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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Colorado

September 20, 2016

THE GOOD

  • Punt Return Team – Last year Jim Harbaugh brought in nationally renowned special teams coach John Baxter from USC to coach at Michigan.  While the special teams were good last year, they weren’t spectacular as some had hoped they would be under Baxter.  Baxter returned to USC this offseason, but either Chris Partridge is a better special teams coach or Baxter left some magic juice behind, because for the 2nd time in 3 games, the Michigan punt return team was a game changer.  Against Hawaii it was just a nice way to start the season, but on Saturday they kept Michigan in the game while the defense and offense got going and then provided the exclamation point at the end.  An early block returned for a touchdown helped Michigan cut the lead to 14-7.  Then, down 21-7, Colorado’s punter kicked a punt into his own lineman setting up Michigan’s second touchdown.  You can argue that was an unforced error, but given Michigan’s previous block, its likely part of the mental error was due to the oncoming Michigan rush.  Regardless, Michigan outscored Colorado 38-7 from that point on.  It was clearly the turning point in the game.  Finally, Jabrill Peppers returned a punt for a touchdown and while he did a lot of the work, there was a team effort involved.  So for those keeping track, the punt return team created 14 points on their own and setup the turning point in the game.  Not a bad Saturday.
  • Mr. Everything – When Jabrill Peppers committed to Brady Hoke 3 years ago, there was talk about how he was a game changing player, destined to play on Sundays, and one of the better all around prospects to come out of high school in years.  And sure you wanted to believe it, but you never know with recruiting.  Last year he was arguably the best player on Michigan’s team, and dominant at times. Yesterday he proved why he may be the best college football player in the country.  The stats were eye-popping – 204 All Purpose yards on offense and on kickoff and punt returns, 9 tackles including 3.5 for a loss, and one touchdown.  But to watch it was even more impressive.  When Michigan needed a big play, he delivered, though it seemed like he was in on every single play as it was.  Defensively, I’ve never seen a linebacker who can drop into coverage and cover a slot receiver like a cornerback.  Peppers lined up at kick returner, punt returner, nickelback, safety, linebacker and running back and was the best player on either team at each position.  And those kick and punt returns are going to keep special teams coordinators of our remaining 9 opponents up all night.  Enjoy the next 9-12 games because that will likely be the last we see of Jabrill in a Michigan uniform.
  • The Defense –  I know this will raise a few eyebrows but Michigan gave up only 326 yards and 21 points, the majority of which came on the first 3 drives of the game for Colorado.  And if you look a little closer, its even better.  The first TD was on a short field, the second TD was a defensive touchdown, and the third TD came on a long drive where Michigan committed an offsides penalty negating a third down stop.  Yes the Buffaloes hit an 80 yard TD bomb to start the 3rd quarter, but other than that they spent of the rest of the game on their heels.  They only had two drives longer than 5 plays all game, and only had the ball on the Michigan side of the field once in the last 3 quarters.  Michigan finished with 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.  Once Michigan figured out the 2-3 plays Colorado could execute on (mostly the inside slant), they shut them down.
  • The Last Three Quarters – Speaking of shutting them down, while the final score was 45-28, and this game felt like an escape for many Michigan fans because we had to come back from 14 points down, we actually outscored Colorado 38-7 over the final three quarters, and that was with two missed FGs.  If we had started the game 38-7 and finished by being outscored by 14, I’m guessing there would be a lot less angst among Michigan fans.  Pretty much everything got better for Michigan as the game went on.  Wilton Speight, who started 4/13 for 43 yards, finished 12/17 for for 186 yards and a touchdown.  It wasn’t nearly the performance he had last week for 300+ yards and 4 touchdowns, but that won’t happen every week.  He lead the offense to 31 points through three quarters and once he settled down looked like the QB we saw the first two weeks.
  • Coaching Adjustments – One reason the last three quarters were so successful were in game coaching adjustments.  Under previous regimes, we often waited until halftime (or even later) to make adjustments to ways other teams were exploiting our offensive and defensive weaknesses.  Michigan quickly adapted however in two phases that were key to changing the game around.  First, Colorado was hurting us with an underneath slant.  We fixed that in two ways – by bringing more pressure up the middle and forcing the QB to roll out and out of the passing lane, and by taking away the slant with a linebacker and forcing them to look elsewhere.  They couldn’t do it and their offense sputtered.  On offense, like Central Florida took away the run game last week forcing us to throw deep, Colorado took away our strength from the week before, the vertical passing game.  After a few failed attempts at going deep, we settled for short passes and underneath throws to the tight ends and fullbacks, mostly Jake Butt.  These aren’t shocking adjustments, but the ability to implement them starting almost immediately is a key difference between what we’ve seen in previous staffs and in this one.
  • Tom Brady – There isn’t a lot to say here other than the fact that Michigan had arguably the greatest QB of all time as the honorary captain on Saturday.  That was pretty cool.  But really this is just an excuse to make sure you’ve seen this video of Brady playing catch with Jim Harbaugh before the game.  It was the stuff Michigan fans dream’s are made of.  

  • 3-0 (and it was pretty easy) – There were certainly a some Michigan fans who raised an eyebrow after the slow start on Saturday.  But here’s all that really matters – Michigan is 3-0, and did so without having a truly competitive game in the 4th quarter.  Three wins by an average of 53-15 is as good of a start for Michigan since Gary Moeller was coach. And that team went unbeaten (though with 3 ties) and won the Rose Bowl.  There are tougher teams ahead for sure, but Michigan got young guys experience, didn’t sustain any major injuries, was able to rest guys who needed it, and should be ready and healthy to start the Big Ten season.  Other than jumping out to the 38-7 lead over Colorado instead of finishing the game that way, I’m not sure how the first 3 games could’ve gone much better.    

THE BAD

  • The First Quarter – Michigan came out flat on Saturday.  There is no other way to put it.  Colorado looked hungrier and better prepared and it showed.  While many Michigan fans expected a tighter game than the first two contests, this was still expected to be an easy victory.  So when Michigan was down 21-7 at the end of the first quarter, there as some justified concern.  Especially since the only points Michigan had been able to generate was a blocked punt and they had also given up a defensive touchdown.  Other than saying Michigan came out flat, there isn’t really a good explanation for what happened, other than the fact that Colorado was exploiting a few weaknesses they saw on tape on both sides of the ball.  The good news was that not only were they fixable, but Michigan corrected them by the start of the 2nd quarter.  The better news was that, as often is the case, teams like Colorado come out swinging but have trouble maintaining that intensity the whole game – which we saw later on.    
  • Tackling – One of the challenges Michigan faced early was some really poor tackling, usually by the secondary and some of the linebackers.  They weren’t necessarily taking poor angles, just failing to wrap up and properly bring the player down.  In a couple of instances it cost them an additional 10-20 yards, which is inexcusable.  Part of that might have been due to not being used to playing a Power 5 school.  Colorado may not have the depth of talent that Michigan has, but certain players, especially the skill positions, can absolutely make you pay if you don’t give them full respect.  Michigan felt some of that on Saturday.  
  • Safety Play – Not to pick on the safeties too much, because I think they were put into some challenging spots, but they were the weak spot on Saturday, getting beaten over the top for 14 of Colorado’s 28 points.  My hunch is that with Jourdan Lewis injured they were forced into covering receivers they normally wouldn’t have had to, but both Delano Hill and Dymonte Thomas were taken advantage of early on.  

THE UGLY

  • The Kicking Game – As you may have noticed, I didn’t find time to publish a blog last week after the Central Florida game.  The person who suffered the most from that was probably Kenny Allen, who had a really nice game both kicking and punting.  He was 4/4 on field goals, had six touchbacks and averaged 45.7 yards per punt.  A very nice day for a kicker being asked to do a lot.  Unfortunately, his game against Colorado was the exact opposite as he struggled in all phases.  Though he finished with four touchbacks, he had several short kickoffs early on that helped Colorado start with good field position.  His punting was “meh” with just a 39 yard average that included a couple of shanks and a couple of other missed opportunities to pin Colorado deep.  And he was only 1/3 on three makeable field goals.  And the two misses weren’t close.  It’s possible he has too much on his plate as a kicker or could be injured, because Saturday was an out of character day for him.  Hopefully he will bounce back this week against Penn State.  

 

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Hawaii

September 6, 2016

 

THE GOOD

  • Everything Went According To Plan – There was a lot of hype heading into Jim Harbaugh’s second season after an impressive 10-3 campaign a year ago.  A top ten ranked Michigan team at home against a below average Hawaii team that had spent the previous weekend in Sydney should’ve been an easy victory for Michigan.  That being said, a 63-3 thumping was an exceptional result, no matter who the opponent was.  For comparison, the last time Michigan beat a team by 60 points was a 69-0 thumping of Northwestern in 1979.  In fact, in the modern era of college football (after 1945), this was the 3rd largest margin of victory for Michigan.  The only other 60 point wins were the aforementioned Northwestern game and a similar 69-0 destruction of Pittsburgh in 1947.  Yes it was a bad Hawaii team.  Yes they were playing at 6 AM their time.  Yes they were coming off of a game in Australia the week prior.  But there have been plenty of other games in which the odds were stacked against the opponents and Michigan was less dominant.  This is what elite teams do on a regular basis.  Hopefully its a sign that Michigan is back among the elite.  
  • The Running Game – One thing that has to happen for Michigan to be elite is the establishment of a consistent running game.  Despite improvement last year, Michigan still struggled to run the ball at times.  Saturday’s test was not against a very good defense, but it was still only the second time Michigan has rushed for more than 300 yards in the last 5 seasons.  As a caveat I’ll add that the previous time was in 2014 during a 52-14 victory over Appalachian State and that Michigan lost to Notre Dame 31-0 the following week.  That being said, this felt like a different effort due to the depth at running back and the offensive line.  Starting with the line, I was impressed with the ability of this line to not just open holes but to get a consistent push on almost every play.  They didn’t miss a beat playing without senior left guard Ben Braden, and several players who hadn’t played a ton previously, including Patrick Kugler, Grant Newsome, and freshman Ben Bredeson all looked more than capable.  We’ll have to see how they look against a more physical defense, but for a first game the line showed a lot of promise.  As for the running backs, Michigan had five backs carry the ball, the most impressive of which was true freshman Chris Evans who had 112 yards and two touchdowns.  Evans showed the vision and patience we haven’t seen from a Michigan back in several years.  De’Veon Smith, the starter, left after the first couple of series, but Michigan didn’t miss a beat.  In particular Ty Isaac looked to have improved significantly from last year.  The combination of an improved line and a deep stable of running backs (senior Drake Johnson didn’t even play due to injury) suggests this could be Michigan’s most consistent rushing attack in years.  
  • Quarterbacks – Wilton Speight snagged the starting job, but it was pretty clear that all the quarterbacks can play.  While Speight went 10-13 and threw 3 touchdown passes, John O’Korn and Shane Morris combined for a perfect 7-7, including several really nice looking throws from both.  None of the quarterbacks were asked to do anything too sophisticated, but they proved more than capable.  As for Speight specifically, his first pass notwithstanding, he showed very good command of the offense and wasn’t overwhelmed by the moment at all.  If I’m being honest, it took Jake Rudock 4-5 games to look as comfortable as Speight did last year.  And not surprisingly, O’Korn and Morris looked just as comfortable when they entered the game too (though that might have been due to the score).  
  • Defense, Defense, Defense – One reason the offense felt so comfortable was probably because of the help they got from the Michigan defense.  For the 25 minutes of gameplay, Hawaii had negative yardage.  They didn’t pick up a first down until the 5:00 minute mark of the 2nd quarter.  Though they eventually were able to put together a couple of drives that added to their yardage, they struggled to move the ball most of the afternoon.  Only a 55 yard field goal kept this from being a shutout.  In fact, thanks to two interceptions returned for touchdowns, Michigan’s defense actually outscored Hawaii 14-3.  They also did this while playing without starting defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, starting All-American cornerback Jourdan Lewis, and for most of the game without starting defensive linemen Bryan Mone and Taco Charlton.  Again, the caveat of it was just Hawaii, but the defense looked as dominant as expected, forcing 10 tackles for losses including 4 sacks.  Perhaps the biggest improvement over last year were the linebackers.  Senior Mike McCray finished with 9 tackles and 2 sacks,  while linebackers Ben Gedeon and Mr. Everything Jabrill Peppers accounted for the other two sacks.  It was clear that they were a huge upgrade in athletic talent over last year’s linebackers, and Defensive Coordinator Don Brown is taking advantage of it.  
  • Freshman Class – While on the subject of upgrades in talent, its time to discuss the 2016 recruiting class.  Many fans are familiar with the addition of the top recruit in the country Rashan Gary – who played and played well.  But Michigan fans are going to have to start looking at their game programs a lot more if this freshman class keeps it up.  Michigan played a record 17 true freshman in this game, with several of them shining in their debut.  We’ve already discussed running back Chris Evans, but he wasn’t the only guy to make a mark on offense as the incredibly named Eddie McDoom had two rushes for 34 yards and caught two passes as well.  Other freshmen who made their way into the box score were running back Kingston Davis, tight end Sean McKeon, wide receiver Kekoa Crawford, defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour, Rashan Gary, linebackers Devin Bush and Josh Uche, and defensive backs Lavert Hill and Khaleke Hudson.  Cornerback David Long also saw significant playing time.  Even in a blowout, that is a LOT of players to contribute as true freshmen.  And they wouldn’t be playing if Coach Harbaugh didn’t think they could help out this year.  Most will still struggle to see significant playing time because of depth, but Gary, Evans, and McDoom are names to keep an eye for sure.  
  • Star Power – It takes a special type of celebrity power to make Heisman Trophy winner and future NFL Hall of Famer Charles Woodson the third fiddle at his own alma mater, but that’s exactly what happened on Saturday.  The presence of His Airness, Michael Jordan, was as big as they get, especially considering that MJ doesn’t show up for sporting events that don’t involve his Charlotte Bobcats or North Carolina Tar Heels.  But Jordan showed up this weekend to help launch the Jordan Brand football jerseys and gear at Michigan, the first college football school to wear them.  It was a big deal for the fans, the team, and of course the future football and basketball recruits who are considering Michigan.  Jordan was such a big deal that even Mr. November, Derek Jeter, took a backseat to him too.  Poor Lamarr Woodley, who did receive a standing ovation from the crowd, was relegated to the 4th most popular former athlete on the sideline.   With Rich Eisen coming to town next week and Tom Brady as an honorary captain in a few weeks, its clear that Jim Harbaugh is pulling out all the stops to make Michigan the “it” school.  Don’t be shocked to see other celebrities on the sidelines in the near future.  There are 5 more games still in need of honorary captains.  

THE BAD

  • Injuries – The one thing you ideally want to avoid in a game like this is injuries.  Unfortunately, it seems like that may be the only thing that went wrong for Michigan on Saturday.  To begin with, Jourdan Lewis and Maurice Hurst were both held out, but according to reports probably could’ve played if necessary.  Shortly thereafter, Michigan lost running back De’Veon Smith to an apparent rib injury.  That also seems like something he could’ve played through if necessary.  It wouldn’t shock me to see him sit this week against Central Florida, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he toughs it out given the competition at running back.  The good news regarding the other injuries is that they are at a position of depth – defensive line.  The bad news is that they appear to be a bit more serious.  Taco Charlton seems to have a high ankle sprain that will likely keep him out a few weeks.  His expected return is probably Wisconsin, but maybe Penn State.  Bryan Money, who lost all of last year to an ACL tear is rumored to have a sprained MCL that will also keep him out of action 3-4 weeks.  It’s possible both will return earlier, but its also possible that those injuries linger a little longer.  The good news I suppose is that neither seems to be season ending.  

THE UGLY

  • Speight’s First Pass –  All through spring, summer and fall camp the word on the street was that John O’Korn was the more physically gifted of the quarterbacks, Wilton Speight knew the offense better and was less prone to making mistakes.  So of course Speight comes out on the first play of the season and throws a horrible interception on a bootleg play.where Jake Butt ran the route too long, but Speight underthrew the receiver.  Luckily for Speight and Michigan, he was nearly perfect the rest of the game, going 10/12 and throwing 3 touchdown passes in just over a half of play.  Had it been any other opponent, this might have been more upsetting.  But given that Michigan was a 42 point favorite, most of us in the stands just laughed – though I’m sure there were a few choice words as well.  Hopefully that’s his worst throw of the season.    

2016 Season Preview

September 1, 2016

After a bit of a hiatus, I’m back.  More to come tomorrow, including my prediction for the season, but for now here are the links to all the Season Preview by position posts.

Backs and Receivers

Tight Ends and Offensive Line

Defensive Line and Linebackers

Defensive Backs

Special Teams

2016 Season Preview – Special Teams

September 1, 2016

KICKERS/PUNTERS

Depth Chart – Kenny Allen (RS SR), Quinn Nordin (FR)

Overview

With the transfer of Andrew David, Michigan only has two scholarship kickers on the roster in Kenny Allen and Quinn Nordin.  Allen did a nice job of handling placekicking duties and kickoffs last year, going 18-22 on FGs including 3-6 on FGs over 40 yards.  He’ll add punting to his duties this year, taking over for Blake O’Neill who was stellar except for his one indiscretion against MSU.  Allen likely won’t be as precise but Allen was originally recruited as a punter and should do a nice job there as well.  It wouldn’t shock to see Quinn Nordin take over the kickoffs and long field goals at some point during the season.  As the highest rated kicker in the 2016 recruiting class, he has a big leg that could be an asset in certain situations this year.  Outside of those two, there are a handful of walk-ons who would have to fill in should they be needed.   Read more…

2016 Season Preview – Defensive Backs

September 1, 2016

CORNERBACKS 

Depth Chart – Jourdan Lewis (SR), Channing Stribling (SR), Jeremy Clark (SR), Brandon Watson (SO), Keith Washington (RS FR), David Long (FR), Levert Hill (FR)

Overview 

After excellent junior years, Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling return as starting cornerbacks, and like their wide receiver counterparts Darboh and Chesson, might very well be the best duo in the conference if not among the best in the country.  

After Peppers, Lewis is probably the most athletic player on the team, and some might argue that order is reversed.  As a cornerback, he can do it all – run with elite receivers, play press coverage, and tackle in space.  His 52 tackles and a ridiculous 20 pass breakups were among the best in the nation.  Barring an injury, you can write his name in on an All-America list right now.   Read more…

2016 Preview – Defensive Line and Linebackers

August 31, 2016

DEFENSIVE LINE 

Depth Chart – Chris Wormley (SR), Taco Charlton (SR), Rashan Gary (FR), Chase Winovich (JR), Lawrence Marshall (JR), Ryan Glasgow (SR), Maurice Hurst (RS JR), Bryan Mone (RS SO), Matt Godin (RS SR), Michael Dwumfour (FR), Ron Johnson (FR), Shelton Johnson (RS FR)

Overview

I’ve grouped the defensive ends and defensive tackles together because it’s likely that several guys could line up both inside and outside throughout the season.  As noted previously, this is by far the deepest and most talented position on the team with at least 8 guys who should see meaningful snaps in most games.  

The ends are lead by Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton, both of whom are All-Conference caliber players, and in the case of Wormley, maybe even All-Americans.  Wormley finished with 6.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss in 2015 and should up those numbers this year.  Taco wasn’t far behind with 5.5 sacks and will look to drastically improve that number in Don Brown’s attacking defense.  He has always had the talent, he just needed the consistent effort to go with it.  We saw more of that last year and those inside the program say his commitment is at an even higher level this year.   Read more…

2016 Preview – Tight Ends and Offensive Line

August 30, 2016

TIGHT ENDS 

Depth Chart – Jake Butt (SR), Ian Bunting (JR), Tyrone Wheatley Jr. (RS FR), Zach Gentry (RS FR), Sean McKeon (FR), Devin Asiasi (FR), Nick Eubanks (FR)

Overview 

As in any Jim Harbaugh offense, the tight ends will be expected to play a big role.  There is no shortage of talent at the position – Jake Butt is regarded by many as the best tight end in the country and a likely 1st Round pick in in next year’s NFL draft.  He has the size, speed, and hands to have a dominant senior year and should be one of the go to weapons on offense.  His 51 receptions last year were second only to Bennie Joppru’s 53 in 2002 in terms of single season production and tied the late great Jim Mandich’s 51 receptions in 1969.  Though there are plenty of other weapons on offense, don’t be surprised to see Butt break that record this year.   Read more…