestern.

So those are the five teams I was able to approach. It was a little more difficult this year—Sam you were there, and they didn’t go into roundtables where you have a lot more one-on-one times. So you really had to wait these guys out, and I waited until the last five minutes when they were completely empty, or I wasn’t afraid to—when a guy was getting up and leaving the podium when he’s done with his hour, or walking down the hallway with him. Because that’s when you’re gonna get the good stuff: when there’s nobody else around, and you have to really assure him: “I’m NOT gonna use your name.” You can see the light bulb going on in their head for that first second like: “I don’t know about I really wanna do this?”

But eventually, and here’s the thing too, is that when you ask these questions—and I’ve seen other people try to do it—I think if you ask generic questions you get generic answers. If you ask specific questions, you get specific answers. And so a lot of the time what I’ve focused on is specific players.



“The player that they played against in November: we had six games of film on him from earlier in the season, and who was that player? This was a guy that caught everything, was a big play waiting to happen. There’s a play where he caught the ball in the middle of the field against us, and we had two guys right there, and we thought we had the angle on him, and he pulled away!”

“There’s track speed and there’s football speed, and this guy’s got football speed. I couldn’t believe how unbelievably fast this guy was, and how much of a difference he made over the course of the second half of the season.”



I posted some of these things to Twitter and there’s already this Jourdan Lewis thing that blew up big time:

One guy said that the reason they throw at Jourdan Lewis is there’s not a fear factor. And I immediately got jumped on and ripped on. I think when you read the whole quote it’s a little more understanding.

The guy was talking about how they didn’t complete much last year—they only completed 36% of their passes that they threw at him. But they did throw at him, because he had 90 targets according to Pro Football Focus, and that’s the tenth most at any specific defensive back in the country. So I mean you’re talking about 127 teams, talking about four defensive backs for the most part on every team, so you’re looking at 400 players and he’s the tenth-most thrown-at? That’s pretty crazy for a guy who’s only giving up a 36% completion. And the guy said to me:

“You know we didn’t complete much, but he didn’t get many interceptions.” So I asked him a little bit more—why did you keep throwing at him, and he said “What did he have interceptions-wise compared to Desmond King? Two or three?” (The answer’s two). “You weren’t going to complete many passes if you threw his way, but he wasn’t going to pick you off either. You didn’t have to fear the turnover if you threw it.”

And I said “So you didn’t fear him?”

And he’s like “We didn’t fear him: no.”

So when I’m trying to present this as “there wasn’t a fear factor” that’s not really how the quote comes off. [Sam and Spath talked a bit about man-to-man versus cover 2. Upshot: the difference with Desmond King is cover 2 cornerbacks are facing the ball the whole play.]

[Hit THE JUMP for Victims of Glasgow and Wormley Anonymous, Glasgows, Guards, and Peppers]


MORE LEWIS (different receiver):

“Going to battle with him was like a 12 round boxing match—where you’re just slugging it out.”

“Some guys are really great at the line of scrimmage. Some guys are great when the ball’s in the air. He is just great; he’s got his hands on you all the time. He’s disrupting your routes constantly, he’s disrupting the flow between the quarterback and wide receiver. And that’s why he’s so good. ”



“He’s a beast. He and Joey Bosa were the two best defensive linemen in the Big Ten last year.”

“He’s got so much power and strength. Me and another offensive lineman on the team would talk about how there wasn’t a stronger defensive end that we went up against all last year. He had a really great swim move, a great bull rush, and he was good on stunts because he uses his hands so well...he’s just so good with his hands he was just knocking people around.”

On how Wormley can improve:

“I think he’s got a better inside move, a better inside first step than even he thinks he has. He’s got to use that a little bit more to his advantage. A lot of it is the bull rush, and he’ll try to use his strength and overwhelm you. But there were several times once in awhile when he would make that first quick initial burst in between the tackle and the guard or the tackle and the tight end, and it was just: ‘Wow you weren’t expecting that speed move!’”



“I didn’t see him show up on any All Big Ten teams last year. Maybe that’s because he got hurt at the end of the season. But he was a guy who made everyone else better. He was more than just a guy who occupied blockers; if you gave him an inch he’d exploit it. The fact that he and Wormley got in the backfield so frequently was what made that defense as good as it was.”

[Sam and Spath discuss DL sans Glasgow vs. Indiana/OSU. Spath says teams couldn’t get to the edge because Wormley and Glasgow were penetrating, but linebacker problems were exposed when Glasgow went out. Sam said linebackers couldn’t stay clean.]



So when I was talking to them one of the things that they said is they really think Graham Glasgow could be a big loss. [Omitted a portion where Ira and Mike talk about the possibility of Jordan Glasgow getting playing time.]

The guy just said that he was so good and so underrated in terms of he was really strong, he was tough to play against nose tackles, which I don't think people understand how difficult it is to play against nose tackles in college football. Especially in the NFL, but in college football how big these guys are. A lot of teams still throw the 330-pound nose tackle at you and hope that he grabs you and just kind of hugs you and it becomes a wrestling match.

"He was so smart about getting guys lined up. You don't understand how important a center is to that because he has to make all the checks, he has to get everybody in the right spot."

"Glasgow, you could tell when you were lined up against him how much he was like 'This guy, this guy, we're doing this, we're doing this' and you almost never had…most of the time at some point during a game you're going to have a moment where the offensive line is just confused and you've got a straight shot to the quarterback. That never happened last year against Michigan, and that's because of Graham Glasgow."



"I thought they were going to be a better running team than they were. They had a running back but their guards had a really tough time getting to the second level of the defense, and for a running play to work all five guys have to be on the same page but they were pretty inconsistent."

There was always seemingly one guy—and he didn't say specifically the same one guy—but there was seemingly always one guy that struggled and he seemed to screw everyone up a lot.

"When you pull, the guards have to—it's got to be tight, it's got to…I watched so much film with Doug Skene last year, and when he pulls his hip has got to be on the center's butt and it's got to be so tight and he's got to come around and he's got to—there's so much combo blocking I didn't quite understand where you're literally hitting one guy, pushing him off to the side, and trying to get up to the second level and they just did such a bad job at that last year."



"He's a really tough runner. Hard to knock down."

"Near the goal line he was an animal. He could smell the end zone and he would just keep fighting and fighting. If you tried to tackle him one on one with a defensive back you didn't have a chance. I mean, good luck, man. You had to get him near the line of scrimmage when there were a lot of bodies and guys were bigger than him. That's your only chance to bring him down.'"



This came from a quarterback:

"I felt so bad for our wide receivers and tight ends when it was their assignment to block him because you just couldn't do it. He was so fast that when he pounced you couldn't get your hands on him. Your only chance was if he was lined up right across the line of scrimmage from you at the snap, but even then he took such good angles and he treated himself like a running back, making a move, doing a little dip to get past you."

"I'm going to be really curious to see how he does as a strongside linebacker. He was essentially something similar to that last year but he didn't rush the passer a lot."

"We're not sure how we're going to block him. Tight end, offensive tackle, fullback, wide receiver…I don't like any of our options. However, we think if we do a combination of a couple of things and if we hit him enough with our 300 pounder then maybe by the end of the game he'll have worn down. We're not counting on it."



This is what a couple different guys told me. I kind of put it all into one. It's not one direct quote, but they said Michigan ran so many offensive plays…

"I mean, our defensive coordinator said more than he's ever seen in his career. Every week it seemed like they had new packages, new personnel on the field, and they did a lot of misdirection and play-fake stuff. I mean, how many times can Jake Butt, who was voted the best tight end in the Big Ten, run down the middle of the field completely uncovered? It seemed like twice or three times a game he was just- there was nobody within 10 yards. Because they're running all that crazy stuff, our guys were lost."

"The hardest part is that you would spend all week preparing for what you think might be their 60 plays, but then when you played them they only ran 15-20 and then had 40 new plays. It was almost impossible to figure out what they were going to do week to week, so our defensive coordinator would just say to us, 'We're going to match up 11 on 11 and hope that we win enough individual matchups that we can stop them offensively.'"



One of the things that opponents said about when you run a spread offense and misdirection, a lot of the quarterback read option, against a team like Michigan that doesn't have strong linebacker play, is you put them in positions where if there is this second where they're second guessing, where they think the ball is going to go one way and it's going to go the other, they didn't have the speed to get to the edge and Michigan had to crash their safeties.

"One of the things JT Barrett did is Michigan started, after the Indiana game, Michigan started crashing its safeties more on the edge because that's where Indiana killed them and they figured out they need to bring Jarrod Wilson, they need to bring Dymonte Thomas and Delano Hill down to the edges and almost act like outside linebackers because the inside linebackers couldn't get to the edge.

"What happened there is that JT Barrett then, when he was running his read option, he wouldn't attack the edge. He would then attack the middle because he knew the safeties weren't going to be the last line of defense.

"So you really have to have—to be a really good team against spread offenses, and let's face it, Alabama has a great defense but a couple years ago Ohio State carved them up with Ezekiel Elliott and JT Barrett…sorry, Cardale Jones carved them up.

"But what you have to do to hold them to less than like 200 yards is you have to have a lot of really good athletes at certain positions: at linebacker, at defensive end, at safety, and if you look at Michigan's personnel you're going to say—I mean, we have a lot to see from those linebackers, but it looks like you're going to have more athleticism on the field, and I think that's going to help them at a lot of places next year.

"Those guys are going to have to get off blocks and we haven't seen that, but I think it also helps to have really strong, disciplined defensive ends, and between Taco Charlton and if Chris Wormley plays out there or Rashan Gary, I mean, those guys have to do their job because it's all about keeping that ball inside and not getting sucked in, not diving inside at the running back if you're the defensive end and all of a sudden the quarterback goes around you. You have to keep the ball inside so that your linebackers can fill in, and I think they're going to be a lot better at doing that this year."



"You know, if I was Michigan State I would be so ticked off because Michigan's getting all this hype and what has Michigan done?"

But then he goes,

"I'll tell you one thing: Michigan State is never going to be able to play the underdog role or the undercard role as long as Jim Harbaugh's the coach at Michigan because of one thing: Jim Harbaugh just doesn't care."

He said for the last couple years if you played that undercard role maybe the right coaching staff wasn't in place that would allow that to—allow Michigan State to fester that and allow that to give them an advantage because it's not happening anymore.

"As long as Jim Harbaugh's there, he's like, 'they can say anything they want, but Jim Harbaugh does not care if they're going to play the underdog role.' He's like, 'He's just going to go in there and do what he needs to do.'"



July 29th, 2016 at 6:20 PM ^

I take it to mean that Harbaugh is the type of coach that will go for a playaction bomb with 3 seconds left in the half up 31-0 so he's not going to let their talk of being underdogs and motivation techniques outwork the team's motivation, which is to attack with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind. 

In the pre-harbaugh days, it seems like teams will come out hype for maybe the first series and get punched in the mouth and wither away. 

Now it seems Harbaugh has instilled and every down, every snap mentality of winning that even a pointless spring game seems like the big ten championship to the players. 


July 29th, 2016 at 4:55 PM ^

I'm not really surprised about the J. Lewis commentary or the guards. Also not at all surprised about the backers.

As a HS DC I dislike complaining about backers. Very difficult role. Arguably even more responsibility now in a base 3-4 look. Now an odd guy but it really means we have to recruit the right balance. I feel like we have had okay run stoppers, but looking back ten years or so most of our LBs have lacked elite speed/size for the position. A lot of players have transitioned to that spot as a junior or senior but we haven't had a guy who developed from little on in the middle that stayed there. That's my major gripe I suppose. Not uncommon though. Many programs do not.

My hope is the line play is so solid that we can once again hide the limitations of the second level.

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I Like Burgers

July 29th, 2016 at 5:20 PM ^

Yeah, the Lewis fear thing makes more sense with the additional context.  Because they are right, sure people are only completing 36% of passes against him, but since he almost never gets a pick with all of those targets (just a 2% chance of that happening), there's really no reason to not target him.  You either get a decent gain, or just line 'em up again.


July 29th, 2016 at 8:10 PM ^

Zero gain is definitely a loss for the offense. Why not just throw the ball out of bounds? No risk of a TO there either. It still doesn't make any sense why they threw at him so much, chances were very high of a lost down

I Like Burgers

July 30th, 2016 at 10:28 AM ^

Not debating that an incomplete pass is a great thing for the offense, but as good as our run defense was, trying to rush the ball was just as bad of an option as attempting a pass that had a 66% chance of going incomplete.  But unlike trying to run the ball, there was also a 33% chance of getting a good sized gain.

And the fact there was almost no chance of a pick, that really does make it a true 66% chance vs. 33% chance proposition, which does impact you decision making.  Throw it at Lewis three times in a row, and odds are that you're going to move the chains more often than not.  Which was basically what MSU did.


August 1st, 2016 at 11:30 AM ^

It is all about expected value. 


If 36% of the time you get an ~10 yard gain that means you can expect 3.6 yards every time you target the WR Lewis is covering.  If Lewis would get more picks then you have to change the expected value formula to account for that. 


July 29th, 2016 at 4:56 PM ^

He would get a lot more picks in zone versus man because your chasing a guy instead of sitting in the zone, reading and reacting.

Dr. Blitz likes to mix it up more as far as coverage goes so I wouldn't be surprised if he had more than 2 picks this season.


July 29th, 2016 at 4:57 PM ^

This is great stuff -- some of the most valuable insights I've read all year.  The point about losing Graham Glasgow is a very good one, and something that I haven't seen mentioned much at all.  (How quickly we forget how crucial good play at Center is!)  Thanks for this.

I Like Burgers

July 29th, 2016 at 5:29 PM ^

PBUs are nice, but INTs are even better.  No one fears someone that racks up a bunch of PBUs since they are really no different than an under/overthrown/dropped ball.  The Michigan State game is a perfect example of that.  Sure JD had a lot of PBUs that game, but Burbridge still racked up 132 yards on 9 catches.  With no chance of anything bad happening, there was no reason to not keep throwing the ball at Lewis.  And its honestly one of the safest plays an offense can attempt.

If Lewis wants to be feared and really make a next level difference on the defense, he's going to need to turn some of those PBUs into INTs.

(And don't get me wrong, Lewis is a great corner, but not really a shutdown corner)


July 29th, 2016 at 5:34 PM ^

On something like 22 targets.  That's an abysmal success rate.

Sure, it'd be nice to get more INTs, but continuing to target a player with a 36% success rate allowed shows a Debordian level of misunderstanding of what offense is actually supposed to accomplish.  Lewis's skill at disrupting opposing receivers turned the opposition's best wideout into a meh option.

A 3-and-out is almost as good as a downfield INT.  Either way, Michigan gets possession, and frequently with similar field position.


July 29th, 2016 at 6:06 PM ^

Ah, yes, that's right -- a 37.5% success rate, right about Lewis's average.  There's really only one play you can blame on the defense in that game, and that's a blown linebacker coverage.  The secondary was stout.


July 29th, 2016 at 6:11 PM ^

But 19 attempts for 132 yards is decidely meh -- 7 ypa.  Yes, when he caught the ball, he picked up a reasonable chunk, but Michigan was more than happy to let them continue to try to move the ball down the field in that fashion.

This is why counting stats so rarely tell the whole story.  Anybody can rack up counting stats by sheer mind-numbing repetition.  It won Jimmer Fredette a Naismith, after all.


July 29th, 2016 at 6:29 PM ^

It was still more production then they were getting elsewhere and there wasn't the risk of the field flipping. JD Lewis was a warrior that game no doubt, but they're drawing a line between effective and feared. I don't necessarily agree with the perspective, but I don't find it insane.

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July 29th, 2016 at 8:07 PM ^

Without the risk of interceptions, MSU decided that they'd live with1-2 less receptions in order to get the ball in the hands of their best offensive player. This kept him active throughout the game and was the only real rythym their offense ever established. Regardless of outcome, I think MSU would still be happy how the matchup played out.

Also, it's difficult to assign the same weight to both completions and incompletions since the outcome and payout are completely different. If you don't get intercepted, the downside of throwing the ball at JD is an incomplete pass whereas the upside can be as high as a touchdown.

I don't even think it's a weakness in his game, but it is clearly some sort of strategy.

I Like Burgers

July 29th, 2016 at 8:14 PM ^

Yeah, that's all I'm saying. The lack of INTs makes this tactic of high volume targets a plausible strategy. And considering how many times he was targeted, and how good everyone knew he was at not allowing completions, clearly other teams have adopted that strategy.

If he's picking off 5-10% of targets instead of 2%, I don't think it remains a viable strategy.

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July 29th, 2016 at 9:49 PM ^

Throw at Lewis and you're going to struggle to move the ball, period.  That they kept throwing at him was indicative of the "no fear of INT" factor, yes, but not necessarily as a viable strategy.  This is roughly what OCs were looking at:

1) Screen gets blown up by Peppers for negative yardage
2) Run gets blown up by the DL
3) Throw to #2 or #3 receiver covered by Clark/Stribling and possibly a safety
4) . . . Throw at your #1, covered by Jourdan Lewis

That Lewis wasn't going to pick it off did NOT make it an appealing notion.  The point is that all these options suck.  MSU was a clear outlier; they didn't show a viable strategy so much as Cook-to-Burbridge was by far their best option because literally nothing else outside FB trickery was working.  But for a team like Northwestern or Indiana. . . well, they got shut out.  Nothing was viable, so throwing at Lewis wasn't any better or worse than anything else the defense was destroying, so there wasn't any particular reason to be one-dimensional and stop throwing at your best receiver.  On the flip side, OSU ran all over the D so they barely threw at all.  Not just because the run game was going so well, but with that there was no need to test a secondary they knew was legit.

Put Jourdan Lewis on an average defense and the OC will bench a QB for throwing at him.  Without the defense being lights-out everywhere else, he doesn't get thrown at.


July 29th, 2016 at 9:52 PM ^

I understand the argument but I just don't find it convincing. It's not as though Lewis was playing with his arm in a cast or something and he was incapable of intercepting passes--he just didn't happen to catch very many of them. But any time a DB gets his hand on the ball you have a chance at a turnover, so I can't imagine too many offensive coaches are happy about live passes getting deflected randomly in the secondary.


July 29th, 2016 at 10:17 PM ^

It's very difficult to rack up INTs as a man cover corner; try for the ball and you could give up the reception AND a lot of YAC.  Lewis understands this.  As a whole our secondary didn't get a lot of picks because they played so much man coverage.  It's easier to bait the QB into picks with zone because you can be deceptive about it and then jump a route.  With press man you knew what Lewis was going to do; just, good luck throwing at it.  But a pick wasn't particularly likely.


July 29th, 2016 at 10:38 PM ^

Lewis had what, 22 PBUs? That's up to 22 times the ball was deflected and could potentially have been intercepted on a tip drill by Lewis or a teammate. The fact that he only actually picked off a couple of them doesn't mean the turnover risk was negligible when targeting Lewis' man. If the ball had bounced his way a couple more times and Lewis had gotten 4 INTs instead of 2, we probably would all be describing the original quote as insane. But the only real difference between that scenario and what actually happened is luck/randomness.

I Like Burgers

July 30th, 2016 at 10:34 AM ^

Exactly. I mean the whole is kind of a crazy debate, and all I'm doing is just trying to see from the perspective of what opposing offenses tried to do (a LOT -- which tells you something) and what opposing players have said (which also tells you someting).  

The whole "fear" thing is true, because either through an inability to get INTs or just plain bad luck at getting INTs, there is no reason to not throw at Lewis, since statistically, the worst that can happen is an incomplete pass.  Which is true for just about any other throw you make, so there's no "we can't throw at Lewis" fear to be had.

I Like Burgers

July 29th, 2016 at 8:21 PM ^

Not in that game it wasn't.

Sure it might look Debordian, but in that game, that tactic was basically the entirety of MSU's offense. Our DL killed their running game to the tune of 33 rushes for 58 yards.

So if running the ball is going to get 2 yards on average, and 20 targets or so at Lewis is going to get you 7 yards a pop, that's actually smart play calling.

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I Like Burgers

July 29th, 2016 at 8:11 PM ^

Oh, don't get me wrong, he's a beast and I love that he's on Michigan. Just saying in the context of the whole "no fear" thing, the criticism makes sense. Why not throw it at him? Because what's the worst that can happen? An incomplete pass 66% of the time? That's not bad. Throw three 20-yard passes, pick up one, and you're all good.

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Lou MacAdoo

July 29th, 2016 at 5:26 PM ^

Man I'm so ready for the season. This was fantastic. This defense is going to be so much fun to watch. There are playmakers at every level. I love the unpredictability of Harbaugh's offense and the weapons that he has at his disposal. Man I'm so fricken pumped!!


July 29th, 2016 at 5:45 PM ^

Scary part for other teams is last year was his first full season playing. He can be so much better and will.

He was an absolute eraser in the open field on bubbles, screens,etc. Can't wait for Brown to unleash him this season.


July 29th, 2016 at 5:40 PM ^

Opponent watches Doug Skene's breakdown of line play on MGoVideo. Its time for some kind of secret code for Wolverine fans to access and keep the 'enemy' out.

Maybe Wolverine latin?


July 29th, 2016 at 5:46 PM ^

Good stuff, I really look forward to these every year. Encouraging to read about the complexity of the offense giving opposing defenses trouble, I imagine that is only going to become more of an advantage the longer the guys are in the system and the more it gets installed. Harbaughffense for the win!