Mailbag: Air Force Scheduling Dispute, Why Freshman WRs Are Bad, 2013 Feels, Vanilla, Hummus Comment Count

Brian September 27th, 2017 at 3:26 PM


27-24 man, it's tight against the Falcons


Q: Isn't this why you DO schedule Air Force?

- The service-academy factor at least makes it more of an "event" game than, say, UNLV or Bowling Green.

- Gives both offense and defense experience reacting on the fly in a real game to unusual scheming.

- You're still probably going to win—and if you don't, is there really a situation in which a team is good enough to make the Playoff but for having lost to Air Force?


The first point is almost certainly why Brandon scheduled this game. There were parachutists and a flyover and some military band guys at halftime, which is fine as far as it goes.

The second point is where I have an objection. Michigan installed an option-specific defense for this game and repped it hundreds of times. All of that effort is now mostly wasted. I'm sure there's some salutary effect from having triple option burned into your head, but it's probably minor compared to getting that many reps in against the kind of things Michigan will see from Wisconsin, PSU, and OSU.

And while a loss to Air Force is not particularly likely for a top-level team, college football programs do gain and lose recruiting momentum based on wins and losses even when you're in the kind of down year that could lead to an upset. And Air Force is consistently dangerous. Since 2010, they've has beaten Boise twice. They scared the pants off a 12-2 Big 12 Champ Oklahoma. They outgained MSU's playoff team by over 100 yards but lost because they were –3 in TOs. And they nearly upset Michigan.

Is anyone going to give Michigan credit for beating Air Force? No. Are they way more dangerous and less applicable to the rest of the schedule than any other G5 buy game you can imagine? Yes. This is why the scheduling of Air Force is unwise.

Michigan did put Army on the schedule a couple years down the road, which comes with some of the same problems. Unless the Black Knights sustain this recent blip, though, it doesn't come with the biggest one: a disproportionate shot at being upset. Army occasionally puts a scare into a 7-6 PSU team. They have not beaten a legitimately good team in recent memory.

[After THE JUMP: this is not like that other season]

Why do Freshman Wide Receivers Suck(tm)


I read somewhere once that a team's success is very dependent on the number of experienced receivers they have, and I have read many times how difficult it is for freshman WR to do well. I can understand why certain positions require experience like QB, OL and safeties, but why WR?


Precision, mostly. A future P5 high school receivers spend their time running past overmatched defensive backs and attempting to field often-misthrown balls from quarterbacks who are not P5 QBs. When windows are large or you're trying to field an armpunt the details don't matter. Run fast and catch the ball.

Details matter in college. Suddenly you have to run a whole route tree; before it was just screens and go routes and maybe some slants. You have to run your routes with the right steps and to the right depth because the quarterback will often be throwing to a spot, not you. Maybe you're expected to alter your route based on pre- or post-snap reads, which you definitely didn't do in high school. And if you screw something up the consequences can be brutal, as anyone who remembers Grant Perry's first game can attest. Running backs might screw up but if they do you're looking at second and long, not a potential turnover.

All freshmen are overloaded; WRs are maybe a hair below QBs and OL but there's a reason even most five-star types are bit players early.

Bad 2013 feels man.

Is it just me, or does this season feel eerily similar to 2013? Start with a sound beating of a traditional power (unbeknown at the time, a traditional power that actually sucks), followed by to lackluster, scary performances against overmatched opponents.

Clearly the talent on this team is far better and the coaching staff is light years ahead solely based on the fact that Borges is not present. Still, I can't escape the ghosts of 2013. (Not to be confused with the ghosts of 05, 08, 09, 12, or 14)


For those that need a refresher: 2013 was the Heisman-worthy Devin Gardner performance against ND followed by near upsets against Akron and UConn and a 3-5 conference record featuring the 27 for 27 PSU game and –48 rushing yards against MSU. It was a bad time, man.

So. There are certain similarities, yes. Michigan's offensive line is letting rushers through at an alarming rate, and one QB has already suffered for it. There have been certain difficulties against lesser opponents.

But there are difficulties and near-escapes against teams that are basically your equal. Michigan needed a goal line stand to fend off Akron and a fourth-quarter comeback to pip UConn. Both of those games were near coin-flips, with total yardage in the same ballpark. Akron had 419 yards of offense to Michigan's 425, and Michigan only broke a dismal parity with UConn late.

Michigan's early season difficulties are not on the same planet. S&P+ has win expectancies of 100%, 99%, 98%, and 99% for Michigan's first four games, all of which were relatively comfortable two-score margins before M tacked on bonus touchdowns in each. "Lackluster" is right; "scary" not so much, at least not by the fourth quarter.

While Michigan's offense is only slightly better than that 2013 outfit right now (45th versus 61st in S&P+) they have a lot more room to work with since their defense is 2nd. In 2013 they were fine-to-good at 27th. You'd be hard pressed to make a case for Michigan as a playoff team at this juncture, but Michigan is far more likely to have 9 or 10 wins than any other outcome.

Vanilla: not just for rum cakes anymore


Maybe you will address this in UFR. But, is the offense (maybe due to competition and the performance of the defense so far) just running very vanilla right now, especially in the red-zone?

Go Blue,


Overall, yes. There were a few games last year when I had ~18 different run plays listed, and I was probably missing a few subtle tweaks. To date the run game has been simpler than that: crack sweeps, inside zone, the occasional power, iso, and some counters. No traps or double iso or outside zone yet. A young, struggling offensive line is no doubt the cause.

Pass game concepts are harder to judge since many of them take place off the screen. There has been a notable reduction in screens that require the OL to participate; hard to tell much else.

Michigan has not been more or less vanilla in the redzone. When they have struggled it has been because they're not executing plays that are there to make, or Air Force was blitzing their buns off.

DL rotation: where is it?

Why are we seeing so little D-line rotation to this point? I really expected to see a lot more Dwumfour and some of the other young linemen. Is it due to 3 3 5 usage? Because even still those guys are getting a lot of snaps.


Seth was included on this and answered already, so:


I imagine the mailbag answer will be something like this:

1. All the 3-3-5 means you have 20% of DL snaps going to SAMs. Mone is getting the same usage he got last year, Solomon they have to find snaps for.

2. The starters are WAY better than their backups. Reuben Jones was on the field for like 4 plays and had an almost game-ruining bust on one of them. How often would you take Winovich off the field? Paye, who is making the jump from New England high school competition, seems to be next guy in. To a lesser degree ditto DT, where Lawrence Marshall seems to be the #2 guy and would be a huge downgrade from Hurst if he's the same okay we've seen so far. Kemp has been getting a fair amount of play because he's the only DL backup who is even on Guy level, while all three starters are pure Dude.  

3. Opponents have rarely sustained drives. You saw one of the few backup situations last week when Michigan turned it over after the punt. The attacking nature of this defense means there are a lot of 3-and-outs with spattered big play drives. We've hardly yet seen an opponent string as many as 7-8 plays together on a drive.


I'd add that Michigan's struggles on offense have prevented the defense from getting many garbage time snaps, which impacts not only those late-game snaps but Michigan's comfort with the backups when they consider inserting them during the competitive portions of games. Those guys haven't seen the field much and Michigan has less room for error than you might otherwise expect with a defense this clobberin'.

Mr. Worldwide Hummus

Thanks to your advertisements, I specifically sought out and purchased Lantana Hummus.  White Bean.  So good.  And, two for one at Sprout's in Burbank, CA.

Did Lantana know they were purchasing a national spot?


formerly, very formerly, known as "The Unofficial Mgoblog Cartoonist"

It is deeply bizarre to me that people keep telling us this. I've gotten like a dozen tweets about Lantana Hummus and its lack of ground-up kittens.

While I think this is a very important thing for a hummus to lack, we have never struck a chord like this with an advertisement before. Soon all MGoAdvertisers will be striving to remind you that their products and/or services also do not require the painstaking grinding of baby cats to reach you. Because we don't do that. That's strictly off limits, bub.


Big Boutros

September 27th, 2017 at 4:58 PM ^

Ladies and gentlemen, I've traveled over half our state to be here tonight. I couldn't get away sooner because my new olive tree is coming in at Coyote Hills and I had to see about it. That tree is now flowing at two thousand olives and it's paying me an income of five thousand drachmas a week. I have two other trees dropping olives and I have sixteen producing at Antelope; so, ladies and gentlemen, if I say I'm an oil man, you will agree.

Now, you have a great chance here, but bear in mind, you can lose it all if you're not careful. Out of all men that beg for a chance to pluck your olive trees, maybe one in twenty will be oil men; the rest will be pita hogs - that's men trying to get between you and the oil men - to get some of the money that ought by rights come to you. Even if you find one that has tahini and means to pluck, he'll maybe know nothing about plucking and he'll have to hire the job out on contract, and then you're depending on Dimitrios who'll rush the job through so he can get another contract just as quick as he can. This is the way that this works.


September 27th, 2017 at 9:36 PM ^

I would be more inclined to try it if it DID contain ground up kittens, as long as the were skinned properly so that the fur doesn't trigger my allergy.  I still haven't forgiven ancient Egypt for the domestication of those awful creatures.  I would think when I traveled for business to Thiland years ago that somewhere I unknowkingly had "chicken" that was actaully kitten, so I'm pretty sure it was good.

But I will try Latana even if it is kitten free, since I like most hummos.


September 27th, 2017 at 3:41 PM ^

Interesting reasons to not schedule a service academy. It's a game that is deceptively difficult, and yet there's no credit or upside to winning, and mountains of downside to losing.

Sounds like the same reason you don't schedule the 1-AA national championship team for a home opener.


September 27th, 2017 at 4:20 PM ^

they are a good football team and with their offense can play pretty much any team tough. It is a no win situation. You blow them out and people say so what it's Air Force. You barely beat them and people think wow you could barely beat Air Force. They beat you and you never hear the end of it and outside of  blowing them out it hurts you in the rankings. They are a difficult team to play and their offense is something you see once a lifetime. They are a team to avoid like the poison ivy.


For the record I also agree it's like playing a 3 time defending I-AA National Champion. Some teams you just don't schedule as most out comes don't help your program.


September 27th, 2017 at 3:44 PM ^

I feel vindicated (unfortunately).   In the team preview as well as multiple other prediction threads I said the Freshman WRs would struggle for two reasons:

1. They are Freshman

2. Freshman WRs have always struggled and will always struggle for the reasons outlined in the mailbag response and about 10 more to boot.

But I was told by the board "not our Freshman WRs.  They are special WRs of special ilk and will not succomb to the normal struggles or Freshman WRs."   I was reminded that today is a new day and things of the past (like me and Freshman WR struggles) were just that - things of the past - nothing at all for us to worry about.

Guess what?  Those that forget the past are doomed to be surprised when it repeats itself.

Monocle Smile

September 27th, 2017 at 3:47 PM ^

I think Black (woof) and DPJ are struggling a bit less than most freshman receivers, so that's not bad, but you're right that expecting this crew to instantly be better than Darboh and Chesson was silly.

That end-of-half bomb to DPJ had "coming-out party" written all over it. So close, but that defender played it pretty well.


September 27th, 2017 at 5:11 PM ^

I think yes we all expected our stud freshman to contribute more, but It was as much dependent on the Oline not being so bad, the right side has problems.  Speight not having enough time and overthrowing.  Had the Oline and Speight been bettter, than maybe he has time to find DPJ or Tarik Black get some free space with the extra time before the rush gets to Speight.  I would like to see Oliver Martin given some reps, who was known for his route running. 

Lets see what O'Korn does, or if with a free week the OLine gets to work out a lot of their blocking issues.  Was tired of watching the Purdue replays were we had sometimes 2 guys block 1 guy and leave 1 guys free to run in or worse when an OLine person didn't find someone to block when we had 6 guys i(ncluded our RB) blocking to 5 guys rushing, that play where we called O'Korn an escape artist, he shouldnt have needed to do that.


September 27th, 2017 at 4:27 PM ^

While it's hard for us to know exactly their routes and how they may or may have not messed them up, it is easy to see their blocking. I seem to recall a few plays where Higdon tried to move outside only to find 3 members of the Purdon't secondary coming in unimpeded. I think a lot of fresh (not always freshman) recievers tend to lack in that aspect of their game.

Detroit Dan

September 27th, 2017 at 4:30 PM ^

Actually, I don't agree with your lofty self-assessment.  Black was the best WR out of the gate (not including Perry who is more of a slot receiver) and Peoples-Jones is probably next after 4 games.  We haven't seen the other two, so it's hard to claim that they've struggled.


September 28th, 2017 at 12:03 AM ^

1. Just because they are our best options does not mean that they are good.

2. You immediately point out that they are not our best options.

3. Unless you’ve endzone footage and the play sheet, you can’t really tell how good they are. Black was putting up good numbers, but there may have been many plays in which he failed to get open when he was the first read and it caused a sack, for example.

I think they’re fine. Good for freshmen, even. But freshmen WR are freshmen WR.


September 27th, 2017 at 3:55 PM ^

There is one group of P5 teams for whom scheduling Air Force isn't an abjectly terrible idea: teams in the ACC Atlantic, as long as Paul Johnson is at GT. Those teams don't play GT every year, but keeping their players sharp against a triple option team they'll play on average every other year (or in the ACC title game) is not the worst idea in the world.

Hardware Sushi

September 27th, 2017 at 5:49 PM ^

I just really hope Nebraska doesn't do something smart with their coaching hires for once and go get Paul Johnson.

I think he'd kill it at Nebraska. Not national title kill it but compete for the West every year and go to a NY6 bowl every 3-5 years. But those dummies will say he's not nice enough or whatever other dumb things they look at when hiring for that place.


September 27th, 2017 at 4:09 PM ^

Regarding DL rotation, it felt like there was more in the Purdue game than in others so far.  I saw plenty of plays where Dwumfour or Solomon were there to congratulate another player on making a play.  They weren't necessarily making plays themselves but they were on the field more.  Because the backups are mostly freshmen or sophomores they are taking a bit longer to get playing ready than guys like Hurst, Mone, or Winovich last year.

Also, there really aren't many plays to go around.  Purdue ran 60 plays, Air Force(an option team) ran 58, Florida ran 53 and Cincinnati ran 70.  In those games Michigan averaged 71 plays on offense.


September 27th, 2017 at 4:11 PM ^

I like scheduling Air Force.  It's better than MACtion.

If you cannot beat AFA, does one deserve to be in the CFP?

Moreover, except for a stinker of a season in 2013, that's a damn good program.  

Also, they were a failed 2 pointer away from beating #11 Tennessese in 2006.  

They beat Ga Tech in 2010 -- who KNOWS OPTION FOOTBALL!


September 27th, 2017 at 4:12 PM ^

Back in college, one of my housemates was an offensive lineman on the football team.  He told us that other than the quarterbacks, the WRs were the position group that the coaches demanded the most knowledge out of, and it wasn't even close.  They had to be a thousand miles ahead of the rest of the team in terms of precision knowledge.  If you're lined up here and the play call is this and your defender is doing such and such, how many steps do you take?  Uh, six?  NO IT'S SEVEN GODDAMMIT HOW MANY TIMES DO WE GO OVER THIS.  That kind of thing.  The OL had to know a bunch of stuff, too, of course, but as I was told it, not even in the same galaxy as the receivers.

So I definitely see where a freshman receiver would be expected to struggle sometimes.