This is our weekly staff roundtable. Readers are always welcome to submit questions.
Most encouraging thing you saw this weekend?
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.
|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]
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.
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.
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.
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.
|THIS is how you use a 3-3-5 SAM. [Cook]|
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.