Midseason Expectations Reset: Offense Part II

Submitted by Brian on October 18th, 2016 at 11:36 AM

Previously: Offense Part I.



[Patrick Barron]

SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jehu Chesson was given top billing as the preview went with on-field production and Chesson's trajectory over Amara Darboh's offseason hype, but both guys were declared real real good. Chesson was expected to be a complete WR and off the board in the first couple of rounds of the draft; I was skeptical about Darboh's ability to get deep on folks.

Grant Perry was projected to be a solid third option, and nobody knew anything about who would emerge from the backups. Eddie McDoom was given a shout.

NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: A pile of blowouts and profusion of tight ends has made for uninspiring numbers. Seventeen different Wolverines have caught passes, including three different fullbacks and five different TEs. Meanwhile the starters have been on the bench for most of the second half in each outing.

Darboh has indeed emerged as the top wideout with 25 catches for 400 yards; his 9.5 yards per target is an impressive number, and he's on the end of a quarter of Speight's passes. Chesson has 15 catches for 231 yards and has had some iffy plays on balls downfield, though he's been hurt by bad throws. Chesson's also got seven carries for 44 yards.

Here ends significant WR contributions. Perry has six catches, McDoom three, and Kekoa Crawford one. McDoom's been a frequent jet sweep runner.

FEELINGSBALL: This is what happens when you're hammering almost all your opposition and your quarterback is struggling mightily in the two games (Colorado and Wisconsin) in which second-half passing won't be interpreted as a slap in the face. The wide receivers have been hamstrung by the situation.

It has been a mild disappointment that both starters have failed to high-point a number of passes that weren't perfect but were good enough to force a PI or result in a spectacular catch. On the other hand, WR blocking has been excellent on Michigan's many crack sweeps.

UP OR DOWN OR EH: This unit gets an incomplete.



[Bryan Fuller]

SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Jake Butt is the best receiving tight end in the country, Ian Bunting is set for a breakout, and look out for the Kaiju brothers, Ty Wheatley Jr and Devin Asiasi... but probably next year. Since we also cover all blocky/catchy types in that post, fullbacks Henry Poggi and Khalid Hill were both mentioned as potential X factors since they obviously had a lot of potential as blockers but had targeting or technique issues.

NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: Butt had two inexplicable drops early and has since been Jake Butt. He's since recovered to post a 71% catch rate per S&P+, which is excellent, and 8.3 yards per target, also excellent for a tight end. His blocking was alarming to start but has settled in at "decent," which is a minor upgrade on last year. Bunting was playing a bunch but had not been featured; he's missed the last couple games with an undisclosed injury.

Meanwhile Hill and Poggi have grabbed the rest of the targets here. Hill's caught all eight balls thrown his way and is averaging the same 8.3 yards per target that Butt is. While some of that is scheme, Hill has made a couple of difficult catches. 

FEELINGSBALL: Meanwhile in things that don't pick up numbers: blocking. Butt is a bit better than last year, and the fullbacks have improved a great deal. Hill has had a few spectacular blocks where he blows through a linebacker without slowing and then gets to a third level player; these don't show up except in UFR and PFF, where Hill is clearly preferred by both metrics. I've been more enthused about Poggi than PFF; he's cut out most of the targeting issues that plagued him last year.

Meanwhile, Asiasi has emerged over the last few games. Against Rutgers most big runs featured Asiasi moving a DL and then popping out to blast a LB or DB. He's got a combination of power and agility that make him effective against just about anyone a defense fields, and at nearly 290 pounds his upside in this department is considerable.

UP OR DOWN OR EH: Asiasi's emergence over the last few games as a plus blocker—as a blocker who could be a difference-maker—is the main reason this spot feels like an upgrade over expectations. Khalid Hill whacking guys has also been an unexpected positive. Butt's been about what you expect.




SEASON PREVIEW TAKE: Meh. Mason Cole was projected to be a very good player. Grant Newsome was fretted over, largely because Ben Bredeson was pushing him for the job. Ben Braden and Erik Magnuson were declared acceptable offensive linemen with little upside. Kyle Kalis was an infinitely frustrating mauler who blew assignments all the time, but was declared an X factor because if he could just figure things out...

NUMBERS AT THE HALFWAY MARK: OL don't have numbers.

FEELINGSBALL: The line has been acceptable. Newsome, the projected weak link, was exactly that before the knee injury that ended his season. He had some pass protection issues but was not a revolving door; on the ground he was an able puller and decent enough at the point of attack. Magnuson has somewhat exceeded expectations as he's combined with Kalis to be a powerful right side of the line. Pass protection issues have lingered for him, though. He's somewhere between some preseason NFL scouting, which saw him as a potential high pick, and my "eh, undrafted FA" take from the preview.

The interior has been about as good as expected but the star has been Kalis, not Cole. Kalis did indeed cut out the vast majority of the mental errors and round into the mauling five-star guard everyone wanted him to be immediately out of high school. Cole, however, has struggled against zero-tech nose tackles. (Michigan has played an inordinate number of 3-4s early in the year.) While I think Colorado's Josh Tupou is just that good, Cole's impact has been muted at C.

Braden has clearly and vastly outperformed Bredeson at LG to the point where the only explanation for Bredeson's playing time is injury.

UP OR DOWN OR EH: The guys who started the season were actually a slight upgrade on expectations because Newsome was not a problem. However, Juwann Bushell-Beatty has been shaky in relief. He's been beat on edge rushes a ton; he's taken holding calls; he's been iffy on the ground. He looms as a potential issue down the road, so this is a sad injury downgrade.



October 18th, 2016 at 11:42 AM ^

I agree with all of this and that gives me a sad FEELINGSBALL.  Now I am looking forward to the defense midseason expectations reset in which I will cackle with glee.



October 18th, 2016 at 11:42 AM ^

Man, maybe I'm watching JBB with rosy glasses, but haven't thought he's been terrible. He's gotten one legit hold in each game, but I don't think he's been beat a ton on edge rushes. When a rusher does get by him, he has been decent at pushing them past the QB which allows the QB to move up in the pocket and doesn't change a whole lot. The caveat is that he hasn't been asked to do a ton. The Illinois game will be another decent test because they have edge rushers that aren't half bad. What am I missing? Or am I just judging to lightly?

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October 18th, 2016 at 12:44 PM ^

I'd love to see him try to edge rush around JBB, only to get pancaked by Asiasi who then releases into wide open space.

Then make a gif of it where he's wearing a chef's hat or something.


October 18th, 2016 at 12:23 PM ^

Harbaugh has a full package with Peppers at QB if State tries to sell out like that.  I seriously would not be surprised to see Peppers take 12+ snaps at QB against both MSU and OSU.  They may basically run the read option with him for entire possessions.  It would not surprise me at all. 


October 18th, 2016 at 12:59 PM ^

100% agree. I fully expect Peppers to run double-digit snaps at QB in those games.

In fact, I think that if we _don't_ see Peppers at QB for (almost) entire possessions in those games, that's a great sign. It would mean our vanilla offense is grinding them up.


October 18th, 2016 at 12:51 PM ^

If it were that easy, MSU would already be doing that.  Instead they're 120 in the nation in sacks.  120!  Just calling a blitz doesn't mean it works; blitzing is a skill just like edge rushing, and apparently MSU doesn't have it this year.   Meanwhile UM is 33rd in the nation in sacks allowed with 1.5 per game, same as Louisville.  Wisco is in the 50's at 2.0 per game.


October 18th, 2016 at 12:33 PM ^

Maybe it's just me, but stepping up on the pocket is a part of the game. Anyone can run past a QB. A good edge rush gets to the edge and either goes around or through the OL so one step forward by the QB doesn't nullify the rush. If JBB escorts a rusher past Speight, I'm kind of like 'whatever, don't have to worry about that rusher now'. I mean, it would be great if he could nullify anyone like Jake Long, but that's just not realistic. It's like getting made at OL for escorting a hard slanting DL past a hole, then getting mad at the OL because the RB ran right into the DL instead of hitting the backside cut back. Cutbacks are part of the game too. JBB hasn't been dominant, but it hasn't felt hugely different from Newsome either (except in space on screens)


- Just rewatched the every snap for Rutgers and JBB gave up an early pressure where it looked like the edge rusher juked him, then the legit hold where he was beaten quick around the edge.  Both early.  Then he didn't give up anything else the entire game and I only saw one time I think where they kept a TE to help him.  Otherwise he matched up 1v1 on the edge rusher and didn't give anything up the rest of the game.  The caveat is that it was Rutgers, so not good competition.  Also, he seemed to be a pretty good run blocker consistantly, at least from what I could tell.

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October 18th, 2016 at 2:01 PM ^

I watch the every snap video focusing just on Bushell-Beatty, and I thought he did fine when he actually got to his man, but he is pretty clumsy in space. He seemed to have a hard time getting to players on the backside to seal them away, and they didn't run very much or at all to his side. When he did get to his guy he did a good job of neutralizing them. I only saw a couple occasions when he pushed the opposing player back.  

As for pass blocking, he did a decent job to mirror his man, but I wasn't blown away by is ability to use his hands or force opponents to go to a second pass move.


October 18th, 2016 at 12:21 PM ^

Magnuson got whipped just as bad, maybe worse than JBB against Wisconsin and against Rutgers the early struggles were mostly on Bredeson looking lost in general and getting smoked a couple of times in particular.

I agree with above, JBB looked ok for a guy filling in.


October 18th, 2016 at 2:44 PM ^

I don't know - Wisconsin, an offense that looked entirely inept against Michigan, moved the ball very effectively against OSU. They are the best front 7 left on the schedule, but they aren't world beaters. Wisconsin is better and we survived that (I think OSU has a slightly better DL, but Wiscy's LBs are way better).


October 18th, 2016 at 3:35 PM ^

I think that's the major concern for everything. OSU and hypothetical playoff opponent X (which really means Alabama plus maybe someone like Clemson). 

I'm a bit eeyore-ish in comments about Speight and the OL, but I think both of those elements, even if they are as bad as my low estimates of them, are good enough to take this team to 11 wins by late November. The rest of the team is very good.

But we will need to score points and avoid turnovers against OSU, and shakiness at LT is not what you want in those situations. OSU is athletic and they have great coaching, and they can exploit such weaknesses to kill key drives. 

Bama as well, should we get the opportunity to play them. Their DL is considered to be on the same level as ours by many, and of course they have athletes everywhere. And they can move the football on the ground at will, which pressures our offense to score points.


October 18th, 2016 at 12:40 PM ^

MSU, nor anyone else's D-line/LBs on the schedule right now concerns me until OSU.

But catching the injury bug on the OL I fear will impact the run game and, more significantly, the pass game against OSU.

Dammit - Why does OSU's O-line seem to be in tip-top shape while ours is injury bit?  Or is it we just haven't heard aboust OSU's injuries?  Our O-line must be good for that game or Speight will have a nighmare of a day.  C'mon JBB - be good.  Please.


October 18th, 2016 at 12:45 PM ^

They lost like their 6th OL type guy early.  Not sure about other injuries.  Plus they have a true freshman starting at gaurd.  They just have a good OL coach, good OL athletes, and a system where it makes it assginments simple, the running game consistantly puts run stuffers into conflict of where the ball is going, and a runner at QB that scares teams like Wisconsin into only rushing three even on obvious passing downs.  All this adds up into pretty darn good OL play.

Moonlight Graham

October 18th, 2016 at 1:46 PM ^

running McDoom-Crawford-DPJ-Collins-Ways and maybe Eubanks out there with Perry and Martin in the slot will get the job done. Will still have a good stable of RB's including Hill, and TE's including Asiasi, and Speight will have another year under his belt. I'm hoping we're looking like a 10-3 team the way OSU was looking like a 10-3 team pre-season. 


October 18th, 2016 at 2:05 PM ^

I'm surprised Michigan hasn't targeted either Asiasi or Wheatley in the passing game at all. It seems like they both are at least as athletic as AJ Williams, who had a bunch of key catches last year. Maybe it's setting up the later opponents.

True Blue in CO

October 18th, 2016 at 12:01 PM ^

So far out two biggest weaknesses in the offense are LT and QB. We have 5 games to make improvements in these positions so will be watching these positions closely. Offense just needs to keep improving in consistency each week.

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October 18th, 2016 at 12:15 PM ^

and with the concern with JBB, I wonder if the team took time this week to look at moving Cole back out to LT and see how Kugler can do at center with the 1's.  I think at this time that might be the best line we can role out there.


October 18th, 2016 at 1:32 PM ^

It was pressed into action because of JBB getting hurt. I think Cole would need a little time working out at LT before he's going to look really good again. Given the off week Drevno would have time to put that combination together and give them a lot of reps and see how they look. I would imagine maybe do it on the off week and if it doesn't seem to work go back to JBB at LT this week and keep it as it has been the last couple of weeks.


October 18th, 2016 at 3:39 PM ^

Agree. It's nice to have some alternative options, but I'm hopeful that the other four guys are developing good chemistry, especially running the ball, and I would rather not jeopardize that if JBB can keep his head above water.

In this sense it is a real plus that our schedule is shaking out in this way, with the key road trips looking more winnable. Gives the OL more time to find its footing before the pressure really hits in a month.