The Navarre Zone Comment Count

Brian September 11th, 2017 at 12:35 PM

9/9/2017 – Michigan 36, Cincinnati 14 – 2-0


furk [Eric Upchurch]

There is always a tipping point when something that probably won't happen becomes something that probably will happen. Sometimes this is nice, like when the entire NFL swears up and down that Jim Harbaugh wouldn't go back to Ann Arbor for love or money. Sometimes it is not nice.


If we aren't already at the tipping point where "Wilton Speight makes a lot of critical mistakes" is a reasonable, seemingly immutable theory, surely we are approaching it.

The weird thing is the way these critical mistakes are loosed into the world. Anybody can throw several passes into defenders' facemasks. Killing your team with a blizzard of boggling interceptions is almost common in college football, where injuries and the vagaries of rostering regularly see peach-fuzzed high schoolers thrown into a tank of piranhas. Sometimes people transfer from Tulane and are expected to stop throwing interceptions, for reasons unknown.  Also apparently the NFL has this issue. Twitter informs me Scott Tolzien—yes, that guy—started a game this weekend. Twitter hastens to note that things did not go well. The hopelessly overmatched panic machine quarterback is so common it's a football trope.

Speight, on the other hand, has an air of cool control up until the moment he wings a pass so high that Donovan Peoples-Jones correctly decides his best bet is to spike it, or he turns around to hand air to his running back, or he does that again for the second time in one dang game. He does not seem overwhelmed. He hasn't thrown into coverage except on rare, understandable occasions*. He's yelling at his peach-fuzzed skill player crew about where to line up regularly. He makes a bunch of checks at the line. He is a man in command.

And then.

The very bad events are adding up. Everyone misses guys or makes bad reads or eats a sack on occasion. Speight's bad has been explosively bad, and maximally punished. Thus this column, which is lot like 2015's Jake Rudock is going to kill us column.

Rudock, of course, did not kill Michigan. He turned into a fine college player and Matt Stafford caddy, and even now it's not too hard to see Speight getting it together. His issues are fairly simple to correct; they jumped out at me, a layman, on a re-watch and Speight confirmed it in the postgame press conference:

“What it comes down to is, when there's something going on in my face – when I avoid the pressure – I've got to keep my base. Coach Pep is big on keeping my base. Staying loaded. And sometimes when I move around in the pocket, I get a little sloppy with my feet and it causes the ball to sail or go a little low."

Speight was leaning back a bunch in this game and the resulting throws were high. Nick Baumgardner with a preview of what UFR is going to say:

Also he's dorfing handoffs because he's not listening to Harbaugh. Two seemingly simple fixes yet to make it to the field in year four. This cuts both ways: if Speight can fix his lingering issues Michigan has that commanding guy when he throws straight and does not fumble exchanges, and that seems pretty good.


deep shot hit rate: muchly [Bryan Fuller]

There are very good reasons that Speight is keeping his competition stapled to the bench, and it's that upside. Nobody else on the roster is going to walk on the field and know where everyone else has to be, a critical skill given the average age of Michigan's offense. Nobody else is going to have all the checks in his head, or the pocket presence.

The things Wilton Speight needs to fix are fixable in a timespan of weeks. John O'Korn and Brandon Peters do not have flaws (presence and youth, respectively) nearly as tractable, and so Michigan is going to ride with Speight and hope like hell these blips are just that, and not a pattern that will clobber a promising season like it did in Iowa City last year.

Until further notice, all dropbacks will be evaluated with a jaundiced eye and glance towards Columbus. Welcome to the John Navarre zone.

*[In this game he tried a deep shot to a bracketed Peoples-Jones because there were only two guys in the route and both were covered and what else was he going to do, which is fine.]


Inside Michigan Football:



mobile man mauls Mouhon [Fuller]

Known Friends And Trusted Agents Of The Week

-2535ac8789d1b499[1]you're the man now, dog

#1 Mason Cole. This is a bit of a guess but OL never get the proper amount of respect in this section because I haven't gone over things with a fine-toothed comb yet. Cole helped Michigan bust a lot of crack sweeps, and while Isaac got the yardage on the long one it was Cole's ability to ID the force defender, declare him harmless, and go wreck a safety that sprung the play. He gave up nothing in pass protection, as well.

#2(t) Khaleke Hudson, Devin Bush, and Tyree Kinnel. Michigan's bushel of short fast dudes on defense terrorized the Cincinnati backfield, collecting all of Michigan's sacks on the day. Each also had their moments in the ground game as well; Kinnel in particular had a couple of critical tackles. Oh, and a pick six. (That was a bit of a gift, yes.) I'm rounding up and giving each gent a point. The points are made up and don't matter, people!

#3 Ty Isaac. Isaac was Michigan's best back again, slaloming through waves of opponent players. He alternated bounces with interior runs that kept UC off guard and used his size and speed combination to excellent effect.

Honorable mention: Winovich, Hurst, and Gary were all effective in bursts. Brandon Watson was in the back pocket of many a wide receiver. Grant Perry was efficient, explosive, and dangit that third down was a catch. Zach Gentry had a couple of key receptions.

Honorary Honorable mention: Baker Mayfield.

KFaTAotW Standings.

4: Devin Bush (#1, Florida, T2 Cincinnati)
3: Mason Cole (#1, Cincinnati), Ty Isaac (#2, Florida, #3 Cincinnati)    
1: Quinn Nordin (#3, Florida), Khaleke Hudson (T2 Cincinnati), Tyree Kinnel (T2 Cincinnati).

Who's Got It Better Than Us Of The Week

Grant Perry's third-quarter grab and go both further established him as a bonafide top-flight, experienced receiver but staked Michigan to a two score lead that allowed most to exhale.

Honorable mention: This week the good section gets to talk about Pick Six #1 and Pick Six #2. You will like them better here, I imagine. Also: Ty Isaac rips a long one off down the sideline, Speight hits Kekoa Crawford with a bomb; Rashan Gary hulks up after nearly getting ejected and gets the crowd hyped.


Speight's second dorfed exchange ends a promising drive for Michigan and causes even the aggressively reasonable to think this guy has a long term issue.

Honorable mention: Cincinnati rips off a long touchdown drive to start the third quarter and create a period of squeaky bum time; Donovan Peoples-Jones turns out to be Not Jabrill Peppers on punt returns; various Speight overthrows; that one play where both guards pulled in opposite directions.

[After THE JUMP: oh also a defense]


Speight. As above. I've obviously downgraded my expectations for him since the rollercoaster is clearly still in effect. I'm still not anywhere near the complaining wing of the fanbase that fills my mentions with bitches about how I was wrong about something in the season preview. He's the guy, clearly, and if he resolves half of his issues he's a guy Michigan can win many things with opposite this defense.

Insufficient receivers. One mitigating factor for Speight: Michigan is running a ton of max protect, and too often the two or three guys in routes are blanketed. I understand why Michigan's doing it—the right side of the line—but it feels extreme to me when it's goal to go from the ten and Zach Gentry is staying in.



Grant Perry remains good. Having an utterly reliable slot receiver is a nice thing. Having one who can take a slight horizontal edge and burst for a 33-yard touchdown is a very nice thing. Perry is delivering on all of his recruiting takes and then some; he is a better athlete than those takes gave him credit for. Anyone lacking as sufficient appreciation for his game should just check out the Ohio State wide receivers after two games. Those guys wear defensive backs like parkas, man.

Also Perry did not spin the ball. Not like he was going to. Post-Florida takes about how Perry had some serious growing up to do—or whatever fusty old man stuff was on offer—were ridiculous. He had a bad habit and didn't immediately break it. That habit was not challenged during fall camp, because obviously, and given a week they successfully went back to the hand-the-ball-to-the-ref thing.

Meanwhile Perry's emergence as a 50-catch-plus guy (he's on pace for 52 after two games with not a lot of throwing) takes a lot of pressure off of the freshmen, especially because he can be the chain-mover while they try to grab deeper shots.


jumbo jumbo wide receiver [Fuller]

Each week a new tight end. Heavy rotation at the tight end spot once again and Zach Gentry finally got to display his chops on a couple of downfield catches from five-wide. He looked real good on 'em, and if Speight is going to continually overthrow guys I recommend that he target Gentry a bunch more because he's hard to overthrow.

Wheatley and McKeon also got in on the passing game; Wheatley also had at least one play where he caved in one side of the Cincinnati defense. Ian Bunting's continued sort-of absence is about to be real bad for him since he doesn't seem hurt. He's lost in the shuffle right now.

Very five wide. Michigan's passing spread tendencies were further confirmed in this one, when Michigan seemed to go five wide empty on most passing downs that weren't super long, and several others beside. Michigan did good work from this formation. I wonder when and if we're going to see the rumored tailback participation; through two games Michigan hasn't thrown a single pass to their running backs.


frippery frip [Upchurch]

Well, dangit. The above shot is from Michigan's most frippery-laden play on the day, a couple of fake handoffs followed by a fullback wheel route that Cincinnati covered just fine. You may remember this play from the MSU game a couple of years ago, and that Michigan stole it. I'm impressed that the Cinci guy didn't lose Hill, because who covers a fullback wheel route two weeks into a new coaching regime? This guy, I guess.

Speight had a small window that he missed, and if all of his misses were like the one above we're feeling much better about him this morning. That's off by a little bit; too many of his misses were off  by a mile.



Inevitable; hopefully fixable. Onwenu had a couple of bad pass protection moments. On one he was straight-up beat by his man and gave up a sack; a second pressure ceded came when he and Ulizio failed to ID and address a stunt between the DE and DT. Later in the game Cincinnati returned to that stunt and the right side of the line handled it, so they are making some progress.

Ulizio was probably fine? Nothing he did jumped out as a huge problem on a surface-level rewatch. I don't recall any pass protection issues, and that's good. Now his level of competence is "less than Florida but greater than Cincinnati." We'll see if that holds up on a detailed rewatch.

Of interest only to obsessives. Second team OL in warmups from left to right: Filiaga, Ruiz, Vastardis, Runyan, JBB. Ruiz wore 96 and got in as a sixth OL a little bit, FWIW. There are a couple of inferences to make there. One: Vastardis is on that line ahead of Spanellis*, a guy who drew a fair bit of "he'll be good down the road" praise this fall. He continues to track as a bonus OL. Two: as soon as they decided on Ulizio they moved Runyan back to guard. Three: no Stueber despite the fact he's seen the field. Back tweak incoming.

*[I know Spanellis is a guard but it would be very easy to have Ruiz or Runyan at C and have Spanellis on the second team line.]

On the one hand; on the other. Nate Schoenle got a fair amount of time, so that offseason hype was also for real. Unfortunately his main contribution was a screamingly obvious holding call that brought back a long crack sweep.



veeeeeeeeeeeroooom [Fuller]

Even more excellent than statistics suggest. Michigan held Cincinnati to 233  yards of offense—official stats subtracted 33 on the yakety snap on the punt—and while this is very very good it fails to capture the whole picture. Because of the various turnovers in this game, Michigan faced a ton of drives: 16 in total, 15 in the competitive portions of the game.

Of those 15 drives only three lasted more than four plays: the short-field TD drive after the punt muff, the end-of-half drive that Michigan would have had a stop on if not for end of half things, and the 75-yard TD drive to kick off the third quarter. The outing did not feel as dominant as the Florida one because Michigan got hit on some things that all relatively competent spread offenses are going to hit you with occasionally; it was still very, very dominant. Not that I need to tell you that after the defense gave up zero net points.

If this game moves the needle for anyone it's probably Florida; a few twitterers suggested that Cincinnati's offense looked better than the Gators', and they might not be wrong.


this still doesn't go so well [Upchurch]

Familiar bugaboos. When Cincinnati did pick up yards it was almost always in one of two ways: tunnel screens and exploiting Mike McCray in space. Both of those issues cropped up a year ago. Maryland racked up almost 100 yards on tunnel screens in 2016, and McCray's tendency to get lost or outrun when he was forced to leave the box was a major theme during the second half of the season.

McCray's issues in space have waxed and waned sort of like Speight's accuracy. This was not a good day for them. He got beat on a wheel route that wasn't as much of a pick as I thought it was going to be; he got juked badly on a flare to the running back; he more or less tackled the same guy on the holding call at the end of the first half; his zone drops were insufficiently deep on a few intermediate shots.

Michigan's willingness to expose McCray to situations like this is about my only Don Brown complaint. (Let me be clear: this the mildest, most breathtakingly gentle of complaints.) The situation that induced the holding call was inexplicable to me: it's fourth and eleven; Michigan lines McCray up in man in the slot while leaving Khaleke Hudson in the box to blitz. Invert that and things are sure to go better.

There's some level of edge exposure it's impossible to protect McCray from. Michigan should be doing what they can to erase the rest of it. Put anyone else in the slot.

The Don Brown hat trick. I have invented this. A Don Brown hat trick is three sacks from defensive backs. (Viper counts; a natural Don Brown hat trick is three different DBs getting sacks.) Michigan had a Don Brown hat trick in this game with one sack from Kinnel and two from Hudson. Two of those—one each—were Brown blitzes generating free runs at the quarterback. The third was an outstanding play from Hudson to beat the right tackle, get held, and get to the quarterback anyway.

GARY ANGRY. Rashan Gary almost got ejected on a terrible targeting call.



Let's try to have that happen in the first quarter of all games going forward.

Escape from slant-corner. Michigan's safety coverage has been good to excellent so far with two major exceptions, both in the second half of this game. Metellus and Hudson both got beat badly on corner routes that could have ceded touchdowns. Hudson saw his man drop a ball in his breadbasket; Metellus's man was overthrown.

Cincinnati did a good job of setting that up by running a ton of slants early in the second half. After the first one Michigan was covering those excellently. Then Cincinnati switched to double moves on those and both safeties got burnt. Something to work on.



Already par for the course. Devin Bush got a free run in this game, and this was a sack. So far his ability to come in super hot but still maintain enough control to take a good angle to the quarterback is remarkable. I've seen guys close like Bush did on his sack, and it seems like most of the time the QB steps up and the guy goes flying by.

Beast Mone. Bryan Mone got much more run in this game than he did against Florida. He didn't do anything flashy, but did contribute to a Bearcat interior ground game that was all but hopeless. He again proved he's a useful bull in a china shop on a second-half third and one on which he didn't just stand up to a double but deposited it two yards in the backfield. A nigh-singlehanded third and one stop is a big win.



From the "happy to be wrong" department. Brandon Watson looked dang good for the second straight game. He had another Mutumbo incident on the sideline, for one. This one wasn't as good as last week's—he'd lost a step and there was a window—but his awareness and ability to track the ball allowed him to break up a decent throw. Two other times he was tested he was there to break it up. He's exceeding expectations.

The cornerbacks are doing so as a group. When guys popped open in this game it was against safeties or in zone pockets. Hill, Long, and Watson have been in tight coverage for the duration.


Goodbye, certainty. If special teams weren't an outright disaster in this game they were close to it. A punt bonked off one of Michigan's blockers for a turnover that led to Cincinnati's first touchdown; Will Hart shanked two second-half punts that set Cincinnati up with excellent field position. Boy, never having to worry about anything on special teams except for that one weird Wisconsin game was great. And now it's less great.

Punt field follies. I thought the first two dodgy punt incidents were more on the blockers not getting out of the way than anything else. I still kind of think that—it looks like DPJ is shouting and pointing on the second one at least—but the insertion of Perry as a punt returner rather argues otherwise. DPJ got yanked after he allowed a very fieldable punt to bounce and then somehow got himself in a situation where he felt compelled to grab it while surrounded by six Bearcats.

The downgrade from Peppers was suddenly apparent. DPJ didn't have to make these decisions against Florida and their cyborg punter. He could just field a 55 yard punt without worry about anyone else, and then go get some yards. When presented with 35-yard wounded ducks he fell apart.

Perry didn't do anything but fair catch balls that should have been fair caught, but that was an upgrade on DPJ. Ask again later.

At least the kickers were good. Nordin hit a couple chip shots and Foug got touchbacks on 6 of 7 kickoffs. #collegekickers can happen to anyone at anytime—Arkansas missed FGs of 19 and 23 yards on Saturday—so I'm not going to dismiss even chippies just yet. Ten more FGAs and then I'll start taking Nordin for granted.


I'm tellin' all y'all. Michigan players arriving for the game or Beastie Boys cosplayers?


mock rock plans: revealed [Eric Upchurch]

That's Jared Wangler as Cochese and Henry Poggi as "The Chief," FWIW. Good to see that Poggi's sane-looking-person phase was brief.

    Redshirt status, part two. A few freshmen who didn't get during the Florida game hit the field Saturday. Your current redshirt statuses, with new entries in bold:

    • DUH: Donovan Peoples-Jones, Tarik Black, Aubrey Solomon
    • SENSIBLE: Ben Mason, Cesar Ruiz, Kwity Paye, Ambry Thomas, J'Marick Woods, Jaylen Kelly-Powell.
    • MIGHT GET INJURED BEFORE THEY PLAY IN GAME 5: Andrew Stueber, Benjamin St Juste, O'Maury Samuels, Josh Ross, Brad Hawkins.

    And the still pristine:

    • Chuck Filiaga, Luiji Vilain, Drew Singleton, Jordan Anthony, Dylan McCaffrey, Nico Collins, Oliver Martin, James Hudson, Deron-Irving Bey, Donovan Jeter, JaRaymond Hall, Joel Honigford, Phil Paea, Kurt Taylor, Brad Robbins.

    I saw Vilain (and Kareem Walker) in street clothes; Martin and Jeter were also not on the dress list. Those three are candidates to play whenever they get back from their injuries. I'd imagine the rest of the guys who haven't played yet are locked into redshirts. I have few complaints if that's how it works out this year. Only Stueber jumps out as redshirt you'd really like to get amongst the third category above.


    yea their punishments are swift and hilarious [Bryan Fuller]

    Fourth downs. Two bizarre fourth down decisions in this one:

    • Late in the first half Michigan found itself with fourth and a half-yard at their own 40 after Tarik Black's would-be first down reception was correctly deemed short on review. Despite having Mike Onwenu and Khalid Hill, a combination that barreled forward for four seeming unstoppable yards against Florida, Michigan punted. We've seen Harbaugh cowboy up for fourth and short in that area before, and it's difficult to envision Cincinnati standing up to Michigan's beef machines. Dios mio, man. However, not to be outdone...
    • Luke Fickell decided to punt on fourth and two, down 13 points, with seven minutes left in the game. This cowardly act was punished with a swiftness. Fickell compounded his error by dithering; by the time he sent the punt team out they had to rush if they weren't going to burn a precious time out; the ensuing snap zinged by a punter who was looking at his feet, preparing his footwork.

    In our as-of-yet imaginary list of chickenshit opponent coaching decisions in the Harbaugh era, Fickell's punt slides in just under James Franklin's sad field goal in last year's Penn State game.


    giddyup, pardner [Upchurch]

      Hat. Chase Winovich borrowed Eric's. That is all.

      Time management what? I've seen many complaints online about Michigan's clock management at the end of the first half, none of which I get. Cincinnati starts their final drive of the half with 2:23 on the clock and ends up with third and six two plays later. They call timeout after running the playclock down to 1:03. Michigan could have saved 40 seconds there, but it's hardly egregious to let that run and see what happens on third down. You've still got a one minute drill in good position if you get a stop.

      Michigan does not get a stop. A few plays later Cincinnati has fourth and 11 on the Michigan 39 with about 20 seconds on the clock. Michigan calls timeout here to prevent UC from getting a free Hail Mary. ("Don't allow free Hail Marys" has stuck in my mind because of that Penn State game where Brady Hoke called the free Hail Mary timeout for Penn State because he thought he might get a shot at blocking a punt.) This is good clock management.

      Fickell then decides to go for it, which seems like a bad idea but doesn't have a ton of downside, and Michigan does the weird thing where McCray is in coverage on their back instead of Hudson. They miss a long field goal attempt at the end of the half.

      And... like, so? I'm prone to yell about how everyone should have a Madden 14 year old on the sideline and none of this moves the needle for me. Almost all of this is in the gray area where if someone is wrong it's not by much and isn't likely to impact the winner, or even the score. I'm baffled people are even talking about it.

      download (2)


      Now with leash. Eric caught a slight tweak to Habaugh's gameday apparel: his playsheet is now lashed to him, so that when he hurls it in disgust it doesn't flit onto the field or end up in the cord guy's neck or whatever. Always thinking ahead to the next rage, that Harbaugh.



      Woof, and woof, and woof. This game was littered with bad calls:

      • Michigan got hit with a dubious pass interference on Cincinnati's first touchdown drive, which okay Lavert Hill did get in some jersey yanking. But later in the game Tarik Black was yanked backwards when he tried to hitch up with no call. Your author's flashback to last year's Ohio State game was brief and fictionally murderous.
      • Grant Perry's diving catch was reviewed and still incorrectly called an incompletion, because 80 or 90% certainty isn't enough, I guess.
      • The aforementioned Gary targeting incident. Only the ejection was overturned; a bogus 15 yard roughing the passer call stood.
      • Cincinnati's successful passes were about 50% egregious pick plays. Their second touchdown was particularly bad.
      • A couple of near-tackles didn't get called holding. One was the Hudson sack so maybe that gets thrown if Hudson doesn't get through it.
      • Cincinnati got called for a terrible celebration penalty when one of their players drew a line under the "Cincinnati" on his chest.

      Every college football season has that moment when you remember "oh, right, these guys again." Michigan's came early against UF, and continued here.


        Best and Worst:

        Best: The Defense, Again

        I feel like these columns always focus on the offense, and it's not intentional. I really, truly enjoy watching a great defensive effort; few things are more exciting as a fan than a pick-six or a defensive end depositing the soul of a QB about 20 rows into the stands. But while the offense had its ups and downs, its tense moments and discussion points, the defense did basically what its done the past 2 years; strangle an offense and grind it into a fine powder. As I noted above, the Bearcats had 3 legitimate scoring drives (the 2 TDs and the missed FG), and nothing else. And honestly, that first TD was a gift of a short field after a bad punt return. As for the other TD, I don't think it was an illegal offensive PI (as a corner you have to be careful about initiating and maintaining contact with a receiver when they've been using that against you earlier in the game), but the refs definitely allowed more physicality by the Bearcats on offense than you'd expect.

        Ecky Pting has a breakdown of win expectations based on fancy stats. Michigan's status before week two:


        We'll see how much the Purdue and Indiana wins move the needle for them.

        AJDrain reviews some tape; you can take the Fan Satisfaction Index survey. Ace will grapple with EGD's look at Air Force later in the week.


        Baumgardner is all up in his mentions, and mine:

        It’s tough to pinpoint the exact moment when it happened.

        But somewhere between a near lost fumble at the goal line and two incompletions in the red zone, the portion of Michigan’s fan base who had been on the fence about Jim Harbaugh’s quarterback situation for more than eight months invaded my Twitter mentions.

        With full force and no time for reason, many of them had seen enough. Harbaugh’s not playing his best quarterback, they insisted. Brandon Peters, a redshirt with zero college snaps and third on the depth chart, has to be better than this, they wrote. Has to be.Wilton Speight’s just not going to cut it, they typed.

        Welcome to Week 2.

        Also he tackles the Speight issues:

        Peoples-Jones is open with plenty of space pretty quickly here. If those feet get set, as we saw earlier, and he puts the ball on his hands on time then the speedy freshman has a chance to catch the ball, cut up field and make something happen. But he waits a beat, then his feet get flat and everything goes haywire.

        His back leg is stiff. He’s not stepping into the throw. The ball comes out late and way too high and what had the makings of a nice play goes in the books as an incomplete pass.

        Sap's Decals gets literal:

        UNIFORM CHAMPION – I can’t tell you how cool it was to (once again) see the wolverine decals on the Michigan helmets! As I said last week, as long as Jim Harbaugh is the Michigan football coach, there will be helmet stickers on the Wolverine headgear. Now, from what I can tell, it does indeed appear that the blue outline has been removed and it also seems as though the stickers may be that much smaller in size. Probably a wise move, as making them smaller will allow for more to be placed on the Michigan helmets. I’ll see if I can track down one and provide a more detailed analysis later in the season.

        I also noticed that the warning label has been moved from the side of the helmet to the back and bottom of the helmet. Why do I call this out?  Well, this frees up more space on the helmet for at least one more helmet sticker, but more importantly, this allows for a more symmetrical placement of the stickers on each side of the helmet.


        Sports are not necessarily a form of art, but they inspire passion and evoke emotions in people.  This builds communities of fans and followers.  Nick Hornby explored this ground in a number of his early works, after all.  This game was a mediocre album, maybe one or two solid singles, but lacking the depth to make it a classic.  Let's hope next week is a return to form.

        Memories of first home games. People showed up.

        Maize and Blue Nation. Maize and Blue News. Maize and Brew caught the fun bit of the halftime show:

        As they filed back out afterward there were some kids lining the tunnel who punched every dinosaur in the head, to general hilarity.

        Zack Shaw; Harbaugh punt return explanations.



        September 11th, 2017 at 12:57 PM ^

        I'll be honest - I'm getting a little bit of whiplash from the ongoing "Speight is fine and it's early" to "Speight has foundational issues and we should change our expectations because we probably won't see them change" that keeps happening here.  He is the same QB he was last year - good enough to win a bunch of games with, but prone to some brain farts.  This is not new,.  I wish for once the discussion could be about literally anything else than how close to the last guy to lead this team to a sole conference title the current QB is.  It's just needlessly pejorative.  

        I really would like a longer discussion on why everyone not named Isaac has struggled running the ball.  That's been a huge shock to me that both Higdon and Evans haven't been able to sustain any really success on the ground.  

        The number of routes where there were only a couple of options downfield was also surprising; I assume that's to help out the pass blocking, but it feels like wasted downs.

        Defense was great, and I'm really looking forward to seeing how they look against a pass-happy offense like Purdue's.  There's a non-zero chance the secondary and LBs pick up 6-7 sacks.

        Year of Revenge II

        September 11th, 2017 at 1:09 PM ^

        With all due respect, I suggest you're tired of it because you've been wrong about Speight from the start, and your spin above is a little rose-colored.

        Speight is good enough to beat weak teams soundly, he is a great leader by all accounts, he has guts, great pocket sense, and a by all accounts great character.  What he is not is talented enough to take us to a championship.  This has been clear from the start, despite overwhelming opinion to the contrary by the qb experts on the blog here.  

        We don't know what JH really thinks of throwing Peters to the sharks, but its seems like it would behoove us for the longer run.  Speight would need to improve a level to change the outlook, and I am at all sure that it is within him.


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:25 PM ^

        See, my issue is that you still really haven't provided any evidence that he isn't "talented enough to take us to a championship", which seems to be a common complaint from people who want to see a change but don't really have a justification beyond that.

        I have pointed out his flaws: his mechanics can go sideways and result in bad throws.  He apparently has trouble handing the ball off securely (I don't remembner that being an issue last year but I'll be honest, I didn't pay too much attention to it).  He can rush throws while under pressure, and when the ball sails out of his hand it sails far.  He's at best an average athlete.  if you want him to be Lamar Jackson, he ain't.

        But he was the only part of the offense that worked consistently against FSU and OSU.  He had a bad game against Iowa, and a mediocre game against Florida to start the year (though if Crawford holds onto that ball or it just hits the ground, that game probably feels much more different).  He's fine at QB, and lots of guys have gotten their names on plaques and championship banners being fine at QB.  

        I've argued, consistently, that there are other issues with this offense that manifest themselves, at times, in the QB position.  The offensive line is still mediocre.  Nobody but Isaac has consistently run the ball all year.  Other than Perry, do you feel confident in any of the receivers?  I sure don't.  They're mostly young and I have faith they'll figure it out, but those are still issues.

        We know nothing about Peters as a QB outside of fine spring game and reports that he struggled with the playbook during parts of practice.  He apparently is running close enough to John O'Korn that Harbaugh is comfortable using O'Korn as the backup.  I'm sure he'll be fine in the future, but he isn't there yet and arguing that you'd replace the guy who led Michigan to double-digit wins last year and has been perfectly fine this year seems like the platonic ideal of reactionary hot takes.

        Again, show me the mountains of evidence that Speight can't win with this team, that their is evidence "from the start", and I'll discuss it.  But thus far this is just a rehash of the same issues I have with the general Speight discussion here - it's just specious and reactionary because "the offense is meh" doesn't fill inches.

        Year of Revenge II

        September 11th, 2017 at 1:33 PM ^

        My evidence = I have watched him play, every game that he has played. 

        This reminds me of all those people who wanted Hoke to remain as coach because they "liked" him, and he was a good guy, despite overwhelming evidence that he was a mediocre coach at best.

        Look, I will support Speight starter or not, but I have eyes.  Unless and until Harbaugh's eyes and opinions are that the team is better off with Peters starting (O'Korn is not a realistic option), it's kind of irrelevant what I think.  I am pulling for Speight, he is easy to root for, but I suspect it ain't happening.  

        Right side of O'line needs to improve, but the rest of the offense but for Speight is championship caliber. He's almost there, but cannot quite get there.



        September 11th, 2017 at 1:43 PM ^

        So...still no evidence.  I mean, I've watched every game he's played as well.  I've seen him make some terrible throws and then follow them up with a series or two of dynamite ball control.  

        Also, I would love to see your evidence that the rest of the offense except Onwenu and Ulizio are championship caliber, given that everyone running back not named Isaac can't crack 4 ypc and we still don't have any idea who is consistently catching the ball after Grant Perry.  Must be my lying eyes.

        Year of Revenge II

        September 11th, 2017 at 1:50 PM ^

        This is not a courtroom, sir.  

        I respect your opinion; I just happen to disagree with it.  Consistency is an important offensive weapon in any sport, and Speight has yet to develop any, especially against good teams.

        …And I will also say, if you don't see the upside and talent of our entire receiving corps, you/re staring at Speight too much.  There is more to sports than "after-the-fact" stats.  The only real stat is W/L, and both Harbaugh and Speight have done pretty well there.

        I would just like to take it up to another level, and I happen to feel we need improved qb play.  I don't care who it's from.


        September 11th, 2017 at 2:02 PM ^

        That's fine. Disagree away. I'd just like more of a discourse than "my eyes tell me he's bad" and "the receivers are good right now.". Yes there is upside for the receiving corps. Right now that hasn't really blossomed. Some of that is on Speight, but a lot is on these guys just not being fully there in the offense yet. But if you are asking me to accept your opinion that certain players will get better while others lack that fundamental ability, I'm going to take issue with that to the extent it just feels simplistic.


        September 11th, 2017 at 2:08 PM ^

        How about when he had a chance to win a division championship last year (backed by a great defense) he blew the game against Iowa and made numerous crucial mistakes against Ohio State that cost us the game. Yes, I know: Outside the backbreaking fumble, interception and missed slant for the first down he was great! 


        September 11th, 2017 at 2:45 PM ^

        And see, I thought the offense not being able to crack 100 yards against OSU while giving up 206, or the 7 penalties for 60 yards, or letting Curtis Samuel run across the entire defense on third and long were equally big reasons why the team lost, but sure, let's blame Speight.  Ignore the fact that he completed 65% of his passes in that game for 2 TDs and had the second-best outing from a passer rating perspective after Clemson against OSU's top-5 defense last year.  He played poorly against Iowa, but then again so did the rest of the offense (again, under 3 ypc against a team that the week before was gashed by PSU) and the defense, again, couldn't really stop a dynamic back in space.

        But sure, keep on blaming the starting QB for all of that.  


        September 11th, 2017 at 5:02 PM ^

        The eye test remains very reliable-even indisputable: Receiver is wide open-pass is uncatchable. Seems pretty simple to me. Yet it's the receiver's fault???????? Hmmmmm.....Oh, I no, there was a pass rusher bearing down on the QB...damn, that should never happen-it's the o-lines' faul! Well, shame on them for challenging our o-line and threatening our dainty QB...please make sure they sign the memo upon it to the officials and implore them to stop this action. Our QB is a very nice young man and deserves all the time he wants to find a receiver, set his feet properly...and do whatever else he wishes to do. After all, this is a football game...have some respect!!!

        Magnum P.I.

        September 11th, 2017 at 2:27 PM ^

        Relax. What is your "evidence" that Speight is a good quarterback? 

        This season, Speight is dead last in the Big Ten in passing yards per game and 7th out of 10 in pass efficiency. Last season, Speight was 5th out of 10 Big Ten quarterbacks with at least 15 attempt per game in passing yards per game and 3rd out of 10 in pass efficiency. Add it up, and that doesn't sounds like a particularly good quarterback, especially in a conference with largely mediocre quarterbacks (to be generous). 

        Also, observing players is a form of evidence, and a lot of people who have observed Speight play the past two seasons have concluded that he's an just kind of an average quarterback. You said youself that he alternates terrible throws with great ones, which averages out to . . . average. He looks good in the pocket, but throws a pretty ugly ball. Indeed, Speight is not sniffing anyone's NFL draft prospects list for QBs. 

        Most people aren't calling for another QB on the roster to replace Speight; they're just lameting the averageness of the guy that will almost certainly have the reins of the team this year. Don't take it personally. 


        September 11th, 2017 at 2:59 PM ^

        He was also the 2nd-highest rated QB last year in conference, second in YPA, second in completion percentage, and threw the second-fewest picks amongst season-long starters.  He was 39th in the nation in completion percentage last year, 41st in rating and 40th in YPA.  That's pretty good to me; in conference, the guy ahead of him on a lot of these lists was McSorley, a guy getting Heisman buzz.

        I said he has some bad throws; guys have those.  I simply take issue with people saying "he's a mediocre QB because of my subjective appraisal of his performance" because it just sort of "ends" any meaningful conversation.  At least you gave me some numbers to back up your assertions, some objective evidence that "look, compared to these other people, he is X".  To me, I see a QB this season who is trying to get a bunch of first-year starters on the same page and doing a decent job at it.  He's made some great changes at the line, escaped pressure and found guys downfield, and shown an improved downfield accuracy.  He's not going to win a Heisman, but he's a good QB who can win you games.  And I don't honestly care about a guy's NFL prospects - Rudock wound up being a late-round selection, JT Barrett is destined for RB, Baker Mayfield will probably be a later-round selection.  

        I wasn't really taking it personally, I just disagreed with the comment and responded.  


        September 11th, 2017 at 7:28 PM ^

        Say there are 4 good QBs in each power 5 conference. A stretch but lets run with that. Everyone else is average or below. Say in the group of 5 there is 1 per conference. So 25 good QBs in FBS and everyone else is average or worse.

        What does it say that he was 39th in completion percentage, 41st in rating and 40th in YPA? It tells me that he is average or worse. 

        Then i watch him play and my eyes tell me he is terribly inconsistent and prone to making the kind of mistakes that lose games.

        Evidence enough?

        FTR I support Speight as Im sure he gives us the best chance to win.


        September 11th, 2017 at 8:08 PM ^

        Mostly what it says to me is that he doesn't play in the MAC or Sun Belt.

        These aren't schedule-adjusted advanced stats. The top 5 in YPA went Oklahoma, Western Kentucky, Toledo, Colorado St., Western Michigan; passer rating was the same five, scrambled. The top 5 in completion percentage included WMU, Toledo and Houston.

        Nobody's claiming Speight is the equal of Baker Mayfield. Otherwise, the top of these lists is a whole lot of Group of Five guys.


        September 11th, 2017 at 3:59 PM ^

        Last season Purdue led the league in passing yards per game and Indiana was second. You think Purdue and Indiana should be the template for championship football?

        The last time the team that led the conference in passing yards also won a championship was 2003. Navarre.


        September 11th, 2017 at 5:23 PM ^

        Black is a Wr that has been reliable for both games, outside the one drop. Crawford looked much better this game, and i think DPJ will get there, but seems a little off from a pass catching standpoint.

        However, there are several pass catchers from the tight ends that should be included considering how much they are used in this offense.

        As far as the right side of the line. Nolan seemed much better this game and Big Mike had one or two problems in pass rush but his issues seems to be inexperance. All in all, I think we will see those guys improve as the year goes on. As it often does for young player playing for the first time.

        The offence does have a lot of potential, including Speight IMO. They just need more consistancy. If and when they click, watch out.


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:49 PM ^

        think this has devolved into too much what he said about Speight, and not enough about the rest of his original post.  I think a lot of people are starting to become a little bit puzzled as to what our offense is supposed to be.  Beginning last year with a really bizarre, conservative game plan against Iowa, through the wide pitches to Smith against Florida State, to the use of our running backs and our running game this season.

        What is our "bread and butter?"  If what we have seen so far is the kind of offense we are going to run, where does somebody like Chris Evans fit into it?  Why are they really not giving Speight (and the new wide receivers) any "pitch and catch" type opportunities to just develop some in-game familiarity.  I can't tell if Speight is good or not because I can't particularly figure out what game Drevno and Harbaugh want to play.  Obviously it is great that Izaac is playing so well right now, but isn't it also a little concerning that the coaches seem just as surprised about it as everybody else after Evans and Higdon were kind of seen as 1 and 1A coming out of camp?

        We are 2-0 and the defense looks very good.  As for the offense, I was becomming concerned last year that it was not forming a real identity and it still remains a grab bag.  I was hoping that feeling would be gone this year but it is shaping up kind of the same way thus far. 


        September 11th, 2017 at 4:05 PM ^

        starting to gnaw at me, as well. My layman eyes can't be trusted enough to say that our offensive "system" is broken, but I can say my confidence in the coaching staff's ability to be as creative as they were touted is beginning to wane significantly. Last year's "Pepcat" predictability being exhibit A. I'd be curious to hear what some of the more astute football minds think of Jim Harbaugh's offense at Michigan two games into year three. Honestly, what do I know?


        September 12th, 2017 at 2:57 AM ^

        Last year we had the most NFL draft picks on our roster, the best tight end in the country, the best defense in the country, and a great special teams unit with an elite punt retuner.  If Speight was going to lead us to a championship it would of been last year.  For him to lead us to a championship with less than what is listed above, the improvement in his game will have to be vast. Through two games it's clear we have yet to see the improvement needed.  There is still hope, but its dwindling.

        matty blue

        September 11th, 2017 at 2:11 PM ^

        i was surrounded by dudes who literally complained about every single speight incompletion, close or not close; there was one guy who did it during the first series; he literally didn't shut up about it until he left.  midway through the fourth, i would add.

        anyway.  i would submit that a) the coaches have seen more than we have of all three of the quarterbacks, b) that these coaches know more than we do about what to look for in said quarterbacks, and c) said coaches have proven over an extended period of time that they both know how to identify the qb that gives the team the best chance to win, and how to coach that player up to maximize his potential.

        these things seem indisputable to me.  i truly don't understand how any of us can possibly pretend that we know more about who should be playing quarterback than jim em-effing harbaugh.

        wait. yes, i do understand how - most of these people are dumbasses.

        Year of Revenge II

        September 12th, 2017 at 9:12 AM ^

        And BTW, all of the experts on ESPN, Fox etc., the experts who are not emotionally invested, all seem to have the same opinion of Speight's current level of play.

        Your response would be that "they are all off of their fucking rockers"?

        Look, I understand you could play some football, but that does not relieve you the obligation of having your written and/or spoken opinions/arguments make sense as opposed to just an emotional attack on the other side.  

        I'm pulling for you.

        Blue Baughs

        September 11th, 2017 at 2:35 PM ^

        because i saw Peters PRACTICE one time back in the spring, and he practiced well, so now im an expert on where Michigans QBs should rank.

        Sure Harbaugh has watched Speight practice for over two seasons, and Peters for over a year now, but im telling you, that one PRACTICE that i did watch is clear proof that i know better than they guy we are paying millions.



        September 14th, 2017 at 1:04 PM ^

        People also said 'oh its just a spring game, it doesn't mean a thing,' in regards to Speights play. Turns out through two games his spring game performance very accurately portrayed his live game action. Obviously thats just one of many practices but you can't ignore he looks just as good/bad as he did in the spring as he does before week 3.


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:09 PM ^

        Absolutley agree.  As for the RB thing, I want to know too, although Higdon hasn't been too bad.  Evans is the big surprise to me, maybe just because expectations where higher.  UFR seemed to conclude that against LBs and back seven against UF were playing an overaggresive unsound style that resulted in a lot of open bounces.  I tried to look back at the UC game and see, and I'm also seeing a lot of LBs getting to holes.  Could it be the OL is not getting to the second level properly, or enough?  I did see a few combo blocks where you would really like a second OL get to an LB, but that didn't happen.  Lead blocker then needs to take that guy, and then, boom, free hitter in the hole.  UC didn't seem to have overly aggressive LB play.  


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:24 PM ^

        I get the aggressiveness by the LBers can lead to a lot of busted plays in the backfield.  But it's weird that Isaac is averaging about 8 ypc and the other two can't crack 4 despite getting about the same number of snaps.  It's the same offensive line, same basic playcalls.  Maybe it's just small sample size.  I don't know.  It's just surprising.


        September 11th, 2017 at 2:19 PM ^

        "Maybe it's just small sample size."

        I think it's this almost certainly. Higdon and Evans have gotten many fewer carries, and I've been amused that Evans has been in for some of our more poorly blocked running plays, whereas Isaac has been the beneficiary of some of our best. Higdon has apparently also made some bad decisions on which gap to take. I'm not worried about Evans yet; Isaac will get some days where his plays aren't block and Evans' are, and they will look a lot closer. And I don't mean that as a slam on Isaac, who I'm quite excited about, just that the gap between him and Evans is probably not enormous.


        September 11th, 2017 at 3:02 PM ^

        Yeah, the gap isn't huge. I view Isaac as more a bonus than a knock on Evans.  But on basically the same number of carries, Isaac is just light-years ahead.  And while Evans has suffered from some bad blocking, Isaac has also turned some poorly-blocked plays into positive yardage whereas the other backs haven't.  I assume it will even out.


        September 11th, 2017 at 5:55 PM ^

        Isaac has been in plenty of plays that were not blocked perfectly. He just has been able to see the backside cut or bounce and get there. Evens has been in the same tyoes of situation and not seen the bounce or backside cut and run right up into the clogged hole.

        I actually think Evans has played the 3rd best out of the backs at this point. And he has about the smae amout of carries as Isaac. The florida game saw Isaac have about 10 ad Evans 20, and I think that was pretty close to reversed this week.

        I think Evans excels when he get to the second level, but he has not been great when the original hole is not there and he needs to find another way to get to the second level.


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:16 PM ^

        He just looked "OK" at Florida (including turfing himself on a run that likely would have been a touchdown) and his literal handful of carries on Saturday were all "Eh."

        Hopefully he, and Higdon, can get more involved with more success. Because if Speight is Navarre 2.0, that means we're going to need 51 carries at RB to beat MSU and Isaacs isn't carrying the ball nearly that many times.


        September 11th, 2017 at 2:20 PM ^

        what I have been saying about Speight. It's always he needs to straighten a few things out. This has been a problem since the middle of last season and he's not improving them. I really expected to see a much improved QB for the Spring game, but no same mistakes as the previous year.  So then I figured well he has all Summer and fall camp he should improve, but no still making the same mistakes.

        I even question how good his pocket prescences is sometimes. There were moments in Saturday's game where we had 3rd and long and Speight had plenty of time in the pocket. Instead of taking an extra couple of seconds to let something open up deep enough for a first down he's dumping underneath for a 1-2 yard gain and we are stuck with punting.

        I will admit he does occassionally make some real nice reads, plays and throws. But, over all he's an average QB, definitely not a championship level QB. I thought Peters looked very good in the Spring, I just wonder what happened to him in the last 5 months.  I hope Speight makes the right adjustments and makes strides, but just afraid he's bumping against his ceiling and we have seen the best he's ever going to be.


        September 11th, 2017 at 11:14 PM ^


        Instead of taking an extra couple of seconds to let something open up deep enough for a first down he's dumping underneath for a 1-2 yard gain and we are stuck with punting.


        That's the problem with only sending two guys out in the route. If it's blanketed, it's blanketed. Nobody's suddenly running open deep, late, when it's two against seven or eight. The only people that are going to be open are the ones that stayed in to block.


        September 11th, 2017 at 6:01 PM ^

        The whole championchip level QB thing is overblown. Trent Dilfer one the Superbowl, and that dude was average. In the college ranks Bama has won several Natty's with QBs that were just average as well.

        It helps to have a stud QB, but if you have a great defense and playmakers on offense you can win championchips.


        September 11th, 2017 at 4:32 PM ^


        It stands for Upon Further Review and he breaks down every single play in detail.  Look in the chart at the player column for Evans and Higdon, and you'll find great info there about every play for which one of them was the rusher.

        Tidbits like this: "Higdon (-3) makes a terrible cut...."

        He even summarizes their play in a chart with commentary.  It's all rather comprehensive.

        I'm not even trying to be facetious here, it's just a very good resource for the discussion you're seeking. 

        For the TL;DR, Evans missed at least two bounce opportunities agaisnt UF that should have sprung for big gains.  Had he hit those, his numbers would have looked quite a bit better.  And then you have to remember the situations in which each guy played.  Isaac was the beneficiary of two long 3rd down runs that were there because the defense was playing pass all the way.  With Evans being the early down guy, he's going to face more stacked fronts.  Just the nature of their roles in game 1.

        Both Evans and Higdon put up bad numbers against Cinci so you'll get details about what might have gone wrong Saturday in this weeks UFR, albeit in very small sample (with Isaac is playing so well, they're not going to get a ton of touches if they make mistakes like they did against UF).


        September 11th, 2017 at 3:28 PM ^

        I don't think hiding wrinkles is something Harbaugh does. He seems more to me like the type to show absolutely everything, and force the other team to prepare for an impossibly large number of contingencies.

        Of course, showing everything requires you to be able to yourself do everything, which brings us to the second part of the question. I suspect that certain 'obvious' things are missing from the playbook because it's a young team with a finite amount of practice time, and they probably simply haven't installed everything yet and/or perfected it in practice to the point where the coaches feel confident calling it in games.


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:01 PM ^

        I don't think Rudock played anywhere near as good as he did at end of the season in the losses vs Utah and MSU.  Several deep throws he missed wide open guys in each of those games. Utah game he threw 3 int, 1 for a pick six.


        September 11th, 2017 at 1:28 PM ^

        Rudock was terrible to start the year, and then improved (in part because he got to play Rutgers and IU, which can make anyone look good) and toward the end of the year was one of the best QBs in the country.  His receivers also got better, as evidenced by Chesson going from a #3 to an all-conference selection in about a month.  


        September 11th, 2017 at 4:52 PM ^

        Rudock's in-season development curve in 2015 is a big part of the reason I personally am not too worried about Speight.  Yes, I realize Rudock was a graduate transfer and a big part of his early struggles could be attributed to unfamiliariity with the system and his new teammates.  But a good part of the time Rudock was just flat-out missing wide open receivers.  Plus, while Speight has had Harbaugh and Drevno for three seasons, he has a new passing game coordinator and lots of new linemen and receivers so some of the same dynamics are at play.  Also, we have seen Speight play much better than he has so far this season, and it's not unrealistic to think that if Speight has played better in the past that he can at least replicate that level of performance again in the future.



        September 11th, 2017 at 1:04 PM ^

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but a large portion of their yards came on two plays during the last ditch Cinci drive before halftime.  A big chunk on a tunnel screen (their longest tunnel screen I believe) and also a McCray RB cover (their longest McCray RB cover of the day as well).  And once they got into plus territory, the D stoned them.  Then had that iffy penelty called to give them a first down.  Then stoned them again resulting in a missed 51 yard field goal.  That last half drive isn't exactly KenPom time, but the D also wasn't playing their usual 'aggresive, kill everything' until they got past UM's like 40.  Honestly, the D has been about as suffocating as it has been against bad/marginal offenses as it was last year outside of the Rutgers game.