[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 Badgerblitz.com, 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 this...do 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:
Note from rival on @JourdanJD, even though they didn't complete much throwing at him, he didn't have many INTs so there was no fear factor.
— Michael Spath (@MichaelSpath198) July 26, 2016
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.'"
A DEFENSIVE PLAYER WHO WATCHED FILM OF M-OSU LAST YEAR:
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."
IS MICHIGAN WORTHY OF THE HYPE?
"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.'"