to be the man you gotta recruit the man
It's a new era in all possible ways at quarterback. Michigan has exhausted their supply of raw passers with thrilling athleticism; they have also cast aside the previous coaching staff in favor of one in which the head coach is also the QB coach. He is one of the best in the country. Possibly the best.
In Harbaugh's tenure as a coach he…
- helped Rich Gannon(!) win the 2002 NFL MVP award,
- developed non-scholarship San Diego's Josh Johnson into a third-place finisher for the Walter Payton, the I-AA Heisman, and the first draft pick in school history,
- recruited and developed Andrew Luck,
- made Alex Smith look like a legit NFL QB just long enough for him to sign what some regard as the worst contract in the NFL, and
- advocated for, drafted, and developed Colin Kaepernick into a legit starting NFL QB when few thought he could make the transition from the Nevada pistol.
That is strike after strike after strike in not only player development but also talent identification. The contrast between Harbaugh and Al Borges*, who has still never seen a quarterback he recruited start as an upperclassman, could not be greater.
So when Harbaugh saw the state of the most important position in football at Michigan, it's no surprise that he reacted like Kirby. Harbaugh imported a grad transfer (Jake Rudock), a regular transfer (John O'Korn), a second quarterback recruit in 2015, and two recruits in 2016.
Only one of those guys is relevant to this preview: the graduate.
*[Doug Nussmeier has a good track record but only had a year in which it was difficult to make an impact. The only QB on the roster he is responsible for bringing in is freshman Alex Malzone.]
HE CAME FROM DEEPEST IOWA IN SEARCH OF RECEIVERS AND LOVE
Rudock was kind of a big deal at media day [Bryan Fuller]
JAKE RUDOCK will find at least one as long as he keeps his interception rate where it was last year.
Michigan's previous quarterback, Devin Gardner, turned into a turnover piñata sometime after his soul left his body for the third time. While it's hard to blame him much when his career seems like the kind of experiment that ends in a war crimes trial, the sheer quantity of errors he dished out over the course of last season will make a boring quarterback seem like a godsend.
Rudock is just what the doctor ordered in that department. Of the 100 quarterbacks with the most attempts last year, Rudock was 11th in interception rate. 1.4% of his passes got picked off last year. Gardner was dead last, with a rate almost quadruple Rudock's.
There is a cost associated with that, as any Iowa fan still capable of speech will tell you. This is it:
That is Jake Rudock's reputation: a boring boring boring game manager who idolized Brian Griese and dry toast growing up.
[After THE JUMP: Are Iowa fans wrong? Does Rudock have upside? Whither Morris?]
Iowa fans are not wrong about this. Rudock himself will own it:
"The biggest thing is, just taking what the defense gives you," Rudock said. "A lot of times, people want to air it out all the time. But if they're dropping four or five guys deep, you've got to take the sure completion and get the ball to the athletes. … If you don't have a completion, you throw it incomplete, you can't get a first down anyway."
He is owning it by acknowledging that the Iowa run game was irrelevant to opposition secondaries, which we'll get to more in a bit. But he is expressing his philosophy of football, one that is neither rootin' nor tootin'. A gunslinger he ain't.
This comes through watching him. It also shows up in numbers. Pro Football Focus is branching into college, and when they addressed Rudock they noted that his conservatism comes through:
Quarterbacks need to make challenging throws that beat good coverage to earn the highest grades, and Rudock only earned those grades on 3.7 percent of his passes. That’s less than what 90 other QBs managed (minimum 100 graded passes), and much less than the 6.3 percent posted by Michigan State’s Connor Cook.
How much of that is inherent to Rudock and how much of it is playing in the Iowa offense is the great unresolved question in both Ann Arbor and Iowa City.
Even if the most grumbly of Iowa fans will admit that Rudock is a solid, low-turnover game manager. If he is that, that is a massive win for Michigan. If Morris beats him out—at this point exceedingly unlikely—fine. He beat out a legitimate, decent starting QB. If Morris doesn't and Rudock goes out there and gets seven YPC and change while not turning the ball over, it's going to seem like heaven.
That seems a reasonable bottom for Rudock. There will be some issues with familiarity with the offense and his teammates, but Rudock's intelligence and diligence should mitigate those issues. When Iowa players were asked about Rudock at Big Ten media days, this was a typical response:
Iowa's Drew Ott says ex-teammate and new UM QB Rudock is smart "He’ll know the playbook, He’ll know exactly what to do in every situation."
— angelique (@chengelis) July 30, 2015
Rudock should pick up the system quickly enough.
At worst the unfamiliarity will offset the natural season-to-season improvement of most players and leave you with what you had last year, which was the third-most efficient* quarterback in the league. That may not be a magnificent accomplishment given the dearth of functional QBs in the 2014 Big Ten. It still figures to be a large upgrade even disregarding the coaching change.
Is there upside past that? Maybe. But first, transfer worries.
*[Conference only. He's fourth, falling behind Gary Nova, if you take the whole season into account. Since Nova leaps up from sixth because of things like Howard 38, Rutgers 25 I think conference-only stats are more realistic. Also worth noting that Rudock missed Iowa's game against Purdue, the #9 pass efficiency D in the Big Ten. Also that collectively the Big Ten quarterbacks were so very BIG TEN! last year.]
WHAT KIND OF MAN IN SEARCH OF RECEIVERS AND LOVE LEAVES IOWA, THE HOME OF BOTH?
One who got chased out by a coach worried about a transfer, ironically. Here's CJ Beathard's dad in the run up to Iowa's bowl game against the Volunteers:
"We'll see how the bowl game goes and then go from there," Beathard said in a phone interview Monday. …
"He's really hoping he doesn't have to transfer," Casey said. "I said (to him), 'Hopefully it'll be obvious in this game, one way or the other.' "
Beathard got the vast majority of the snaps as Tennessee obliterated Iowa. The 45-28 final doesn't do it justice: it was 42-7 until the start of the fourth quarter, when Beathard and company added a few meaningless touchdowns against Vol seniors, walk-ons, and parents. Rudock had just five attempts before the fourth quarter; Beathard was 6/16 for 50 yards before garbage time.
Normally this would be a situation in which the proverbial Open Quarterback Competition ensued. Wait, scratch that. Normally this would be a situation in which the QB who finished third in the Big Ten in passer efficiency played the whole bowl game and his backup patiently waited for his turn as a fifth year senior. This was not normal, for… reasons.
Coaches will generally wait for as much information as possible when there is a question about the starting QB because 1) duh and 2) it's tough to transfer two weeks into the semester. Kirk Ferentz did not do this. Kirk Ferentz issued a depth chart on January 8th, six days after Beathard turned in a performance reminiscent of Nick Sheridan on an off day. It had Beathard #1, no "OR":
Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz called it a starting point, but it feels more significant than that.
C.J. Beathard is listed as the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback over Jake Rudock on a depth chart released 30 minutes before the tipoff of Thursday's Iowa-Michigan State basketball game at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
The release of a depth chart, so soon after a season, is not a common practice under Ferentz.
Jake Rudock understandably thought this was bullshit and transferred.
It is the opinion of this blog that that move will be understood as the beginning of the end of Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, except insofar as the last five years have been that. Kirk Ferentz all but extended his middle finger to Rudock because the father of an iffy quarterback one year younger threatened to bolt. If Rudock performs and Iowa does not (and Iowa has questions literally everywhere on offense) there's little short of a miracle that will save him in the aftermath.
In any case, a sane program would go into this season juggling the two QBs until such time as one seemed to be clearly better than the other. Iowa is in a period reminiscent of recent Michigan; they are not sane. It is more rational to look askance at the program than the man.
Speaking of the man…
WHAT IF YOU CAN TAKE THE IOWA OUT OF THE MAN?
The counterpoint to the boggling missed read above—and Rudock's Nebraska outing in general—was his performance once Iowa fell behind against Wisconsin.
Iowa-Wisconsin 2014 was a weird game that would feel intimately familiar to many Michigan fans. Wisconsin ran out to a big lead in an incredibly slow (8 possession!) game. Iowa looked inept to the point where the announcers were openly wondering about a QB change to the "more dynamic" Beathard, and then sometimes when you're on:
Rudock proceeded to nuke a good secondary for 10 YPA with a series of pinpoint throws. Chris Spielman dumped shade on the Iowa coaching staff for waiting that long to open things up the whole time.
As I said, intimately familiar. Kirk Ferentz is Lloyd Carr's clone even in 2015. Until Iowa was in trouble, Rudock's first down passes were five yard outs as the Hawkeyes endeavored to put together the world's longest drives.
Rudock was limited by the Iowa offense. Mark Weisman, the main tailback, had the fifth-lowest "highlight yards" average in the country last year. In a nutshell, that means that once Weisman got five yards downfield he was one of the worst players in the country at getting more. That led opposing safeties to play in the parking lot. Iowa's receivers consisted of an inconsistent but promising downfield threat (Tevaun Smith), a mediocre slot receiver (Kevonte Martin-Manley), and a fast guy who was terrible at football (Demond Powell). Martin-Manley, the most frequent target, had a meh 58% catch rate despite being targeted mostly short by a very accurate QB. In pass protection, the Iowa offensive line was reminiscent of 2013 Michigan—a couple NFL draft picks at tackle and a disaster on the interior—except Brandon Scherff was no Taylor Lewan. (They were better on the ground.)
As a result a lot of short throws were forced upon him by circumstance:
Some snaps were so doomed there was no throw available…
…and then his receivers dorfed more than their fair share. I counted seven drops in the Maryland game alone.
Whether 2015 Michigan is better at these things than 2014 Iowa was is an open question. It is likely to be answered "yes," because Harbaugh and recruiting. The line should be better; the running backs should be better (even De'Veon Smith, the ponderous option, had a highlight yard rate almost double Weisman); the coaching should be better. Wide receivers? Hmm.
At the very least Rudock shouldn't find the surrounding talent worse. Significantly better? Ask Drake Harris's hamstring.
WHAT I DID ON MY SUMMER VACATION INSTEAD OF COMPLAINING ABOUT A LACK OF PRESS CONFERENCES
I reviewed five of Rudock's seven Big Ten games (I couldn't find torrents for Minnesota and Indiana; he missed Purdue with an injury) in depth and watched Iowa-Iowa State a couple times. Three of those six games were flat-out excellent, as Rudock nuked Northwestern, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Maryland was a solid performance in trying circumstances. Rudock was hit on probably half his dropbacks as Iowa went empty against Maryland's very good pass-rush DL. Rudock was great for a half against Iowa State, then threw an interception on a wildly inaccurate ball and had a freakout on the next drive. He did lead the ensuing field goal drive that momentarily tied the game. Nebraska was rough; Rudock completed half his passes for 6 YPA.
Here's the scouting report I've assembled on Rudock in the course of doing these things.
He is super accurate. Rudock is at his best placing short and medium length balls directly on his receivers so they can continue running after the catch.
The number of times he misses or even takes his receivers off stride is extremely low. That results in downfield success rates like this:
[mouseover column headers for a description of the categories; + means a throw made under heavy pressure and * means a very bad version of a negative category.]
Those are very low IN counts for the number of throws he's making, and many of those are downfield balls on which that's understandable.
On longer passes he retains that accuracy. Pro Football Focus:
Rudock varies his speeds as appropriate, throwing his WRs open on touch passes and zipping them when it's called for. If he is kept clean and his guys can bust open on slants and seam routes Michigan will profit.
His turnover rate is low for a reason. True WTF throws are extremely rare. In six full games I saw three throws into defensive backs: interceptions against Maryland and Nebraska and a dropped one against Iowa State. There was one that was so inaccurate it caused a turnover.
Rudock's miniscule interception rate was in no way a product of fortune; he gave the opponent very few opportunities to make a play on the ball.
He is a smart guy capable of reading defenses and calling audibles. From the Wisconsin review:
Rudock has a sense for what's going on in the pocket. He got hit a number of times from the blindside in this game; each time he was moving up, probing to see if he could buy himself more time by improving his tackle's angle. He will think about running but if the window closes he will often go back to finding a receiver.
His football IQ seems high. When he IDed man press one-high coverage from Wisconsin, he checked into a wheel route from the slot that was extremely difficult to cover and nailed the throw.
This week on "why Jabrill Peppers is important"
The freakout against Iowa State saw him get happy feet and lose his vision downfield. This was a rarity. Rudock's movement in the pocket is usually productive and focused on getting the ball to a receiver.
His arm strength is okay. Iowa likes five yard outs because Greg Davis. These throws he has a tendency to either pull his receivers upfield or throw it so far to the sideline that his receivers cannot turn the ball upfield. A guy with the proverbial cannon can get those out there in time for some YAC.
Rudock does have the arm to get the ball there on a 15-yard out against college DBs just fine; he is not a plus in this category. He's adequate.
He's decently athletic. He won't be confused with Denard but he is not a statue. After removing sacks, Rudock had approximately* 51 carries at 5.8 yards a pop. Most of those were scrambles and the occasional QB draw. He's a guy you can run a little bit.
*[It was difficult to figure out exactly who suffered the 21 sacks Iowa gave up a year ago since Beathard played in a bunch of games. I concluded Beathard suffered 5 of them, FWIW.]
He's got a robotic approach. To my eyes Rudock's main weakness is a rigid approach to how he gets things done. By this point in the history of football everyone knows the back-shoulder throw. The famous "They Tried To Man Up Crab" play was seven years ago now. (I am old, and so are you.) Fans now expect that a QB throwing at an excellently covered WR is going to leave it short to his WR's advantage.
Rudock does not do that. In the games I reviewed he almost never threw a ball up for grabs. When his wide receivers weren't open, which was often, he tried to hit the six-inch window even perfect coverage leaves. Sometimes he'd just throw it where the guy was supposed to be even though there was no way the guy was going to get there.
It is notable that this approach got more severe as the season went along and Rudock's faith in his WRs dipped. It may be fixable.
Sometimes it really is checkdown city. As mentioned above, Iowa fans aren't wrong when they say Rudock can be too conservative. This from the end of the Maryland game was particularly egregious:
They got the ball back on their 20 with no timeouts and 59 seconds on the clock, whereupon their offense went:
- checkdown drag
- checkdown drag
- checkdown drag
- Rudock hit while throwing slightly inaccurate 15-yard curl that Powell drops
- three yard hitch in-bounds
- either a five yard hitch or five yard out that sees two Iowa receivers run into each other
For large parts of this game I could not tell whether Rudock was missing opportunities downfield or none existed; with a minute left and eighty yards to go that is horrendous.
I think Iowa fans overstate this tendency. There were a couple games in which the director provided a lot of shots of downfield coverage. Most of those revealed that when Rudock didn't throw long it was because he didn't have a throw to attempt.
Again, part of this goes back to the wide receivers and the offense. Play action with Mark Weisman is never going to cause a safety to freak out. Other than the big missed opportunity at the top of this piece I didn't see many glaring misses; it was coverage all the way down.
You still want your QB to understand the game situation and adapt to it, and sometimes you just want him to throw a fade at a covered guy anyway. Jeremy Gallon says hi.
If Jake Rudock is the exact same guy he was last year that's a major win for Michigan. While Rudock was finishing third in the league in passer efficiency, Devin Gardner was struggling to 9th. Shane Morris, the presumptive starter without Rudock's transfer, was definitively behind Gardner after the Minnesota game. Rudock can improve 0% and still be a middling Big Ten QB. This is a godsend.
I think he's got more upside than that. (I also thought Devin Gardner was going to kill it, so… yeah. Keep that in mind.) When I went looked at Rudock's 2014 I saw a guy who was doing reasonably well in a difficult situation.
Michigan will hopefully present him with less of one. The receiving corps plays to his strengths, what with a slant merchant in Darboh and a tight end it's going to be a real good idea to throw to. If Grant Perry is immediately functional as a move-the-chains option that is also right in Rudock's wheelhouse. The run game should be more threatening to the secondary than one featuring a fullback. The offensive line could round into being legit good.
Rudock's not going to challenge Connor Cook or Ohio State QB Du Jour for All Big Ten but he should lead the pack following, depending on how broken Penn State still is. YPA should tick up to 7.6 or 8 with a similar number of interceptions, maybe some extra touchdowns, and a 50/50 shot he gets drafted late.
no reason to drop this
"I think I can win the starting job because I have the mentality to do so," Morris said during a break in the Michigan A4 Aerial Assault camp put on by Harbaugh at the University of Michigan. "Right now, it's my job to lose. Working hard, fighting off any competitors that are trying to take it away from me."
Unfortunately for his chances, while Rudock was somewhere between average and good for Iowa, Morris was going 11 for 32 for 2.8 YPA with zero touchdowns and two interceptions in extended outings against Utah and Minnesota. The charts are boggling.
He had a long, long way to go then, and likely still does. And if that wasn't bad enough:
— Detroit News Sports (@detnews_sports) August 19, 2015
Gerry Dinardo is of course the man who said this* before the 2013 season:
"When I saw them in the spring it was like a war at the line of scrimmage. It was what you imagine it looks like at Alabama and all the downhill teams."
That is a kiss of death.
Morris will soldier on all the same. His spring game performance was mildly encouraging given his 2014, but only mildly so:
Morris was anointed the #1 QB coming out of spring by none other than Harbaugh himself, and that seemed about right after the spring game. That it did so after Morris went 11 of 24 for 5.6 YPA would have me purchasing bags of dehydrated food, water purifiers, and shotguns if not for the 99% official transfer of Iowa starter Jake Rudock to Michigan.
The large bulk of that yardage was acquired by throwing fades to Amara Darboh at 5'7" wide receiver Dennis Norfleet. The interception he threw was not on him—Jaron Dukes knocked a bullet to his hands skyward—but Morris didn't show much other than his ability to consistently place the ball where it should be on those fades:
One thing I'll say in Morris's favor. He's got that fade down pat. One got intercepted because Darboh didn't wall off and extend away from a defensive back and a couple more got dropped; the rest save one were completions, and I think Morris ended up leaving that one short because he got hit. The rest were on the money, in that space outside the numbers and inside the sideline where the receiver has space to play with and can detach from the DB.
That is a very good spot to be able to hit consistently. It alone won't be anywhere near enough to unseat Rudock.
After a brief flurry of Morris optimism this fall (Rivals: "He's playing with an edge to his game, and is displaying the competitive fire that is winning over coaches") things settled back to pre-camp expectations, and then literally every student who offered an opinion after the open fall practice said it was Rudock by a mile.
Morris should stay in front of any chasers for the #2 job this year, and then he'll get another crack as a senior. You can't write him off as long as he can do this…
…and now he's got a QB coach who has many reclamation projects to his name. If anyone can rescue Morris's 2.8 YPA it's Harbaugh.
*[That article, titled "How Michigan football returned to its smashmouth roots," is the single most incorrect thing ever written. You, the reader, should return to it whenever you feel overwhelmed by a task. Bask in its glow, thinking "no matter how badly I screw this up, it will not be nearly as bad as this 600 word newspaper article."
The article will inspire generations to give it a shot. Whatever it is. Paragliding with a homemade paper-mache wing: at least it's not "How Michigan football returned to its smashmouth roots." Carpe diem, baby.]
Malzone, O'Korn, Gentry, and Speight
Nobody past Morris will see the field except in an emergency. ALEX MALZONE [recruiting profile] was everyone's spring fave-rave until everyone saw the spring game. In it, Malzone looked a lot like an overwhelmed freshman. He's not that big and not that fast and needs to be ruthlessly efficient to perform. His upside is a lot like Rudock. A redshirt beckons, but he did get a shout-out from 247 as the second-best guy in fall camp. If Rudock gets hurt he seems in line for some snaps.
There was some chance that enormous, fast ZACH GENTRY [recruiting profile] would put himself in vague contention this year, but that hasn't happened. That is no surprise since Gentry played against New Mexico competition and requires time and polish. He has the highest upside of anyone on campus.
As a person who Al Borges thought could be a college QB, WILTON SPEIGHT [recruiting profile] is carrying a scarlet B around. He's big and supposedly has a big arm; thanks to his spring injury nobody has seen snap one from him. He might see some garbage time snaps (if there are any) since he's already had his redshirt.
Finally, transfer JOHN O'KORN seemed like a weird take a few months ago after losing his job at Houston midseason. He has reportedly looked excellent in informal summer workouts. O'Korn has to sit this season out; he'll be a redshirt junior in 2016, gunning for a vacant job. He's a guy to keep an eye on after being named the AAC rookie of the year in 2013.