Midseason Re-Eval: Secondary

Submitted by Brian on October 20th, 2010 at 2:43 PM

Taking stock during the bye week.


People thought I was depressive when the secondary preview started "what's the point of anything?"


WHO'S DEPRESSIVE NOW!?!?! YEAHHHHH. Score one for cold-eyed realism. This could be the worst secondary in a BCS conference. It's definitely the worst in Michigan history.

Anyway, cornerback got a 1 and I thought about breaking the rules to go lower:

Nothing has ever gotten a zero before even jokingly, not even the 2008 offensive line that consisted of seven guys who could plausibly play and actually started a defensive tackle who had been switched in the middle of fall camp. But I thought about it here. What Michigan has to offer at corner is going to be substandard unless a great miracle falls from the sky, and will probably be no better than last year's fare even before Woolfolk moved.

Some vague hopes were offered for JT Floyd despite his ugly, brief tenure as the starter opposite Donovan Warren once Boubacar Cissoko went ham. These were based on constant positive reinforcement from the coaches and the occasional mysterious practice observer, with the latter given more credence because they didn't have an obvious ulterior motive. "Average" was the "best anyone could hope for," though.

Opposite Floyd I took a wild guess that Cullen Christian would end up starting—if not immediately by the time the Big Ten season hit—because he was the most highly-touted recruit and was not James Rogers. Avery and Talbott were regarded as basically identical recruits who needed a year and 20 pounds before seeing the field. They wouldn't be allowed that luxury.

At safety 2 was offered, "generously." Jordan Kovacs was said to be totally incapable of playing a deep half but "pretty good as a tiny linebacker." In sum:

So Kovacs is going to have to cover a deep half sometimes. This won't go very well, and Michigan's defense will be limited by it. On the other hand, the run defense shouldn't be nearly as bad with Kovacs filling the weakside alley; last year he racked up 75 tackles despite the late start. Marvin Robinson will press Kovacs for his job, but probably not take it. Iowa and Wisconsin have gotten away with players like him for years.

At free safety, Cam Gordon was named the Grady Brooks memorial King of Spring Hype. The usual accolades were relayed, the thing about how he should probably be a linebacker mentioned, and a projection of a sort offered:

As a redshirt freshman, a "big year" would be wrapping up his tackles and not letting anyone behind him for crippling long touchdowns. … Repeating [Brandon Englemon's] +0.7 per game would go a very long way towards bringing Michigan's defense back from the dead. That's optimistic. Cam Gordon will chase more than a couple opponents into the endzone. But not on third and twenty-four.

Fast forward to NOW!


nothing really matters… anyone can see… that nothing really matters to meeeeeeeeeee

Depressingly accurate overall even considering the original depression that was depressing. Michigan is 118th in pass defense and 94th in efficiency.

Maybe the corners have been slightly less atrocious than expected, but Michigan's been limited when they try to play man coverage because things like Iowa's last touchdown happen when they do. On that play, Michigan sent the house and JT Floyd gave up a slant despite starting with inside leverage. They make plays on occasion, but lord they're not good. Michigan's defense is limited in the same way their offense was in 2008—with deficiencies that severe man coverage is a dangerous gamble every time it's deployed.

Floyd is significantly improved, so there's that. He's still below average. He's not a total liability. On the other side, Michigan hasn't been able to displace Rogers despite his tendency to go into anaphylactic shock whenever he comes within five yards of an opponent wide receiver…



…because the freshmen have been playing like typical three-star true freshmen: badly. They first started rotating into the lineup against BG; since then

  • Cullen Christian was burned twice against BG and gave up an easy long touchdown against Michigan State,
  • Terrence Talbott was primarily responsible for turning third and fifteen into first and ten on Michigan State's second touchdown drive and gave Indiana their last touchdown by dragging out of his zone, and
  • Courtney Avery was personally responsible for large chunks of Indiana yards, gave up a touchdown on third and ten against Iowa by dragging out of his zone, and turned what should have been another third and ten stop into a whiffed tackle, 20 yards, and the field goal that was the final nail in Michigan's coffin.

This is disappointing, especially Christian's failure to beat out not only Rogers but apparently his classmates. Talbott and Avery feature in the nickel and dime packages while Christian backed up the outside guy; he has apparently lost that job. too—Avery came in against Iowa when JT Floyd missed a few plays.

At safety, Kovacs has been Kovacs. He's small, he's not very fast, but he's probably the team's best tackler and he's been in the right spot more often than anyone on the defense. This has resulted in a bunch of UFRs where he's got several half-points in each direction and comes out at zero. He could be the fifth-best player on a good defense.

Cam Gordon has been rough, honestly little better than the mess Michigan threw out last year. He racked up a double-digit negative day against Notre Dame and followed that up with another one against Michigan State. His angles have been too aggressive or too conservative with little porridge in-between, and he's failed to shake a nasty habit of not wrapping up his tackles. He's pretty good running downhill, and that's about it. Preseason hype has given way to cold reality. Gordon is a redshirt freshman converted wide receiver who should probably be playing linebacker. He plays safety like he's a bowling ball: he goes fast in one direction and hopes to knock over the pins with momentum because he has no arms.


Fast forward to LATER!

What can we expect the rest of the year? Pain, but less of it.

Rodriguez made an offhand comment about maybe moving someone from one safety spot to another when discussing the possibility of a Will Campbell move, but that would either be Jordan Kovacs or Marvin Robinson. Kovacs's tenure at deep safety last year was hardly less disastrous than that of Mike William or Gordon; Marvin Robinson is yet another freshman who is likely to make the same sorts of mistakes.

Gordon's it unless Michigan wants to turn to true freshman two-star Ray Vinopal, who picked off a pass from a third-string Bowling Green walk-on and has therefore made the best play by a Michigan safety in the last ten years. I'm not sure if that's a joke.

Floyd's not very good, Rogers is what he is at this point, and the freshmen are clearly not instant impact types, except insofar as they give up an extra touchdown per game than a Michigan secondary featuring Troy Woolfolk. That is an impact, just not the one you're hoping for.

Your best hopes the rest of the year:

  • Courtney Avery learns WTF a zone is and how to play it.
  • Cam Gordon's angles and tackling improve marginally.
  • JT Floyd progresses towards average and at least gets basic things right.

Actually, your best hope is this: Michigan did okay against the two rookies and/or flat bad quarterbacks they've faced to date. Zack Fraser didn't do anything. ND's three-headed QB was contained. Bowling Green couldn't do much of anything. Michigan's next three opponents all feature freshmen at QB; they're ranked 104th (PSU), 105th (Illinois), and 107th (Purdue) in passing efficiency. They're bound to be less effective than the last three guys, a senior returning starter, junior returning starter, and senior returning starter who are all in the top 30 in passer efficiency. Tolzien will shred, but who knows what Terrelle Pryor will do? (Probably shred, actually—he has no problems against awful Ds this year.)

By the end of the year Michigan's numbers will be slightly less grim as the schedule eases and the freshmen learn WTF a zone is. They will still be grim.



October 20th, 2010 at 2:54 PM ^

from what I've seen from CC, he better shave a good 2/10ths of a second off his 40 if he's going to hang with D1 receivers.  Even the BG receivers were running right past him. 


October 20th, 2010 at 4:06 PM ^


l guess I should have said "a few napalm explosions instead of one big mushroom cloud".  Is that better nerds?  End result - secondary still needs serious help, although I'm encouraged by the swagger developing in Kovacs and Floyd 

Blue in Seattle

October 20th, 2010 at 4:25 PM ^

Don't get me wrong, I love irony, so I'm completely laughing at your post and your second whiny little bitch post. (laughing at your post, not with your post, to be clear)

But if you are going to use a metaphor, then you need to be intelligent enough to understand how your audience perceives it.  If you use a highly intellectual metaphor then you had better be damn sure you get it exactly correct.

And if you bring in mention of explosion to a blog site made up primarily of people who play computer games, you sure as hell better have your explosion terminology down cold.

Yard Dog

October 20th, 2010 at 3:08 PM ^

We finally get to face some crappy passing teams, which should be a battle of mediocrity when facing our pass defense (maybe mediocrity is overstating it).  I have been pretty happy with JT Floyd, and then he goes and gives up the slant to Iowa because of bad technique.  I think he has a chance to rise to average.  James Rogers has me worried the most.  IMO, I think rotating both Avery and Talbott in for Rogers once in while, especially against the upcoming schedule, would be helpful to better 1) evaluate their ability in a game setting and 2) give them some looks and experience at actual game speed.

To me, cracking the top 80 in pass defense by the end of the year, with what is upcoming on the schedule, would be a nice target.


October 20th, 2010 at 3:10 PM ^

I like how Floyd is developing. The problem is we need him to be our top guy and he's not really ready for that yet. He's a decent 3rd CB right now.

I think we're in good hands with him for his fourth and fifth years


October 20th, 2010 at 3:16 PM ^

Given how long the drives are against our D and how short our drives are on O, we're going to have the best-conditioned defense in the country by the end of the year.  So we got that goin' for us.


but who knows what Terrelle Pryor will do? (Probably shred, actually—he has no problems against awful Ds this year.)

Spot on. 


October 20th, 2010 at 3:17 PM ^

I mean, maybe Vinopal will put on some weight in the offseason and we can have the grittiest safety combo in the history of not just the program, but anything. Right?


October 20th, 2010 at 3:27 PM ^

this isn't even the worst secondary in the conference. In fact, if the Big Twelve-because-we-took-a-team-from-you-bitches were in divisions today, it wouldn't be the worst secondary in the division. Yes, only because Tim Brewster did an excellent job at bringing I-AA football to the Twin Cities (in whatever fashion you read that, it's true), but still. 

Passing yards should be looked at with a block of salt, mostly because WOOP WOOP in the first few games led to many, many opposition passes. Granted, a good number of those yards came from various defenses like "Cover -1" and "man-to-nothing", but still, Michigan has seen more passes than any other Big Ten team (MSU is second, also because they tend to lead games).

Now, when you get to completion percentage and yards per attempt, um ... hey, look at that, Minnesota is still bad! (Actually, Indiana is worse in those categories also, which is funny because they played the schedule Minnesota probably wishes they had, and because part of Indiana's numbers come from Denard deciding "I WILL STRIKE YOU DOWN WITH PASSING".)

Yes, for what we'd like to see at Michigan, the secondary is/has been/will be agh kittens this season. But someone else is worse! Two someones!

And, more importantly, the offense is much, much better than last season, and still damn good despite turnovers ... for example, they're in the top 10 nationally in drives of 10 plays or longer, drives averaging 10 yards per play or more, and percentage of available yards earned. (For the last one, if you start at the 20 and reach your opponent's 40 before punting, that's .500. If you score a touchdown, it's 1.000. Michigan's offense is at .606 ... 60.6% of the yards available to them.) They are more effective than Oregon at every metric shown by FO except for avoiding three-and-outs, and that's facing a "defensive schedule" (estimated strength of opposing defenses) much harder than Oregon has.

Yes, the secondary is not good. at all. But at least it's happening while the offense is in full kick-ass mode (yes, even during the last two games: again, Iowa and MSU have very good defenses). Next year, the secondary can't be worse and likely won't be nearly as bad, and the offense will still be great.

woo optimism!


October 20th, 2010 at 4:19 PM ^

The ineptness of our secondary is self pereptuating though. Other teams know it is bad, so they exploit it, and the more passes leads to skewed results (ie. passing yards). Throw in the higher number of opponent offensive possessions...and it looks even worse.


October 20th, 2010 at 3:28 PM ^

Just a question here, but has GERG actually recruited any defensive players himself?

I mean, has GERG been the gravitational force for any of Michigan defensive commits last year and this year? 

Just wondering as my futile wait for a Maize and Blue version of the next Kenny Easley or Don Rogers to show up in 2011 or 2012.


October 20th, 2010 at 3:28 PM ^

Seriously, I'd rather have a two-star midget who knows how to play safety rather than  converted WRs or walk-ons who still get lost in coverage. 

For one game, I just want proof that someone can play that position.

Tha Quiet Storm

October 20th, 2010 at 3:52 PM ^

some of us, including myself, over-rate Vinopal because the extremely tiny bit of data we have on him is so good.  I wouldn't necessarily start him, but I would definitely like to see him get some plays here and there with the goal of possibly having him in a rotation with Cam by the end of the year.


October 20th, 2010 at 3:47 PM ^

I gave up worrying about our defense after the UMass game. Defense seems to be the most known quantity we have (I mean, Brian knew about it before the season started, right?). So why spend so much time worrying about it for the rest of this year? If they ramp it up and show improvement and have the occasional flash of brilliance, then I'm all the more thrilled. Beyond that, I'm not going to drive myself crazy with any level of hope (which is a many-dreaded thing, after all). I'm much more worried about how our offense performs for the rest of the season, since they are who will be winning games for us. And I'm worried about playing with discipline and making fewer mistakes. And I'm worried about a game coming down to a FG. But defense?? Nope, just not really worrying about that anymore. 

James Howlett

October 20th, 2010 at 3:40 PM ^

to this defensive backfield is those aformentioned three freshman QB's, and Mike Martin getting back to 100%.

I guess the good news is all they can do is get better...right? right?


October 20th, 2010 at 3:43 PM ^

We only see extremes of one or the other.

Michigan either fields a defense a la 1997 or 2006 that punches your lights out combined with a Debordish, lethargic, rock-paper-scissors, anemic-scoring offense that never utilizes all of the weaponry.


Michigan fields a napalm-dropping spread option offense, a Jedi at quarterback, 36 pts/game, ranked 17th in total offense, 5th in rushing then a defensive unit whose combined violence and brutality is equivalent to cute whittle kitty cat.

When can we have our cake AND eat it too? CHRIST!!!


October 20th, 2010 at 4:11 PM ^

brian's comment on ray vinopal having the best play made by a michigan safety in the last 10 years is, in fact, a joke.  ernest shazor, 2004, purdue.  whew, that was a close one.