This Week’s Obsession: Giggity Comment Count

Seth September 7th, 2017 at 9:12 AM

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[Christopher Cook]

This is our weekly staff roundtable. Readers are always welcome to submit questions.

The Question:

Most encouraging thing you saw this weekend?

The ResponsesNyah-Nyah

BiSB: Two related things struck me on the offensive side of the ball. The first was that the running backs looked really good. In particular, Evans, Higdon, and Isaac all showed good vision, which was a continuation of something we saw in the spring game. Other than the sprint draw to Higdon in the 2nd quarter, it didn't seem like they missed any obvious reads. All three did a good job of pressing the hole and looking for a crease. This was the kind of game that would have seen a number of Michigan backs of recent years get regularly buried in the line. On Saturday, the only TFLs were the ones where the line just gave them nothing to work with, which will happen against a defense like Florida's.

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Ain’t stoppin. [Cook]

The second thing was how consistently Michigan moved the ball. They only had two three-and-outs in the entire game: the first O'Korn series, and the drive with two minutes left in the game where first downs weren't really the point. Other than those two, every Michigan drive in the game (that didn't end with a pick or a the end of the half) either scored points or gained at least 30 yards. After Michigan took a 9-point lead in the middle of the 3rd quarter, they moved the ball 30 yards and pinned Florida at its own 8. Then they moved the ball 51 yards before a false start and a missed field goal. Then they moved the ball 58 yards into the red zone before they missed another field goal. People talk about the offense's ability to "close out" games, and to me, THAT is what that looks like. With that kind of help from the offense, this defense can turn a nine point lead into a stone cold lock. (edited)

[After THE JUMP things make us happy with Florida caveats]

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David: I feel like this is so obvious, but I have to go with Don Brown playing mostly with a new formation (3-3-5) that he only really tinkered with last year.

There were plenty of great points made about this: using an alignment that hadn't really been put on film, potentially looking at something different for stopping what OSU does well, finding something specific about athletic matchups against Florida, or just using the athletes that he wanted to get on the field...all of these are awesome things to think about.

Sometimes I wonder if he's in his laboratory trying to conceive a way to get a 2-2-7 or 2-4-5 to work.

This is what gives me as much confidence about Michigan's defense in the future as anything. I'm sure no one is going to out-think him, he probably has about four aces up his sleeve that no one has contemplated, yet, and he's going to prepare and develop his guys -DUDES- as well as anyone would be able to do so. This team has gotten more fun and interesting for yet another reason.

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Seth: A 2-4-5 is actually pretty common—it’s how 3-4 teams go to a nickel nowadays. Functionally it’s no different than when a 4-3 under team like 2011 Michigan would technically be a 3-3-5 when they lifted Will Heininger for Blake Countess and put Jake Ryan’s hand in the dirt.

Anyway I loved the linebackers. Everything about the linebackers. I loved that McCray came back in and was fine after terrifying me by his absence at the start. I loved how Devin Gil was totally adequate in his stead despite getting so little mention this summer our argument over him was whether he was fodder or just too small yet to be of use. I loved that Khaleke Hudson looked like everything our hypest hopes could come up with. Furbush and Uche were born to play the 3-3-5 SAM role they were given, and I loved that.

Oh, and after seeing Devin Bush and David Reese on the same field I agree with the Michigan coaches' decision to pursue the former like a 5-star.

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I SAID you’re a tough sonovabitch! [Cook]

Adam: Remember when Jim Harbaugh tripped at his introductory presser and cribbed that Bo line about how a lesser man would have gone down? Wilton Speight's game Saturday reminded me of that. As Brian extensively detailed in the season preview, Speight had a tendency last year to go from Speight-baugh to Speight-ges whenever a no good, very bad thing happened to him.

That reared its head again after the first unfortunate pick-six; Speight then winged one that was actually on him and found himself on the bench, while O'Korn found himself with meaningful playing time.

Even more encouraging than having a backup QB who seems to have earned the staff's trust is Speight's in-game re-calibration. Harbaugh mentioned on Monday that you can't really tell how a guy is going to respond to that type of adversity until he goes through it; Speight had a track record of responding a certain way and, to his credit, has accelerated his timetable for bouncing back six-fold. His completion percentage could use some work (it was a hair under 50% after he re-entered the game), but he threw for 7.2 yards per attempt after the second pick-six and seemed more mechanically sound in the second half; his passes no longer had that bounced-off-a-trampoline feel seen on some of the deep balls thrown in the first half. Harbaugh again reinforced why we have a "Jim Harbaugh QB whisperer" tag, and Speight no longer needs a bye week to right the ship.

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Ace: While Florida may not have the most dangerous passing game, they have talented, athletic receivers, especially Tyrie Cleveland. Michigan entered this game with an entirely new secondary led in experience by last year’s dimeback; every other starter was a second-year player. And yet, thanks in large part to being in year two of Don Brown’s system, *there wasn’t a single noticeable coverage bust*. Tyree Kinnel got the defensive backs aligned and on the same page to the point we didn’t see much, if any, pre-snap scrambling, and nothing got behind the entire defense. There will be more tests, but so far the supposed weak point of the defense (relatively speaking) doesn’t look very weak at all.

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THIS is how you use a 3-3-5 SAM. [Cook]

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Brian: HOLY PANTS YOU GUYS I KNOW WHAT A 3-3-5 IS SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE NOW. Michigan took a look at a couple of super burly linebackers and some dodgy DL depth and found a spread-oriented solution. I have no doubt we're going to see Bryan Mone more extensively against manball outfits, but for Brown to pull at 3-3-5 out and have it work more or less perfectly speaks to Michigan's offseason preparation, Brown's willingness to adapt, and vision to see he's got the horses for it. Noah Furbush has always seemed like a fish out of water in Brown's defense and he just started and played the vast majority of a P5 opener. And he did well.

Also: the cornerbacks were mostly fine. Hill got hit on one inadvertent back shoulder throw that was worrying. Other than that it was a lot of excellent positioning leading to PBUs, or sometimes misses when UF QBs tried to thread the needle and missed. Seeing Brandon Watson go step for step with a Florida receiver and bat the ball away was encouraging. That UF receiver might not be any good but I have to assume he's a highly touted dude who can run, and "Can Watson run with guys?" is his biggest question.

The CBs are still going to be a step down from last year; after one game it looks like it'll be a tolerable one.

Comments

DonAZ

September 7th, 2017 at 9:23 AM ^

BiSB: "The first was that the running backs looked really good."

At what point -- if ever -- do we credit Jay Harbaugh?  Perhaps the departure of Wheatley as RB coach is not, on net, a bad thing?

Kevin13

September 7th, 2017 at 9:36 AM ^

just yet.  Wheatley did a very good job and Jay stepped into a very good situation with some very good RB depth. We will have to wait and see how some of the younger backs progress under Jay to make that determination.

Chipper1221

September 7th, 2017 at 9:37 AM ^

Only 2 three and outs in an opening act against the reigning SEC East Champs. Thats something to be proud of.

Im very anxious to see this offense gel and see what kind of product we have in weeks 4,5 and onward 

ijohnb

September 7th, 2017 at 9:39 AM ^

performance didn't bother me.  I might be in the minority, and of course the pick 6s put my heart in my throat for a minute, but I thought if anything he came out with too much confidence.  I never think of that as a bad thing.  Last year, it did not look to me like Speight believed in himself, I think he really wanted to, but that he still had doubts of his own.  On Saturday, he looked commanding to me.  He looked to me like he believed he was ready for the spot he is in. 

All QBs are going to make some mistakes.  His mistakes thus far have proven particularly costly.  I don't think it is a long term problem. I think his decision making will improve and that he will learn from every mistake he makes.  I still expect him to be a very good QB here, and that by the thick of the BIG season he will be putting together some truly impressive games.

Lionheart

September 7th, 2017 at 9:56 AM ^

I don't think Speight's issues were decision making at all.  To say it was his decisions would say he shouldn't have made either of the throws that resulted in Pick Six's.  The decisions were correct, the execution was off.  Even the missed throws on both sidelines were the correct decision just threw the ball too far outside instead of up the field.  Accuracy on those throws should improve with more chemistry and game time experience with current recieving core.

ijohnb

September 7th, 2017 at 10:28 AM ^

you look at the second INT, I don't think it is a pass that he should have thrown.  There was a rusher coming free and Perry had not even set to make his break to the outside.  Now, can Aaron Rodgers put a throw on a rope into a window ten yards from where is receiver is without setting his feet because a DE is ready to destroy him?  Yes, that is Aaron Rodgers doing Aaron Rodgers things.  But this is Wilton Speight.  At that particular moment, in those particular circumstances, I think you have to eat that ball and live to throw another day.

cletus318

September 7th, 2017 at 12:56 PM ^

Perry was out of his break and already looking back before the throw was made. If anything, the throw was a bit late. Perry had a good two steps on the defender. At this level of football, that's an open throw. Even with a rusher coming free, the pass was thrown before Speight could legally take a hit. It wasn't perfect protection, but that play wouldn't have even constituted a hurry. Those are the types of throws the QB has to be able to make to beat upper echelon teams.

jsquigg

September 7th, 2017 at 12:59 PM ^

In spite of Adam's take and the optimism towards Speight, I am concerned with his lack of consistency, especially against good defenses.  I'm not worried about his knowledge or his ability in ideal or low pressure situations, but as the talent gap shrinks he is going to need to make a difference.  I'm not saying he can't or won't, but his ability to perform is my biggest concern.  

InterM

September 7th, 2017 at 1:20 PM ^

Sorry, Adam, I don't see how anything in Speight's performance could be called "encouraging."  The best I can do with Saturday is talk myself off the ledge.  Yes, Speight showed resilience during the game, but we've seen that from him before -- what we need is fewer mistakes to bounce back from, particularly mistakes that cost 6 points.  What we got on Saturday was pretty much the same worrisome Speight, and I was hoping for better.  As noted by Mr. Squigg above, we might get to better, but the first outing of the year suggests we might not.

gbdub

September 7th, 2017 at 1:22 PM ^

Speight didn't look like a very accurate thrower - but he did look like a smart QB with good pocket awareness and decisionmaking. I suspect his passing numbers will look a little better than the completion percentage suggests - he had a few bad misses, but also a couple drops and a few smart throw aways.

Senor Pantalones

September 7th, 2017 at 9:52 AM ^

During that PBU by Watson, Blackledge said something to the effect of "and Brandon Watson swats that pass away easily" and my wife piped in with "Uh, I think you mean Brandon Swat-son" at which point I was reminded once more that I married the right one.

ST3

September 7th, 2017 at 11:25 AM ^

I fondly remember the day many years ago that my brother came home from school and taught me what he learned in Spanish class - blue jeans in spanish are called "Pantalones Vaqueros." Literally, cowboy pants. That sounds so much cooler than "jeans." It just rolls off the tongue.

Jangalang

September 7th, 2017 at 10:01 AM ^

and do what he did when we really needed a boost (down 10-17) was very encouraging to me.  Going from what Allen did last year and how consistent he was and now transitioning to Nordin feels like this is going to be a solid position for years to come.

 

I love that this team is becoming so solid from top to bottom - everything from special teams right down to the D line...no dropoffs, competition, depth.

 

Love this team and this staff...Go Blue!!

M-Dog

September 7th, 2017 at 10:05 AM ^

People talk about the offense's ability to "close out" games, and to me, THAT is what that looks like. With that kind of help from the offense, this defense can turn a nine point lead into a stone cold lock.

The O left a lot of points on the board, but they gave the D a chance to rest and regroup.  Avoiding multiple 3 and outs in a row was big.

Had we had this last year, we would have been in the CFP, even with all those points left on the board.

That's what this excellent article was talking about:

https://saturdaytradition.com/michigan-football/michigan-improve-one-area-before-elite-2017/

Looks like we have indeed addressed that.

 

 

stephenrjking

September 7th, 2017 at 12:02 PM ^

One game in against an opponent of unknown quality.

But yeah, that was encouraging. One thing I will lament is that there wasn't a lot of running success right up the middle. Now, the RBs did pick their holes well, and perhaps that is a sustainable thing, but we won't always be able to gain chunk yardage on 3rd-and-long draws.

AZBlue

September 7th, 2017 at 10:13 AM ^

With the collarbone recovery? I noticed on the TD to Black and later on a bounced throwaway toward Hill(?) - only ones I noticed - that Speight seeming to flinch a bit when he was going to take a hit. I am pretty sure that is why that ball to Black hung in the air so long.

It still doesn't explain the 3-4 fades that took the receivers OB though.

DonAZ

September 7th, 2017 at 12:02 PM ^

I broke my left collar bone twice -- two separate instances.

Collar bone breaks are nasty.  They're painful as hell, and during recovery small things result in jolts of pain, such as putting on a shirt, or trying to tie shoes.  I grew skittish of any movement.

It ruined my golf game -- I sub-consciously protected my left side, and my swing went to hell.  

So I can see a collar bone break making someone skittish.  Not saying Speight is in that camp, but speaking just for myself ... yeah.

Michiganguy19

September 7th, 2017 at 10:31 AM ^

We give up the opening FG after one of the only big plays we allow all game... Take the lead and feel like we are a TD drive away from putting the gas on Florida in the second quarter... Then the two pick 6s... and we are down 10-17 in a game that we are really in control of. 

That script with previous Michigan teams has lead to all sorts of 35-21 losses with a hot or strong start fading away and the kind of regret and post game reflection involving "what if". 

Instead the team then shuts out the opponent the rest of the game (very Bama-like) and has a scoring drive whenever called upon the rest of the game. In a neutral site opener vs. a talent team.

 

champswest

September 7th, 2017 at 10:32 AM ^

as our defensive coach and the players must love playing for him, he must go to bed smiling every night over the talent that he has to work with. With out a doubt, the best that he has ever had.

dcmaizeandblue

September 7th, 2017 at 10:37 AM ^

I still don't think what the offense did at the end of the game was "closing it out." It was closer than last year given that they gained yards and put themselves in position to put points on the board, but putting the points up on the board is the most important part.

Closing a game out means putting a game out of reach, and a lot of dumb things can happen even when the defense was playing lights out, like 2 consecutive pick sixes. I think they can be better than last year but they'll have to do more in later games. 

BiSB

September 7th, 2017 at 10:41 AM ^

A big part of putting the game out of reach was the offense not making the kind of mistakes that would either give Florida points or a short field.

In that game, given everything we'd seen, a two-score lead with Florida forced to drive the length of the field was the same as putting it out of reach.

ijohnb

September 7th, 2017 at 10:46 AM ^

Drevno and Harbaugh have somewhat of a nasty tendency to really clam up with play calling when they are playing with a fourth quarter lead.  The play calling becomes frustratingly predictable and any prior innovation that was paying dividends earlier in the game is abandoned.  I don't particularly understand this tendency as it seems at odds with Harbaugh's personality and general coaching philosophy.  They can be very Lloyd-ish late in ballgames.

BiSB

September 7th, 2017 at 11:07 AM ^

And obviously, too conservative isn't much better than too aggressive. But there's something to be said for playing the percentages.

If Kevin Sumlin had looked at the scoreboard last weekend and said "time to run the ball a little bit," Texas A&M fans might be moderately upset that the Aggies let UCLA get back within a couple of scores by the end of the game. But... there are worse things that can happen.

ijohnb

September 7th, 2017 at 11:17 AM ^

agree with this, but you have to find the right balance.  You can't become conservative to the point where you basically stop trying to gain yards, or tacitly accept that you are not going to by running plays that you have little success with all game.  For the record, I don't think they did this against Florida.  I do think they did this against MSU two years ago and OSU last year, and a certain extent Iowa as well.

M Ascending

September 7th, 2017 at 11:29 AM ^

There are ways to be conservative but still aggressive, such as using misdirection (reverses); bubble screens, etc., which are safe but can also lead to big gainers.  I think that provides the happy medium between not risking turnovers, but still actively seeking first downs.  Unfortunately, Harbaugh and Drevno haven't taken that route yet.  Maybe with Pep's input they eventually will.

Malum In Se

September 7th, 2017 at 11:29 AM ^

My guess is the conservative play calling is more a function of not quite trusting the offense.  We have seen the offense go conservative like that when the OL was getting beat or in this game where the passing game was largely off.  

With the way Spieght and O'Korn played, I was totally happy with grinding the clock out on the ground and not taking many risks.  Florida defense was a bigger threat to score than its offense, so I was all for playing its safe.

If we are still playing that conservative when OL and QB are playing at a consistently high level, then I would be pretty annoyed.  Offensively, we're not there yet, so we'll see when we are.

XiX

September 7th, 2017 at 12:27 PM ^

If that were the case then they wouldn't have called the pass play to Eubanks or given Speight the audible to Crawford that he missed. I don't see an issue of trust, or even hyper-conservative playcalling, so much as they knew they could run the ball and kill the clock.

It's TBD how they'll call things going forward but I think they did a great job of taking shots where available but also taking advantage of the edges on running plays.

Lionheart

September 7th, 2017 at 1:08 PM ^

Agree, one missed sure TD to Crawford and missed 32 yrd FG and this game would of had the "Finish" that everyone is looking for.  As it was, Michigan sitting on a two score lead.  I agree that play calling would be viewed as conservative if the lead would have been 6 instead of 9 points.

maize-blue

September 7th, 2017 at 10:52 AM ^

I kind of agree. Especially after the long throw to Eubanks. They have to finish off a drive like that, go ahead and throw that knockout punch. Instead they came out empty with a missed FG.

However, I do think they seemed better overall at gaining yards, moving chains, eating clock. I guess that is better. I think last year's offense would have stalled more in this game, making it a bit more dicey.

I'd like to see the offense really take command in those redzone situations in the next few games.

reshp1

September 7th, 2017 at 10:40 AM ^

When Long went out and Ambry Thomas came in (Watson was already out) there was quite a lot of confusion and as far as I could tell at least one bust that didn't matter because Zaire was already running for his life. Kinnel was basically telling him, and in one case physically pushing him to, where he needed to be every snap. That's a bit concerning. I know Thomas is just a freshman, but he was here in Spring and although he didn't look physically ready, you kinda hope he'd be more mentally ready. 

 

stephenrjking

September 7th, 2017 at 12:08 PM ^

He's a true freshman playing on a defense with a deep playbook. Picking this stuff up is a big reason why true frosh don't play that frequently anyway, and with Brown there is a known "acquisition time" with his defense that means first-year guys are going to take time to figure it out.

It's likely not that he knows none of the playbook, but he was thrown to the wolves unexpectedly (just a guess, but I would think that he has been fed small parts of the playbook that he is more likely to use, very base stuff plus some 3rd-and-long packages when extra DBs are handy, and suddenly he's out there running everything Michigan has) in the largest stadium he has ever played in with a live opponent, and he's barely old enough to vote. All of that stuff, combined, can make a kid uncertain.