Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Mailbag: Will Rich Rodriguez return in 2011?

Frustrated.

Dear Magnus,

I'm a long time reader, first time writer.

I'd like to know if a) you think Rodriguez will be fired and b) you think he should be fired.  Please keep your response to 10,000 words or less.

Thanks,

Matt
Thanks for the e-mail, Matt.

These are difficult questions to answer, but I'm just a blogger, so my opinion really doesn't matter.  So what the hell, let's go for it.

Do I think that Rodriguez will be fired?  To put it bluntly, yes.  I think the din of disapproval has grown too loud.  People expected more when he was hired, and they expected it faster.  To the vast majority, THIS IS MICHIGAN, and Lloyd Carr couldn't possibly have left the cupboard this bare.  And to an extent, they're right.  I have a hard time believing that a Lloyd Carr-coached team would have wandered through a season with as little of a clue about how to play defense as this 2010 squad has, and the mind boggling amount of attrition over the past few years probably could have been stemmed in some way.  How?  I don't know.  But other programs have gone through coaching changes without losing 17 players in their first three recruiting classes (2008-2010) like Rodriguez has, and that's not counting the droves who were already in Ann Arbor and were subsequently driven off by Rodriguez's rules, conditioning, or attitude.

Athletic director David Brandon has been publicly supportive for the most part, and I think he's done a good job of standing by Rodriguez.  I don't think Brandon had his mind made up when he was hired that Rodriguez would be gone after 2010, but he has probably reached that conclusion over the past few months.  The 0-9 record against Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State might have been the nail in the coffin for Rodriguez, who lost all of those games handily in 2010.  As I said in my post the other day, the 7-5 record this season was what I expected.  But just because Michigan people expected that season doesn't mean that they'll accept it.

Do I think Rodriguez should be fired?  The answer to that is a little murkier.  With even a halfway decent defense, this team could have been 9-3 or 10-2.  Wisconsin and Ohio State were tanks this year; Penn State, Iowa, and Michigan State were all fairly beatable, in my opinion.  If David Brandon sat down Rodriguez and said, "Look, we're going to hire this particular guy to run a 4-3 (or 3-4 or 4-2-5 or even 3-3-5) defense, and you will leave him alone to do his own thing," then that might be the difference.  But should an athletic director really have to do that?  If Brandon has to tell Rodriguez what defense to run, then Brandon might as well trade in his suit and tie for a whistle and a headset.  The defense was bound to be bad because of all the youth, but you can't tell me that it had to be this bad.  Not 109th in total defense and 102nd in scoring defense.

As far as I'm concerned, it's Harbaugh or bust.  I don't want Brady Hoke just because "He's a Michigan man."  Les Miles' road to Ann Arbor has essentially been blocked.  I don't want a first-time head coach like Gus Malzahn, the offensive coordinator from Auburn (who would likely face some of the same resistance Rodriguez has).  Michigan shouldn't hire some guy just because that guy's name happens to not be Rich Rodriguez.

If Harbaugh balks, I think Michigan ought to keep Rodriguez and go after a proven defensive coordinator.  I wouldn't be opposed to the idea of bringing in West Virginia's Jeff Casteel, who might be out of a job if WVU head coach Bill Stewart's rumored retirement comes to fruition.  But whoever the new coordinator would be, he would have to be given some autonomy over the defense.

I know that's not an extremely definitive answer, but without knowing Harbaugh's intentions or the future of Casteel (among other moving parts), it's difficult to make a decision right this moment.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Michigan vs. Ohio State Awards


Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . Denard Robinson.  What?  Yeah, you read that correctly.  I hope that in years to come, Robinson can stay healthier than he did this year.  Earlier in the year, I wanted Robinson to run the ball less.  On Saturday, I wanted him to run the ball a lot.  Well, he ran 18 times for 105 yards, but dislocated a couple fingers on his left hand and missed most of the second half.  Sometimes that's the way the cookie crumbles, I guess.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . Butterfingers Roundtree.  I'm not sure what happened to one of my favorite players on this year's team, Roy Roundtree.  He was perhaps the most dependable receiver on the team over about the first nine games of the season, but dropped a couple passes in games 10 and 11, then dropped five passes (I think) against Ohio State.  He had several chances to make critical catches and couldn't seem to keep his focus for some reason.

Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Courtney Avery.  The presence of Avery might allow Troy Woolfolk to return to free safety in 2011.  I really like what I've seen from him in the second half of this season.  He needs to get stronger and work on his tackling, but I look forward to seeing him develop over the next few years.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . Greg Robinson.  Bye, Coach Robinson.  I hope you land on your feet somewhere.  A lot of people are mad at you, but I kind of feel sorry for you.  Maybe at your next destination, the head coach won't force you to run a style of defense that you don't understand.

MVP of the Ohio State game . . . Jordan Kovacs.  I know I mentioned yesterday that I wish Kovacs had tossed the ball to a more athletic teammate after he intercepted a pass at the end of the second quarter, but Kovacs played a solid game.  He ended the day with 17 tackles and the interception.  Good for him.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Ohio State 37, Michigan 7


This probably won't make you feel better, but I tried.

Some bullet points the day after . . .

The 4-man front was better.  I'm not going to rail against the 3-3-5 as a scheme.  Unlike what many people think, the 3-3-5 stack can work against all kinds of offenses.  However, Michigan doesn't have the personnel or the coordinator to do it successfully.  I got a tip from a helpful insider prior to the game that Michigan would run more 4-man fronts this week, and that proved to be true.  I might be wrong, but it seemed like Michigan reverted to the 3-3-5 more as the game went along, and the defense got worse.  Regardless, bouncing back and forth between defenses week after week is a ridiculous philosophy.  I wish Michigan had run a 4-man front all year long, like I advocated prior to the season.

Denard Robinson can't do it by himself.  Somebody else needs to step up and make some plays.  Yes, he fumbled the ball in the red zone in the first quarter (a play in which he carried the ball in the wrong hand, something I pointed out two months ago), but running backs and receivers need to make plays, too.  I've been supportive of Roy Roundtree all year long and he's actually exceeded my expectations, but this was a game he likely wants to forget.  By last count, I think he dropped 5 balls yesterday (although a couple should have been flagged for defensive pass interference).

Vincent Smith meh.  Does Vincent Smith have some kind of blackmail material on Rich Rodriguez?  Smith and Michael Shaw each had 8 carries, but Smith had 17 yards and Shaw had 53.  How does that make any sense whatsoever?  Smith has been improving over the past few weeks, but holy jeebus.  Even Fitzgerald Toussaint - who can best be described as "mostly injured" - came in and almost outrushed Vincent Smith on only four carries.  Here's a hint, Coach Rodriguez: if you're going to run the ball up the middle, put in somebody, anybody, other than Smith.  If you're going to pass the ball or run the zone stretch to the outside, put Smith in there.  It's really not that hard.  Oh, and by the way, Coach, if Vincent Smith "isn't a fumbler" (your words, not mine) then why has he fumbled in - correct me if I'm wrong - five out of the last six games?

Jordan Kovacs, meet the lateral.  Okay, so the first half is ending.  Time has run out, but the ball is still alive.  It's in the hands of one Jordan Kovacs, a former walk-on with a great deal of gumption and not much in the way of athleticism, who has intercepted a Terrelle Pryor pass and is weaving his way down the field in hopes of scoring a touchdown.  Should he a) lateral the ball to a speedier, more athletic teammate or b) keep the ball and get tackled?  I really wanted him to pick "a."  He chose "b."  This is an example of why Kovacs, in my opinion, can't be on the field if Michigan wants to field an elite defense.  I understand that he's the best strong safety on the roster this year, and I'm fine with that.  But if you're looking for reasons that Michigan lacks the ability to stop an offense, consider that perhaps the defense's third or fourth best player is a walk-on safety who is literally the last player in the secondary that you want having the ball in that situation.

You know who shouldn't be playing free safety?  Well, you might know.  But the coaches don't.  That person would be Courtney Avery.  Hey, I've got an idea.  Let's play a tiny true freshman at free safety who usually plays cornerback, but is a year removed from being almost exclusively a high school quarterback.  Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.  Especially if you ask Dan Herron, who thoroughly enjoyed his 32-yard touchdown run right past a poorly angled, overmatched Avery.

Like Nostradamus I am.  After Michigan's punt that rolled down to Ohio State's 2-yard line, I swear to God, I said, "This is going to be a 98-yard touchdown run."  I can't prove it because I said it to myself because I don't like watching Michigan games with other people, but I said it.  Of course, it wasn't a 98-yard touchdown run - Dane Sanzenbacher got called for a hold at Michigan's 9-yard line.

Here we come, Insight Bowl!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

How I Feel About 7-5


This is about what I expected.  Not that I picked every game correctly, but my prediction for the overall record prior to the season was 7-5.  People who thought Michigan would go 8-4 were a bit optimistic.  I think people underestimated how horrible this defense truly would be, especially absent senior defensive back Troy Woolfolk.  I do not believe this is hyperbole: this year's defense is the worst defense in Michigan history.

I think fans will be upset about how Michigan lost these last two games, not necessarily that the games were lost.  But ultimately, I'm not sure that it really matters whether the score was 37-7 or 52-42.  In the record books, the "L" will count the same as the 43 other times Ohio State has downed the maize and blue.  I don't know that Michigan fans would be feeling much better right now if Michigan lost on a last-second field goal.  It's still nine losses in the last ten games.

As the regular season has come to a close, I think it's important to look at pre-season expectations.  Many prognosticators expected 7-5.  Even people who predicted an 8-4 season usually seemed to qualify their statement with "I know I'm an optimist, but . . . ."

I understand if people are encouraged by the progress from 3-9 to 5-7 to 7-5.  I also understand if people are discouraged that the program hasn't progressed more quickly.  What I don't understand is any vitriol aimed toward Rodriguez that wasn't present in August 2010.  The offense was explosive.  The defense was atrocious.  The only big surprise this year was the effectiveness of Denard Robinson as a runner and passer, and that development resides on the positive end of the spectrum.

Go Blue!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Preview: Michigan at Ohio State

I hate Ohio State's uniforms, so here's a picture of
Terrelle Pryor from high school.

Earlier in the year, I had designs on going to Columbus for this game.  I never really had the thought that this game would have an impact on the Big Ten Championship from Michigan's side, but I thought it might be competitive for the first time in a few years.  I decided not to get tickets even prior to the Wisconsin game, and after watching Michigan get manhandled by the Badgers, I'm glad I didn't make the purchase.  There will be better years to foray into the heart of Buckeye country.

Rush Offense vs. Ohio State Rush Defense
This will be a battle Michigan must win to have any chance at a victory.  The Wolverines are the #10 rushing offense in the country (257 yards per game), and the Buckeyes are the #3 rush defense (86 yards per game).  Something has to give, and honestly, it will probably be the Ohio State defense.  The best rushing team Ohio State has faced was Wisconsin, who put up 188 yards at 4.37 yards a pop.  Earlier in the year, I railed against Rich Rodriguez's heavy use of Denard Robinson in the running game to keep him fresh for late in the season.  Well, if ever there was a time to use Denard 30, 35, 40 times a game, this is it.  This is the game that matters, maybe for Rodriguez's job, maybe for the perception of the program.  This game right here is why I didn't want Robinson rushing the ball 29 times in a 20-point victory over UConn, but now it's pedal to the medal.  Michigan's running backs have largely been ineffective this season, although Vincent Smith has started to improve in the past couple weeks.  Michigan might also get a boost from the return of Fitzgerald Toussaint, a highly talented running back who has missed most of the season due to various injuries.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Ohio State Pass Defense
The reason the rushing game will be so important is because the passing game scares me.  Michigan has the #30 pass offense and the #16 pass efficiency, but Ohio State is #5 in pass defense and #7 in pass efficiency D.  Denard Robinson still struggles to read defenses and go through his progressions.  And while Ohio State doesn't make a ton of sacks (only 18 on the year), they have picked off 17 passes; meanwhile, Denard Robinson has thrown 10 picks, with 9 of them coming in Michigan's last six games.  His accuracy and confidence have waned throughout the year.  Michigan might be missing a deep threat in Darryl Stonum, who injured his ankle returning a kick against Wisconsin.  That would leave the Wolverines down its two starting outside receivers from the beginning of the year, including Martavious Odoms, who has missed most of the year.  There will be open receivers because Ohio State is going to commit to stopping the run, but whether Robinson can hit those receivers downfield is a bit of a crapshoot.
Advantage: Ohio State

Rush Defense vs. Ohio State Rush Offense
Ummm . . . yeah.  So.  Michigan is bad at stopping the run.  This is well known.  While Wisconsin's offensive line and running backs are more physical than Ohio State's, Michigan's defense effectively refused to stop the run against the Badgers, giving up 6.32 yards a carry.  And when you keep the ball on the ground 56 times in one game, it's not like those yards came on surprise draws or reverses.  Nope, Wisconsin lined it up and simply dominated the line of scrimmage.  Ohio State would be wise to follow Wisconsin's blueprint.  Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has thrown 10 interceptions himself; so while Michigan's pass rush isn't fearsome and Michigan's secondary is well below average, why take the chance at putting the ball in the air?
Advantage: Ohio State

Pass Defense vs. Ohio State Pass Defense
The Buckeyes are the #17 rushing offense, so they don't need to pass the ball a ton; they average 230 passing yards a game, which is a middling 55th in the country.  But as much as Michigan fans like to make fun of the way Pryor throws the football, he ranks 14th in the country in passing efficiency.  It might be ugly, but it's effective.  Ohio State has two solid receivers in Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey, and Pryor has the arm strength and touch to deliver deep balls consistently.  On the other hand, Michigan's secondary is a work in progress.  Lacking its top two cornerbacks from the pre-season (Troy Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd) due to injury, it's been mix-and-match since then.  But a strange thing seems to have happened since then - the secondary seems to be improving.  James Rogers has three interceptions in the last two games; true freshman Courtney Avery might already be a better cover corner than the guy he replaced (Floyd); and freshman free safety Ray Vinopal lacks the unfortunate quality of being a linebacker.  None of this is to say that Michigan will be great against the pass, but they should perform better than what we thought several weeks ago.
Advantage: Ohio State

Final Predictions
  • Based on the lack of success against Wisconsin, Michigan runs a good deal of 4-man fronts
  • Denard Robinson throws a pair of interceptions
  • Fitzgerald Toussaint gets a couple carries and then gets injured
  • Kelvin Grady leads the team in receiving
  • Ohio State 45, Michigan 27

Ten Wolverines for Whom I'm Thankful


This post was supposed to go up yesterday, but I ran out of time due to holiday obligations.

These ten Wolverines are my favorite all-time Michigan players.  Some are great.  Some aren't.  But for one reason or another, these guys have made it fun to be a Michigan fan.

1. Brandon Graham, 2006-2009.  Graham was a terror from the defensive end position.  In addition to his physical talents, he matured a great deal from his freshman year (in which he played defensive tackle because he really liked to eat).  Not only do I like Graham for the plays he did make (for example, blowing up MSU running back Glen Winston in 2009), but I like him for the plays he almost made, too (nearly chasing down Javon Ringer in 2008).  It all added up to a first round pick by the Eagles in 2010.

2. Charles Woodson, 1995-1997.  Everybody knows about Woodson.  He was an all-everything recruit and named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 1995.  He was a First Team All-American in 1996 and the Defensive Player of the Year.  Then he topped it off in 1997 with the Jim Thorpe Award and the Heisman Trophy.  Every time Michigan needed a play, it seemed like Woodson was there to make it.  There's just something about the way Woodson moves on the field that makes him fun to watch, even now as a 34-year-old Green Bay Packer.

3. Tshimanga Biakabutuka, 1993-1995.  It seems like a long time since Michigan has had a player like Biakabutuka - a guy who carries a large load and can make big plays in the meantime, not just wear down the defense.  Biakabutuka was a soccer player as a youngster and is a great example of what I call "soccer feet."  Soccer players have a certain, recognizeable gait and way of moving around the football field, and #21 had some of the quickest feet I've seen from a big back.  He became a first round pick of the Carolina Panthers, but was hampered by injuries in the NFL.  His school record 1,818 yards in 1995 might be broken by Denard Robinson this season, but it's pretty special when a running back averages 6.0 yards a carry . . . for his entire career.

4. Lloyd Carr, 1980-2007.  Carr has taken a lot of heat for what happened to the program after his coaching career ended.  I think that is somewhat overblown.  Regardless, Carr was a great coach when he was in Ann Arbor.  He always seemed to do the right thing, and he kept issues private that ought to be private.  It also helps that he won a national championship.  While I've always respected Bo Schembechler, Lloyd Carr will probably remain my favorite Michigan coach of all-time.

5. Jason Avant, 2003-2006.  Avant was the most reliable receiver I've seen at Michigan.  His teammate Braylon Edwards got the hype and the high draft pick, but Avant seemed to catch every single ball thrown to him.  He wasn't very tall and didn't have great speed, but he was always in the right place and made the play.  He ended his senior year with 82 catches for 1,007 yards and 8 touchdowns, earned honorable mention All-America status, and was named the MVP of the team.  He cashed in his intangibles when he was drafted in the fourth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.

6. Desmond Howard, 1988-1991.  Howard was larger than life when I was a kid.  Even though Michigan became a more pass-oriented team later in the '90s and into the 2000s, Grbac-to-Howard was the most lethal passing combination I've seen at U of M.  The fact that he won the Heisman Trophy in 1991 is secondary, though.  My favorite fact about Desmond Howard is that after the Wolverines beat the Purdue Boilermakers in that 1991 season, I was one of the little kids who stuck his hand through the railing by the tunnel . . . and Howard gave me a high five on his way into the tunnel.

7. William Carr, 1993-1996.  Carr was Mike Martin before Mike Martin was Mike Martin.  Playing the nose tackle position back in the mid-'90s, Carr had 82 tackles, 21 tackles for loss, and 6 sacks as a junior.  Those are ridiculous numbers for a nose tackle.  He was a fire hydrant in the middle of those stout Michigan defenses and was a first team All-American in '96.  He was only a seventh round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals, though, and never did much in the NFL.

8. Brandent Englemon, 2003-2007.  Englemon was the type of success story that I like to see at Michigan.  He was a solid player throughout his career, but never had any spectacular seasons.  He could have departed after the 2006 season with his degree, but he wanted to remain for a fifth year and contribute further.  The coaches were ready to let him go and use the scholarship on a younger player, but Englemon convinced them otherwise.  He responded by earning the starting job at free safety, tallying 86 tackles and 3 interceptions in his final season.

9. Jake Long, 2003-2007.  Long was perhaps Michigan's best offensive lineman of all time.  He was the athletic, mauling lineman that should be the prototype for the position.  At 6'7" and 313 lbs. with long arms and quick feet, Long could collapse one whole side of a defensive line or stay in front of some of college football's best pass rushers.  I was thoroughly excited to see Michigan pull out the good old "tackle sreen left" play in the 2008 Capital One Bowl against the Florida Gators; unfortunately, quarterback Chad Henne overthrew Long.  I would have loved to see Long rumble down the field with the football.

10. Jordan Kovacs, 2009-present.  It might seem odd for me to pick Kovacs here, a player whose talent I've derided right here on this very blog.  He's pretty small, he's not very fast, etc.  All those things remain true.  Still, it's somewhat remarkable that he stepped onto the field at Michigan and earned a starting job as a redshirt freshman in 2009.  He tallied 75 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and 1 interception that season, earning second team All-America status.  Despite Michigan bringing in some talented secondary players around him, Kovacs continues to hold onto the starting job at strong safety.  I have to admire what he's achieved.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Tom Brady


This wasn't a standout week for Michigan players in the NFL.  But at the top of the heap is New England Patriot Tom Brady, who went 19-for-25 for 186 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 31-28 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Honorable mention: Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, currently of the New York Jets, helped his team to a 30-27 win over the Houston Texans.  Edwards caught 4 passes for 86 yards and 1 touchdown.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Justice Hayes, Wolverine

Grand Blanc running back Justice Hayes

Running back Justice Hayes, from Grand Blanc, MI, committed to the Wolverines on Monday night.  Hayes is a 5'10", 182 lb. running back/slot receiver who's a 4-star recruit to all three recruiting services.  Rivals is the biggest fan of Hayes, giving him the #84 ranking overall and placing him as the #3 all-purpose back in the nation.  Those are pretty high accolades.

Up until a couple days ago, Hayes was a Notre Dame commitment.  He committed to the Fighting Irish in July 2010 and seemed solidly in their corner.  However, after attending a recent game in South Bend, he stated that there were a "couple situations" in South Bend that made him uncomfortable.  It didn't take him long to call his recruiter at Michigan, running backs coach Fred Jackson, and make a commitment to the Wolverines.

As for Hayes's high school production, he injured his wrist three games into his senior season and missed the majority of his final year due to that injury.  However, he had solid seasons as a sophomore and junior.  As a tenth grader in 2008, Hayes carried the ball 163 times for 1,122 yards and 10 touchdowns.  He followed that up with 175 carries for 1,295 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Hayes also caught 41 passes for 447 yards over those two seasons.

According to GoBlueWolverine.com, Hayes committed to Michigan as an "athlete."  This does not surprise me.  Michigan has a similar (but better) back already in the fold for the Class of 2011, Demetrius Hart.  Hayes catches the ball out of the backfield well, and he runs with kind of a slashing, herky jerky motion.  He has a variety of moves and looks nearly impossible to tackle one-on-one.  In some ways, he reminds me of a taller Jeremy Gallon.

What Hayes lacks is ideal size and top-end speed.  He doesn't exactly run away from defenses, and while he runs through some tackles by picking up his feet and keeping them moving, he won't run over anybody.  When I ranked uncommitted backs in June, Hayes checked in at #5 on my list (Dee Hart was #2).

I think the position in which Hayes would be most effective is slot receiver.  Hart is a more dynamic runner and has better speed, so I'd like Hart to get more touches from the backfield.  However, as I said above, Hayes is spectacular in open space.  I would like to see him catching some bubble screens and getting to the edge one-on-one.  That would also give the team the slot receiver they desired in the 2011 class, as evidenced by the offers to Prince Holloway, DeVondrick Nealy, and Shane Wynn, among others.

Hayes is commitment #13 in the Class of 2011.  Barring any early departures or transfers, there should be approximately nine spots left in the class.

TTB Rating: 72

Michigan vs. Wisconsin Awards

Maybe Wisconsin is good for something.

Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . Kelvin Grady.  I never really expected much from Grady, but he's turned out to be more of a player this year.  His playing time diminished last year, and it seems to have diminished once again this season.  But it seems like every time Michigan quarterbacks throw in Grady's direction, he makes a good play.  I don't think he's a gamebreaker or in line for the #1 jersey; he just seems clutch.  The kid has 16 catches for 200 yards on the season (12.5 yards per catch) and made a very nice catch on a ball thrown behind him this past Saturday. 

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . eh, I dunno.  I thought the guys played pretty well on Saturday.  Denard Robinson failed to make some key plays on Saturday, but I'm not about to call for him to be benched at this point.  He's pretty good and stuff.

Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Thomas Gordon.  What ever happened to Thomas Gordon?  He hasn't played defense since the Illinois game, and he hasn't been on the injury report, either.  When I see 5'10" and . . . ahem . . . 197 lb. true freshman free safety Ray Vinopal creeping up to the line to run blitz, it makes me wonder why Prison Abs Gordon is sitting on the sideline.  Gordon isn't huge, but he's had a couple years in the strength and conditioning program and he didn't earn the aforementioned nickname for nothing.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . run-blitzing Ray Vinopal.  Greg Robinson, leave Vinopal 10-15 yards off the ball.  Yeah, he takes good angles and hasn't really let anyone behind him yet this year.  I'm not sure what those qualities have to do with him stopping 5'11", 236 lb. Montee Ball running up the middle every play and/or taking on a tight end/fullback/offensive lineman.  That's just poor defensive scheming.  It's not like you don't have other options (Cam Gordon, Thomas Gordon, and Jordan Kovacs) to send on a run blitz, guys who are more adept and more physically ready to make those plays.  But, you know, whatever.  I can't say I was surprised to see a harebrained defensive scheme fail miserably in Week 11.

MVP of the Wisconsin game . . . Denard Robinson.  It's odd that Denard passed for 239 yards, rushed for 121 yards, and accounted for all 4 touchdowns (2 passing, 2 rushing) . . . and I still wasn't that impressed.  I'm sure there are a lot of plays that Robinson wishes he could do over, and it's a testament to the offense's design that so many plays were left on the field.  Denard was clearly Michigan's best player in the game, but losing by 20 points makes it tough to call anyone an "MVP."

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wisconsin 48, Michigan 28

Denard Robinson tackles defensive end JJ Watt after an interception.

Bullets:

I'm not upset.  This is a game that I expected Michigan to lose.  Almost everyone did.  That's not to say that I wasn't frustrated by some of the things that the coaches and players did - and the offensive production in the first half was somewhat embarrassing - but ultimately, this outcome is what most educated observers foresaw.

Denard's overthrow early was a killer.  No one play completely destroyed Michigan on Saturday.  That's impossible when you lose by 20 points.  But I can't help but think "What if?" about that long pass from Robinson to Darryl Stonum in the first quarter.  Due to Denard Robinson's running ability, he's going to see a lot of Cover 0 with no deep safety.  He must take advantage of those opportunities.  Stonum is a blazer and probably would not have been caught from behind if Robinson had put the pass within reach.  If I remember correctly, that would have tied the game at 7-7.  Instead, Michigan went into halftime down 24-0.

Vincent Smith's concussion looked ugly.  We've all seen our fair share of concussions on television (and/or in person).  The scariest are when players get knocked out cold, but it gives me a queasy feeling to see players stumbling around in a daze like Smith did when he tried to get up.  As commentator Chris Spielman said, kudos to Smith for having the toughness to try to get up after taking a knee to the head from 292-pound defensive end J.J. Watt.  Smith's reaction was reminiscent of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Stewart Bradley earlier this season, who was inexplicably allowed to re-enter the game almost immediately; luckily, Michigan's training staff seems to care more about its players than the Eagles'.  Hopefully Smith heals quickly, but . . .

Injuries are mounting and chances against OSU are slimming.  Starting running back Vincent Smith will probably miss the Ohio State game due to his concussion.  Starting defensive end Craig Roh apparently had concussion-like symptoms, too.  Starting wide receiver Darryl Stonum was carted off the field with his left ankle heavily wrapped in ice.  Starting nose tackle Mike Martin missed much of the second half with his ongoing ankle problems.  Michigan's top two cornerbacks (Troy Woolfolk, J.T. Floyd) are already out for the season due to ankle injuries.  This seems to be shaping up to be a more beaten-up unit against the Buckeyes than the 2007 team that featured a noodle-armed Chad Henne and a gimpy Mike Hart in the backfield.

The deployment of free safety Ray Vinopal was dumb.  First of all, it's important to point out that Ray Vinopal has been an upgrade over Cameron Gordon at free safety.  There's no question about that.  But why in the hell was Greg Robinson using Vinopal as a blitzing box safety?  This type of decision makes me want Robinson replaced at the end of the season.  Against the biggest, most physical, run-oriented team Michigan will face all season, it makes absolutely zero sense to put a 5'10", 197 lb. (yeah, right) true freshman up at the line of scrimmage to take on a fullback, tight end, or pulling guard.  That's ridamndiculous.  If you're going to blitz from that position, put in Thomas Gordon.  Or send Jordan Kovacs from the edge.  There's no excuse for that kind of matchup at the line of scrimmage, and that's not Vinopal's fault.  The Greg Robinson experiment needs to end.

Roy Roundtree is good.  Despite one inexplicable dropped pass on which he was wide open, Roundtree had another good day with 7 catches for 114 yards and a touchdown.  I'm looking forward to seeing him wear that #1 jersey.

Congratulations to Denard Robinson.  Robinson passed the NCAA record for most rushing yards by a quarterback, previously set by Air Force QB Beau Morgan in 1996.  He has now passed for 2,229 yards and rushed for 1,538 . . . and he still has two games to go.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Preview: Michigan vs. Wisconsin

Running back James White

Rush Offense vs. Wisconsin Rush Defense
Wisconsin has the #25 rushing defense in the country, giving up only 3.8 yards per carry and 125 yards per game.  Meanwhile, Michigan is the #9 rushing offense, averaging 5.7 yards per carry and 266 yards per game.  One way or the other, one of these units is going to be disappointed on Sunday.  Michigan's running game hasn't been shut down yet this year.  When teams have limited Denard Robinson's running, the tailbacks have picked up the slack.  And when teams take away the tailbacks, Robinson seems to run free.  I will be interested to see what the Badgers do on Saturday.  It looks to me like Robinson has started to wear down from various nagging injuries.  I wonder if Wisconsin might take the chance of crashing down on the running backs, playing some Cover 0, and daring Robinson to beat them.
Advantage: Michigan

Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin Pass Defense
Wisconsin is #28 in pass defense, but a mediocre #51 in pass efficiency defense.  On the other side, Denard Robinson is the #14 passer in the country . . . with very little dropoff to backup Tate Forcier, since the team is still #14 overall in efficiency.  If all things are working well for Robinson, he should have a good day and make some good plays through the air.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, Robinson's play has deteriorated somewhat in the Big Ten; in the last five games, Robinson's 7 touchdowns and 8 interceptions have looked less than stellar.  Over that five-game stretch, Robinson's PER is 138.37 and that would rank him at #36 in the country.  He's not stinking the joint up, but he's not lighting the world on fire, either.  That stretch of mediocre play might continue with left tackle Taylor Lewan's availability in question due to a concussion and right tackle Perry Dorrestein's nagging knee injury.  Michigan isn't far from playing backup Mark Huyge at left tackle and untested redshirt freshman Michael Schofield at right tackle.  That could be troublesome for Michigan's quarterback.  Luckily, Michigan's receivers - Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree, in particular - are playing great football and should be able to take advantage of mismatches against a pedestrian secondary.
Advantage: Michigan

Rush Defense vs. Wisconsin Rush Offense
This is where it really looks ugly for Michigan, and this is nothing new.  Michigan's coaches have made some positive moves in recent weeks, putting Cameron Gordon at outside linebacker instead of free safety, Craig Roh (finally!) at defensive end instead of linebacker, and Obi Ezeh (finally!) at outside linebacker rather than in the middle.  If banged-up starters Jonas Mouton and Mike Martin can play at a high level, those are steps in the right direction.  But Wisconsin is one of the top rushing units in the country, ranking #12 overall.  The good news is that starting Panzer VIII Maus running back John Clay will miss the game due to injury.  The bad news is that top backup James White averages more yards per carry (6.8) than Clay (5.4); even third-string Montee Ball averages 5.6 yards per carry.  Does that mean Wisconsin's running backs are great?  Absolutely not.  It means that Wisconsin's offensive linemen are all named Vinnie Jones and make a habit of saying "I'm the Juggernaut, bitch!"  They are big and mean and really, really hate Ellen Page.
Advantage: Wisconsin

Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin Pass Offense
One place that Michigan seems to be making some strides is in pass defense.  Cornerback Courtney Avery might be a downgrade from J.T. Floyd in terms of experience, but I'm convinced that Avery will be a better defensive back than Floyd in the long run.  Avery is a quick learner and possesses better agility and hips than Floyd has ever shown.  Meanwhile, the linebackers replacing Craig Roh at SAM (J.B. Fitzgerald, Obi Ezeh) aren't fluid in space, but they're better off covering curl zones than a 6'5", 250 lb. defensive end.  Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien has the #8 PER in the country and averages 8.85 yards per attempt, though.  The combination of Wisconsin's offensive line, running backs, and Tolzien leaves chances for big plays at any time.  Despite an effective pass offense, I think big plays through the air will be limited by improving play and confidence in the secondary.  Even so, Wisconsin should be able to pick up yards in chunks.
Advantage: Wisconsin

Final Predictions
  • Denard Robinson breaks 100 yards rushing for the eighth time this year
  • James Rogers proves prophetic and Wisconsin fails to score 83 points
  • James White averages fewer than 6.8 yards per carry
  • Michigan's defense stops the big play but dies a slow death
  • Wisconsin 35, Michigan 27

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Visitors for the Wisconsin Game

According to TomVH from MGoBlog, several 2011 prospects are headed for Ann Arbor on Saturday.  Among them are linebacker Antonio Kinard (maybe), offensive guard Chris Bryant (maybe), offensive tackle Jake Fisher, tight end Jack Tabb, linebacker/wide receiver Kris Frost, and outside linebacker Ryan Petro.

Petro is a new face on the Michigan recruiting scene from Winter Springs, FL.  He doesn't yet have an offer, but interest is picking up. He could be a weakside linebacker or Spur prospect down the road.  Here's some video on Petro:

Slightly Attractive Michigan Girl of the Week: I Heart Michigan

I'm not sure if this is a reference to Michigan's all-time leading rusher or not.

As always, feel free to e-mail me any pictures of attractive girls wearing Michigan gear at touchthebanner@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Origins of the Banner


When I started this blog a couple years ago, I tried to think of perhaps the most iconic thing about Michigan football.  Obviously the helmets are unlike anybody else's in the FBS.  And Bo Schembechler is an icon.  But the one thing that stood out to me that I hadn't seen at any other school is the GO BLUE M CLUB SUPPORTS YOU banner that the players and coaches touch prior to each home game.

Until recently, however, I never knew the origins of the banner.  John U. Bacon was helpful enough to explain the banner's origins in a recent podcast:

In 1962, the Wolverines lost five of their first six games, including four straight Big Ten losses– three of them, shutouts.

The head hockey coach, Al Renfrew, had been a classmate of [Bump] Elliott’s, and the two had remained good friends. So Renfrew and his wife Marjorie decided to do something to help boost the football team’s morale. Marjorie went to work in her sewing room, stitching a yellow block “M” on a blue sheet, about six feet across.
So now we know.

Ideal Big Ten Cornerback Height

Over 85% of All-Big Ten cornerbacks are taller than 5'9".

Last week I put together a post about the ideal size for cornerbacks.  That was in response to a discussion that arose on MGoBlog, and MGoBlog author Brian felt it worthwhile enough to reference.

Well, commenter ironman4579 did some further research and looked up the All-Big Ten teams from 2004-2009.  Six years is probably less representative than a ten-year sample, but regardless, the trend continues - taller cornerbacks earn all-conference selections more frequently.

As you can see from the chart above, 5'9" cornerbacks make up slightly less than 15% of the sample.  Cornerbacks who are 5'10" or 6'1" make up slightly less than 12% each, but the difference between 15% and 12% is likely negligible.  Besides, there aren't too many 6'1" cornerbacks out there. 

The thing to note here, I think, is that the biggest set of All-Big Ten cornerbacks is 5'11".  The same held true (sort of) for Pro Bowl selections in last week's study, where 23% of Pro Bowl cornerbacks were 5'11" and 23% were 5'10".  Those heights seem to be somewhat consistent in studying these two groups of cornerbacks.

I do not think these bits of research suggest that Michigan should completely avoid recruiting cornerbacks who are 5'9" or shorter.  Obviously, there will be exceptions.  But it seems that Michigan has made a habit of recruiting short cornerbacks in recent years (Boubacar Cissoko and Delonte Hollowell, among several others they pursued but who never committed), and the statistics suggest that's unwise.

Thanks to ironman4579 for the research!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Tom Brady


New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady helped beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday by a score of 39-26.  Brady was 30-for-43 with 350 yards, 3 passing touchdowns, and 1 rushing TD.  Additionally, he's my QB in my fantasy football keeper league and earned me 38 points.  If only Michigan could produce a solid tight end and a running back or two, I could field an all-Michigan fantasy team . . .

Honorable mention: Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Steve Breaston made 4 catches for 98 yards and averaged more than 24 yards on five kickoff returns.  Unfortunately for him, the Cardinals lost to Seattle, 36-18.

Dallas Crawford, Wolverine

Dallas Crawford (#4) committed to the Wolverines on Friday.

Last Friday Dallas Crawford called up Michigan's coaches and told them that he would be joining their defensive backfield in 2011.  Crawford is current a quarterback/safety for South Fort Myers High School in Fort Myers, FL.  At 5'10" and 180 lbs., he's a 3-star recruit to both Scout and Rivals, but a 4-star to ESPN.  He chose Michigan over offers from Georgia Tech, Iowa, Miami, North Carolina, South Florida, Tennessee, and West Virginia, among others.

Elite high school defensive backs often play free safety; opponents can fairly easily run and throw away from a cornerback for an entire game.  That holds true with Crawford as well, who racked up 10 interceptions as a junior and already has 8 this season (his team is still in the playoffs). 

As mentioned above, though, Crawford also plays quarterback.  I really like prospects who play quarterback for their high school teams - not only because teams usually put their best athletes at quarterback, but because quarterbacks are usually intelligent and have good awareness of the entire field.  That's one of the main reasons I like Desmond Morgan as a linebacker prospect, too; when he's not playing linebacker, he's behind center.

I like what Crawford offers as a defensive back on his merits solely on that side of the ball, too.  He does a good job of going up to get the ball at its highest point, and he breaks on the ball quickly.  He's also a quick-twitch athlete and can make people miss when he gets the ball in his hands, not a long strider like some of Michigan's other cornerbacks.  Perhaps the most impressive thing about Crawford is that, despite his middling size, he's a very solid tackler.  Many high school coaches don't even want their quarterbacks playing defense, let alone flying into ballcarriers at full speed like #4 does.

I'm not sure how much Crawford's commitment affects his teammate Sammy Watkins, a stellar wide receiver recruit.  The two are not a package deal and Watkins reportedly has Clemson as his leader.  Regardless, I really like the Crawford commitment.  He's a playmaker at a position that currently lacks them.  I like him more as a cornerback than any of Michigan's cornerback recruits in the last few years, save Demar Dorsey (who obviously never arrived on campus).  And yes, that includes the highly touted Cullen Christian.  How immediately Crawford makes an impact at Michigan probably depends on what position Troy Woolfolk plays in 2011 when he returns from that ankle injury, but Michigan finally seems to be gathering some depth at a position that sorely needed it.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Michigan vs. Purdue Awards

Obi Ezeh led the team with eight tackles on Saturday.

Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . good Vincent Smith.  It's been about 11.5 months since Smith's ACL tear, and it looks like he's finally getting healthy.  Perhaps it's partially due to the fact that it was Purdue's defense, but Smith looked quicker and faster than he has all season.  I still don't like the fact that he was put on the field about nine months after tearing that ACL, but he finally seems to be rounding into form.  Hopefully he maintains his level of play.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . bad quarterbacks.  Denard Robinson seems to have regressed in recent weeks, both throwing and running the ball.  I think it's fair to say at this point that the number of carries Denard has averaged so far this season are catching up to Robinson and Coach Rodriguez.  Robinson was 13-for-21 for 176 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 bad interceptions.  The big plays are going to be there because of the quality of Michigan's receivers and the threat of Denard running the ball, but Robinson needs to become a more consistent passer - and soon - if he wants to beat Wisconsin and Ohio State.  Tate Forcier wasn't any better, hitting only 1/4 passes and averaging only .8 yards per carry.

Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Obi Ezeh seemed to make a nice transition from middle linebacker to outside linebacker.  Since prior to 2008, I've thought that Ezeh was more of an OLB than a MLB.  In that season I really wanted John Thompson to play MLB and have Ezeh moved outside.  That obviously didn't happen, and Ezeh spent his entire career at MLB until recently.  He ended the game with 8 tackles, 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack.  Ezeh's biggest problem at middle linebacker was that he read plays too slowly, but the reads at OLB are slightly simpler and one misstep won't necessarily get him out of position.  With Craig Roh now playing defensive end (which is also a good move), Ezeh is a good option at OLB.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . Mark Moundros.  He was voted defensive captain for a reason . . . and I think the biggest reason was that he was clearly willing to change positions (and sides of the ball!) as a senior just to try to help the team and get on the field.  However, I don't think he's fast enough, instinctive enough, or experienced enough to make an impact on defense.  Hopefully the guy he replaced (Jonas Mouton) returns soon from his chest injury.  If Mouton is still unavailable next week, I'd prefer to see J.B. Fitzgerald start at weakside linebacker, Demens in the middle, and Ezeh at OLB.

MVP of the Purdue game . . . Vincent Smith.  This was a tough choice, because nobody really took over the game this week.  There were several guys who had one or two big plays (Craig Roh, Cameron Gordon, Roy Roundtree, James Rogers), but Smith had a solid day and finished with just under 100 yards, including a stellar 19-yard run.  Good for him.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's the ideal size for a cornerback?



In response to a recent discussion over on MGoBlog about preferred heights for cornerbacks, I figured that I would do a little bit of research into the heights of cornerbacks.  In general, I am not a big fan of short cornerbacks.  That has factored into my assessments of several Michigan recruits or potential recruits, including Cass Tech Technicians Boubacar Cissoko, Dior Mathis, and Delonte Hollowell.

Presumably, Michigan coaches, players, and fans would like to see Michigan products have success at the NFL level.  Of course, not every Wolverine will make it to the NFL or have success there, and college production is separate from the impact on the professional game.  However, I think it's relevant to look at Pro Bowl cornerback size.  After all, trends in the NFL generally trickle down to college and then high school.

On to the data . . .

I looked at the cornerbacks selected for the Pro Bowls over 10 seasons, from 2001-2010.  Overall, there were 69 cornerback selections for those Pro Bowls (3 per conference each year, plus injury replacements).

The tallest cornerback to make the Pro Bowl was Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Bobby Taylor at 6'3".

The shortest cornerbacks to make the Pro Bowl were the quartet of Aaron Glenn, Antoine Winfield, Cortland Finnegan, and Dre Bly, all of whom measured in at 5'9".

Over 46% of the selections for the Pro Bowl came from players who were 5'10" or 5'11".

I presume that most players who are 6'3" or taller get steered away from the cornerback position; most are probably either steered toward safety or told to put on weight and become a linebacker.  Of course, there's also a trend of tall wide receivers in football, so many skilled, tall athletes probably don't play defense.  On the other hand, I would venture a guess that there is a much larger group of athletic kids who are 5'8" or 5'9" and get steered toward cornerback in college and the NFL.  For every 6'3" wanna-be cornerback out there, one could probably find ten 5'9" wanna-be corners.  So the pool of taller players is likely much smaller than that of short corners.

In summary, NFL Pro Bowl selections over the last decade support the idea that diminutive cornerbacks don't have great success at the NFL level.  That doesn't mean that shorter players are precluded from being successful in college or even the NFL, but the ideal height for cornerbacks tends to be anywhere from 5'10" to 6'1".

2011 Offer Board Update

Cornerback Blake Countess (#1)

The 2011 Offer Board has been updated:

DeAnthony Arnett (WR) committed to Tennessee.

Added Blake Countess (CB).

Charles Jackson (CB) committed to Nebraska.

Added Tre Mason (SB).

Sean Duggan (ILB) committed to Boston College.

Added Sheldon Royster (FS).

Added Desmond Morgan (ILB).

AJ Jordan (WR) committed to Wisconsin.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: LaMarr Woodley

Former Michigan defensive end LaMarr Woodley.

Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Lamarr Woodley had 3 tackles, 2 sacks, and 1 tackle for loss on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals.  The Steelers won the game, 27-21.  The contest also included former Michigan players Larry Foote (PIT), Ryan Mundy (PIT), Dhani Jones (CIN), Leon Hall (CIN), and Morgan Trent (CIN).

Honorable mention: New York Jets wide receiver Braylon Edwards had 3 catches for 78 yards, including a 74-yarder for a touchdown, against the Detroit Lions.  The Jets won in overtime by a score of 23-20.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Poll Results: How many rushing yards will Denard get?


After Michigan's second game, I asked the question, "Denard Robinson has 455 rushing yards through 2 games (on pace for 2730).  How many yards will he have at the end of the season?"  One-hundred and twenty-eight people voted.

46% said 1,500-1,999
44% said 1,000-1,499
7% said 2,000-2,499
1% said 2,500 or more
1% said 500-999
0% said Less than 500

Through nine games, Robinson currently has 1,349 yards.  That puts him on pace for 1.949 yards now that Michigan has qualified to play in a bowl game.  However, Robinson's apparent head injury against Illinois on Saturday may limit his playing time in the coming weeks.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Self-Indulgent Post of the Week: Goodbye, Sparky

Ex-Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson

I rarely have the chance to wax on non-football related material during the season, but the recent passing of Sparky Anderson urges me to do so.  As a youngster growing up just outside of Detroit, Sparky Anderson was the leader of the only team I knew to exist.  Before I understood what Major League Baseball really was, Sparky was the face of the Tigers.  His name was synonymous with baseball.  I didn't even realize that other managers existed.  I assumed he was the Commissioner of Baseball, the Emperor of Everything I Wanted to Be.

See, when I was growing up, I was certain that I would play baseball for a living.  I was hooked on baseball as soon as I was old enough to hit off a tee.  I still remember my first baseball card.  Actually, it was a set of baseball cards; my parents took me to a sports memorabilia store and bought me a Topps team set of the 1987 Detroit Tigers, including guys like Chet Lemon, Tom Brookens, Matt Nokes, Mike Heath, and Darrell Evans.  During the summers, I would go outside and play baseball with my neighborhood friends.  After coming inside, I would invariably plop down in front of the television to watch an afternoon game, whether it was the Tigers, the Chicago Cubs, the Chicago White Sox, or the Atlanta Braves.  And if I didn't have a Little League game that night, I would force my dad to grab his glove and play catch out in the street.  Once it got dark, I would watch more baseball.

I was the type of kid who wrote down starting baseball lineups.  From memory.  For every single team in the league.

My dream of playing in the big leagues dissipated in middle school.  I went from being a dominant Little League pitcher to a kid unable to throw a ball without severe pain shooting from my shoulder to my forearm.  The doctor told me to take the summer off from playing baseball.  Instead, I moved from pitcher/shortstop to playing first base full-time.  That way I wouldn't have to throw the ball much, and in practice, I could toss the ball underhand back to the pitcher.

Baseball was my first sport.  I loved the feeling of striking somebody out, turning a double play, making a diving catch, sliding safely into home.  Every time I think of baseball, I think of the Detroit Tigers and old Tiger Stadium.  I think about how my grandpa used to have the Tigers game on every time I visited, and he'd make a remark about how "Ol' Sparky" threw a fit at the umpires for a bad call of one kind or another.  Then Sparky would amble back to the dugout, and the game would continue.

Yep, there was nothing like watching Sparky Anderson and the Tigers as a kid.  Back when it was all balls and strikes and home runs and stolen bases and umpires kicking dirt.  Back when Grandpa told me about the exploits of "Ol' Sparky."

Rest in peace.

Preview: Michigan vs. Illinois

Illinois running back Mikel Leshoure had 150 yards rushing and averaged over 7 yards a carry in 2009.

It just so happens that my personal schedule hasn't left me much time over the past couple days.  I don't have time for a full preview, and even a full preview would say the same thing it always does: Michigan's offense has the advantage, and no matter how bad the offense, the Wolverines' defense will be worse. 

The problems on defense have only been exacerbated by this week's loss of cornerback J.T. Floyd to an ankle injury and the ongoing ankle problems for nose tackle Mike Martin.  Mediocre Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will likely look like the Second Coming of . . . well . . . Matt McGloin and shred Michigan's defense.

Meanwhile, Illinois is #15 in total defense and #12 in scoring defense.

I do not expect good things to happen.

Final Predictions
  • Running back Mikel Leshoure will run for a billion yards
  • Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase will pass for a billion yards
  • Vincent Smith will get a handful of carries and do virtually nothing
  • Denard Robinson will run for a bunch of yards, get hurt, and throw the ball erratically (not necessarily in that order)
  • Illinois 38, Michigan 27 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Former Michigan Athlete of the Week: Steve Breaston


Steve Breaston had been injured for several weeks, but he returned on Sunday for the Arizona Cardinals' 38-35 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  He caught 8 passes for 147 yards.

Honorable mention: Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Morgan Trent made 9 tackles, 2 assists, 1 interception, and 1 pass breakup in a 22-14 loss to the Miami Dolphins.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

J.T. Floyd might be broken (update)

Get used to this.

Various reports indicate that redshirt sophomore cornerback J.T. Floyd broke his ankle in practice.  If true, this would presumably eliminate him from competition for the remainder of the season.

Michigan's depth chart at cornerback is now:

1. James Rogers, senior
2. Terrence Talbott, freshman
3. Cullen Christian, freshman
4. Courtney Avery, freshman

This is why it would be a good idea to keep around guys like Justin Turner.  Or make sure that your star defensive back recruit (Demar Dorsey) has good enough grades to get into college.  Michigan now has only 32 healthy scholarship players on the defensive side of the ball, and that includes Mike Martin, whose bum ankles don't exactly make him healthy.

UPDATE: Rivals is reporting that X-rays of Floyd's ankle were negative, but is likely out for at least this weekend's game against Illinois.

Coaching Dispersion Amongst Big Ten Teams

There was a comment left in the Mailbag post about Rich Roriguez keeping his job regarding the dispersion of coaches on Michigan's team.  Commenter TriFloyd brought up an issue with the fact that Michigan has 5 offensive coaches, 4 defensive coaches (one of whom doubles as the special teams coordinator), and a head coach that concentrates heavily on offense.  What better way to address this potential imbalance than seeing how other Big Ten teams do it?

Illinois: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Indiana: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Iowa: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Michigan: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Michigan State: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Minnesota: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Northwestern: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Notre Dame: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Ohio State: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Penn State: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach
Purdue: 4 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 special teams, 1 head coach
Wisconsin: 5 offensive, 4 defensive, 1 head coach

Conclusion: Yeah, everyone does it this way.  With the exception of Purdue and Minnesota, every team in the Big Ten has five coaches dedicated to offense, four dedicated to defense, and a head coach.  Purdue has the luxury of not devoting a specific coach to the tight ends, since the TE position is virtually non-existent in their offense.  Minnesota is in the unique position of having only nine coaches right now, since head coach Tim Brewster was fired a couple weeks ago; prior to Jeff Horton's promotion to head coach, he was an offensive coach, too.  So the Golden Gophers are essentially in the same boat as all but Purdue.

Those head coaches lean in different directions.  For example, Rodriguez leans heavily toward offense.  I would assume that Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern spends more time with the defense, considering he's a former linebacker.  Joe Paterno just leans kinda forward because he's 114 years old and gravity does that to you after awhile.

I failed to research this adequately, but in skimming the coaches, it seemed that any designated special teams coordinators also leaned toward being defensive coaches.  Except for field goals, you mostly want guys who will fly around and hit things going at a high rate of speed; punt coverage teams, kickoff teams, and kickoff return teams all have to have guys with no regard for their own health.  Offensive linemen are too slow to be involved in 75% of special teams play; wide receivers typically aren't big hitters; and quarterbacks don't play special teams unless they're the holder for field goals and extra points.  That leaves tight ends, running backs, and all manner of defensive players to fill out the vast majority of special teams units.  So it makes sense that the coaches who work with those defensive players would be put in a position to coach special teams.

The fact is that offense takes more time to develop.  It's about timing, working together, and execution.  Every unit has to work at the same speed or the hole closes before the running back gets there, the quarterback doesn't get to his drop in time, the wide receiver makes his cut too early, the running back doesn't give his blocks time to develop, etc.  Defense is mostly about effort, reaction speed, and flying to the football.  Offensive players need more coaching.  I realize that may not be the case with this team right this minute - and it might have behooved Coach Rodriguez to devote one more coach to defense this year with this many freshmen playing - but it's not like Rodriguez is doing something crazy here.

In summary, having "too many offensive coaches" is a red herring.  It's the same everywhere.  I've seen this issue brought up several times, not just in TriFloyd's comment, so I thought it was worth addressing.  Look elsewhere for reasons that this team isn't succeeding.

Michigan vs. Penn State Awards

PSU wide receiver Graham Zug catches a touchdown pass over freshman
safety Ray Vinopal.

Let's see more of this guy on offense . . . Vincent Smith as slot receiver.  He can catch the ball and make an occasional person miss in space.

Let's see less of this guy on offense . . . Vincent Smith as running back.  I don't care if it's Michael Shaw, Stephen Hopkins, Michael Cox, Teric Jones, whatever.  I'll take the heat if the experiment doesn't go well.  Just get Smith off the field when you slam the ball up the middle.

Let's see more of this guy on defense . . . Renaldo Sagesse at nose tackle.  I guess the experiment with Adam Patterson at nose tackle didn't work out.  Gee, I wonder why.  There are lots of 275-pound nose tackles in major college football, right?  Right?  Anyway, Sagesse is clearly a more capable NT now that Mike Martin is missing significant time due to injury.

Let's see less of this guy on defense . . . Cameron Gordon at Spur.  I felt like this game was Purdue 2008.  In that game Carson Butler played defensive the week following a position switch from tight end.  In this game Cam Gordon replaced Thomas Gordon at Spur, even though Thomas Gordon looked decent throughout the year.  Seriously, a redshirt freshman goes from starting free safety to starting outside linebacker from one game to the next?  At least give him a few weeks to get acclimated to his new position.

MVP of the Penn State game . . . Denard Robinson, obviously.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Mailbag: Will Rodriguez keep his job?

Maybe it's too early to speculate, but do you think RR has any realistic chance of being back next year? I don't know what Mary Sue Coleman and David Brandon think, but the mediocrity of the product on the field, especially the defense, combined with the violations related to practice time, lead me to believe that he's in trouble.


But I think the most troubling sign for RR is that he seems to have completely lost the support of the very, very large alumni fan base. As an alum ('91) I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, but even with this 5-0 start, I saw a lot of the same problems as last year, ie with the defense and the complete inability to retain recruits. But this defense is ridiculous, with the inexperience, lack of pass rush, and stubborn, blind devotion to the 3-3-5.

Personally, I think he should be gone. Bu do you think that'll happen? And do you think there's any realistic scenario with the last month of the season where he ends up saving his job? I'd ask you about potential successors, but I sure we'll get to deal with that on November 29th.

Thanks,
Ben
As for the first question, yes, I do see a realistic chance for Rich Rodriguez to retain his job into 2011.  Michigan has a realistic shot at beating Illinois and Purdue, although both will likely be shootouts.  I think Michigan has a chance to win any game they play, if only because of the big play abilities of the offense.  That doesn't mean that the Wolverines should be favored in all four remaining games, but anything can happen when you put up 400 or 500 yards on a weekly basis.  I said before the season that I expected Michigan to have a 7-5 season, and I always thought that would be enough to save Rodriguez's job.  This is gut-check time, but I don't think the final nail has been put in the coffin.

Rodriguez hasn't done himself any favors this year.  The abysmal play of the defense could have been avoided; I've never seen such an inexperienced defense, and yet this inexperienced defense has run so many fronts and coverages that they can't possibly know what's going on every play.  Rodriguez has continued to suffer from attrition (Vlad Emilien, Austin White, Justin Turner, Anthony Lalota, etc.), and arguably the best player in their 2010 class - someone who would have immediately been the best athlete on defense - failed to qualify (Demar Dorsey).  Even some of Rodriguez's decisions on offense have been questionable, although it's hard to argue with the production of that unit.  Overall, Rodriguez hasn't done a great job of coaching this team, but ten freshmen (redshirt and true freshmen) played defense for Michigan on Saturday.  I have no idea how to feel about Michigan's defense from that perspective.  I mean, it's partly Rodriguez's fault that so many freshmen played and so many potential upperclassmen have departed.  At the same time, I don't know that those departed players would be much better than 18-year-olds.

The bottom line is that winning cures all.  Rodriguez may have alienated a large fan base, but if he reels off wins in 3 out of these last 4 games or wins a bowl game, maybe the fan base starts to come around.  I like to think that Michigan fans are classier and smarter than other teams' fans, but the truth is that Wolverine fans would love Carrot Top if he could coach this team to 9 or 10 wins.

I have to admit that although I've been adamant that Rodriguez needed at least three seasons to establish himself in Ann Arbor, Michigan's performance on Saturday really shook my confidence in his ability to be at Michigan for the long term.  I used to cling to the notion that Rodriguez needed at least one season with an upperclassman quarterback before we could really determine whether he could be successful.  Well, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson will both be juniors in 2011.  But guess what?  Even with junior quarterbacks next season, this defense will be littered with oodles of sophomores.  Waiting for experience seems to be a never ending cycle under Rodriguez, because any kid who doesn't earn playing time by his sophomore year decides to book it for Rutgers or Temple or Colorado.  I honestly have no clue whether Rodriguez will be here in 2011 or not, but my gut feeling says a resume highlighted by Big Ten wins over Minnesota, Indiana (twice), and 2008 Wisconsin - and that's it - probably doesn't make powerful people very happy.