Sunday, August 31, 2014

Michigan 52, Appalachian State 14

Devin Funchess had three of these touchdowns on the day (image via Fansided)
The Doug Nussmeier Effect: Quarterbacks. Yes, it was only newly minted FBS team Appalachian State, but starting quarterback Devin Gardner looked about as good as possible. He was 13/14 for 173 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions; he also ran 5 times for 9 yards. Best of all, he made good decisions and his only miss was a laser that fell harmlessly to the turf behind a crossing receiver. I think Nussmeier will use him more often as a runner as the game and situation dictate, but there's no need to get him banged up in a blowout against ASU. Backup Shane Morris (3/5, 37 yards, 1 interception) looked a little shaky, especially on a comeback throw that never should have been released and got picked off by an undercutting corner. That's now 0 touchdowns and 3 interceptions thrown in his career.

The Doug Nussmeier Effect: Running Game. Opponent caveats apply, but Michigan struggled early before quickly finding a rhythm. The combo blocks looked cleaner and the offensive line looked crisper than they did at almost any time last year. The running backs combined for 31 carries, 345 yards, and 3 touchdowns. The inside zone run seemed ineffective at times because Michigan couldn't get a great push. That's a Nussmeier favorite, so they will surely continue to work on that play. Interestingly, Michigan's revamped power play seems to have improved, even though that was a supposed staple of Al Borges's offense and not considered to be a Nussmeier specialty. Perhaps Appalachian State was surprised, or maybe Michigan just executed the power really well in game one.

The Doug Nussmeier Effect: Running Backs. I would have to go back and check to be sure, but it seemed like Michigan really struggled early when they tried to run inside zone. Derrick Green (15 carries, 170 yards, 1 touchdown) got the first series of snaps, and his vision has always been somewhat questionable; those carries did not go well. When he returned to the game, Nussmeier ran power with him. Green hit the hole hard and did well. Meanwhile, for whatever reason(s), De'Veon Smith (8 carries, 115 yards, 2 touchdowns) seemed to get a little better blocking on inside zone plays, and his vision paid off with some nice runs. Green is leaner and quicker than last year, and Smith is what we thought he was. When the offensive line opens holes, they are capable of making some things happen. Drake Johnson (3 carries, 28 yards), Justice Hayes (4 carries, 23 yards), and Wyatt Shallman (1 carry, 5 yards) got some run late in the game, but Green and Smith clearly seem to be the top two options.

Devin Funchess is wearing the #1 jersey. Funchess is the first Michigan player to wear the #1 jersey since Braylon Edwards in 2004. Brady Hoke said that Funchess asked to wear it, so perhaps that's the difference, but it seems odd to me that he was given the jersey while previous standout Jeremy Gallon was not. Gallon had the same number of catches (49) and more yards (829 to 748) in his redshirt junior year than Funchess as a sophomore, and you could tell he was in for a big year because of his connection with Gardner. Gallon, of course, ended up setting receiver records last year. Regardless, Funchess looked very good on Saturday (7 catches, 95 yards, 3 touchdowns) and has the talent to fill the shoulder pads of the #1 jersey.

At least nobody can say Michigan sold out. Because they didn't. The announced attendance was 106,811, which is the 252nd straight game of over 100,000 fans.

Freshman redshirts got burned. Reasonably this time! The only true freshmen to play in the game against Appalachian State were Freddy Canteen, Mason Cole, Bryan Mone, and Jabrill Peppers. This would be excellent news if it holds up, because that means Michigan can save some of its highly touted recruits all the way until they're 22 or 23 years old. I do believe that a couple more freshmen might play this season, especially weakside end Lawrence Marshall.

How 'bout that tight pass coverage? It was pretty tight. Michigan didn't make any picks, but they broke up three passes and came up to tackle well. Jourdan Lewis is as sticky as they come, and he's just a backup. I thought new safety Jeremy Clark looked pretty good in Delano Hill's absence.

How 'bout that defensive line? When it comes to the defensive line, I actually don't think we learned much. If the quarterback held the ball for longer than the play was designed for, he was usually getting hit. Fortunately for the Mountaineers, that wasn't often. Pretty much every defensive lineman bulled his way into the backfield based on sheer size and strength against an overmatched and small-ish offensive line. Appalachian State had some repeated success on their shotgun inside zone play, which also worked well for Indiana and some other teams last year. Michigan might have been able to stop it if there had been a point to do so. But really, if you're whooping a team's butt on the scoreboard and they want to run the ball to deplete the clock, there's not a huge incentive to sell out for stopping that play.

JABRILL PEPPERS. Peppers made 1 nice tackle, dove to make a fair catch on a punt, and returned 1 punt for 6 yards. Then he left the game with a bum ankle. It did not look serious, and Brady Hoke agrees with the first clause of this sentence. He should be back for next week.

The offensive line can't get any worse than last year. I agree. I really think last year's offensive line would have still struggled to churn out yards on the ground like they did in this game. Appalachian State nose tackle Tyson Fernandez (6'2", 330 lbs.) was a load in the middle, and defensive end Ronald Blair (6'4", 275 lbs.) didn't seem too shabby, either. Blair overpowered freshman left tackle Mason Cole on an inside move to sack Gardner, and defensive end Odawala Dada (6'0", 235 lbs.) successfully juked guard Kyle Kalis on his way to a quarterback hurry. Otherwise, it was rare to see an offensive lineman beaten cleanly. There were some frustrating stalemates, and there will be plenty more - along with outright whoopings - to come this year. Michigan's line never coagulated last year, but even if a little less talented, this group is going to be better.

54 comments:

  1. I thought Brandy was pretty good too, aside from getting a little confused between left and right every once in a while.

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    1. Brandy is annoying doing the play by play, not a fan at all. He is much better doing the color commentary.

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  2. To the extent the whole "Who has the right to wear #1?" chatter dies down now, the better. I think Funchess has more potential to "earn it" than even Gallon had. That touchdown in the back of the endzone is a harbinger of more to come.

    I watched the first half or so on streaming internet while sitting in Toronto airport. My vague sense is this team has a good foundation. If they can show improvement game-to-game, then Michigan is going to be a good team.

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  3. A few random observations:

    Hollowell played early and often-we saw a lot more of him than I expected, while Stribling did not appear to get into the game until much later.

    Beyer seemed just about invisible. So did Ryan Glasgow (did he even play?). Unless I'm missing it, the U-M website seems to have (annoyingly) stopped including the player participation list in their box score.

    Kalis is the guy at RG. Let's not even think about keeping Miller at C and putting Glasgow in at guard when he gets back. Like the fire alarm, Miller should be used only in the event of an emergency.

    Early to tell given the weak opposition, but we actually seemed to run a well-conceived passing game. Receivers were getting open and being hit in stride. I don't remember any passes (except maybe the late one to Canteen) that were thrown to receivers who were blanketed, falling down or going out of bounds, as has been our pattern for so long. And nothing remotely resembling an interception from Gardner.

    Chesson is the best blocking WR we've had in a long time. I think he enjoys blocking as much as catching the ball.

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    1. Hollowell played in dime situations (with Peppers), and Hollowell replaced Peppers when the latter got injured. Hollowell is the #2 nickel corner on the depth chart, whereas Stribling is a backup on the outside. In fact, I believe Lewis and Terry Richardson were the #2 guys on the outside on the released depth chart, so it appears Richardson has passed Stribling.

      I'm not a fan of Glasgow and Beyer, but that's nothing new.

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    2. I like Jehi Chesson as a blocker, but I guess that calling him the "best blockage WR we've had around here for a long time" depends on how you define " a long time". He has the big hi-lite block gif, but until he's layed out 6 or 8 guys in a way that makes me say "Whoa!!!", he's nowhere near the blocker that Martavious Odoms was.

      Jeremy Gallon made people forget what a great blocker he was for the first three years of his career when he became our featured receiver. I put him in well in front of Chesson for the forceable future as well.

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    3. refreshing to see someone (other than myself and couple others) consistently point out the inability of beyer and glasgow to win 1 vs 1 matchups and impact the game. all the effort and "physicalness" and football IQ in the world cannot offset the fact that those 2 will never be superior athletes or dominant DL at this level. both are great team guys, unfortunately theyre never going to impact games, consistently move the LOS, or beat average players across from them.

      really encouraged by clarks play at S and positive steps by OL vs last year. and its good sign they appear to be decent blitzing team bc theyll need it, this DL does not yet have the horses to consistently get home with 4 against remotely decent competition. i think theyre what most thought they were...an improving young team with lots of young depth, an all league athletic QB, an all american 1st round WR -and the ability to be pretty good with this schedule if they continue to grow each week

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    4. I think you guys are being a little harsh on Beyer and Glasgow. The DE's were never going to get a huge rush because Appy was doing all 3-step drop. Beyer had a couple nice speed rushes on the game and one was a legit QB-hurry that killed a 3rd down attempt. And for all of the folks clamoring for Hurst, he got buried on a bunch of plays. Glasgow held up better to doubles than Hurst did yesterday. Pipkins was up and down. Mone looked pretty good on his few snaps. Anyway, the coaches aren't idiots... those guys are playing for a reason.

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    5. Yeah...Glasgow has never impressed me, and he didn't on Saturday, either. As for Hurst, Painter Smurf, I think he should be a pass rush specialist only for now. He's too light to hold up to double-teams, but if it's third and long, I wouldn't mind seeing him deployed like Jibreel Black was last year. On running downs, it should be Pipkins, Mone, or Glasgow (or Henry).

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  4. One more random observation..Shane Morris did not seem at all enthusiastic about being in the game.

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  5. Lets be honest here, this Appalachian State is going to finish below .500, they are that bad. I unfortunately do not believe this game is going to tell us much except our run D needs some serious work. Would like to know who was in when we were getting consistently gashed on the ground, mostly late.
    Also this game tells me Gardner has been coached up to decrease his INT's this year and Shane needs to get his head on straight and stop throwing up jump balls.

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    1. You seem like a really fun guy to be around. We should hang out some time.

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    2. Yeah the series with Shane in were underwhelming for the most part. Next year possibly Nuss will have the offense more structured to his strengths!

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  6. Great performance, regardless of opponent, for the offense. It was satisfying and encouraging to see us whoop on a team that's supposed to get whooped upon. Nussmeir just aced the first quiz of the semester. Next week will be the first test.

    I was really impressed by the OL. That first series or two (before Kalis came in for Burzysnki?) they struggled to run block, which was simultaneously ominous and familiar. That seemed to get adjusted and then it was off to the 10ypc races. Does the RB matter? Not when the wholes are that big. Bigger than any I remember in the Borges era. Quite the showing.

    Anyone NOT think Magnsuon-Glasgow-Kalis is your starting interior next week?

    D.Gardner and D.Funchess - The D is for Daaaaaaaaaamn. The only way these two get stopped is via pass rush.

    The O exceeded my expectations massively. The D was very slightly disappointing.

    DL - I mean, they played well, but against this team they should have been dominating. Other than a couple quick plays where Wormley burst through, I didn't see them overwhelm what is probably the worst OL we'll face.

    LB - didn't really notice anything unusual. that's probably good. I may have to eat crow because the Ross and Morgan demotions look real.

    CB - tight coverage all day, as is expected. heavy rotation. I thought Stribling and Lewis played more than Taylor but I could be wrong.

    S - Clark made a few errors it seemed like, but looked solid overall. He's a big guy, so he is pretty noticeable, but he seemed around the ball a lot.

    Peppers and Norfleet - meh in the return game... some flashes.

    Redshirts - really glad to hear that few freshman got used in a blowout. I was a little bummed that none of the sophomores mentioned as RS candidates stayed out of the game, but that was always wishful thinking. Bosch and Stribling were the two I thought might sit, but Stribling's just too good, regardless of depth, and Bosch is going to be needed for depth IMO (even though Burzynski and Miller started and he did not). I suspect a long-term injury would see Bosch sent to the frontline. So, OK, I'll take it.

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    1. Morgan played a ton, and from what I see, I still think he's better than Bolden. I think Michigan was in nickel for most of the day, and that seemed to pull the SAM linebacker out of the game. I don't know if Ross's demotion is real. When the opponent is four-wide most of the game, someone has to step out for another DB.

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    2. It was noted by Craig Ross during the MGoBlog roundtable on WTKA that App State did have the most returning starts - 135 I think - of any FBS team on the O-line. While I agree athletically they were probably not B1G quality you cannot write off experience - see UM this year and last. Not wholly disregarding the D-line performance - but I doubt this is the worst O-line they face this year.

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    3. I just meant he didn't start, but you're right that Morgan played a lot. I didn't notice Ross as much.

      I think you make a good point about the scheme influencing personnel.

      I imagine against MSU we'd see significantly different snap counts.

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  7. Magnus, what are your thoughts on the linebacker play in this game? The offseason hype indicated that they might be the strongest position group on the team this year; however, the run defense up the middle seemed vulnerable at times, and I wondered if at least some of that was on the linebackers. Maybe just inevitable Game 1 growing pains as the players adjust to the new defense?

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    1. Hoke even said in his presser the interior of the D had a bad game. The tape is going to show who was suspect and what went wrong. Not sure how that bodes for the ND game as they spread it out too. We could be in serious trouble.

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    2. I think the linebackers and the defensive line need to play better. That was on both position groups. The nose tackle position is a concern for me. At this point, I think Henry should be playing NT with Wormley at 3-tech. We're not getting any penetration from the NT spot.

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  8. Gallon was honored with 21 right? Funchess is wearing 1 now that he is officially a WR. I don't see any issue here. Where's the controversy?

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    1. No controversy, seems very appropriate. Especially considering Funchess is gone after this year.

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    2. I don't think it's a "controversy." I just think that if you're giving out the #1 jersey based on past performance and leadership, Gallon was just as accomplished and also a good leader going into last season. The #1 jersey appears to be the most coveted award (not #21), so I don't understand why Gallon couldn't earn it but a position-switching TE with questionable hands and a poor history of blocking (which is largely about technique/will) earns it. There's nothing sinister going on. It just seems odd.

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    3. #1 appears the most coveted?....not sure about that. Funchess supposedly asked for it, maybe Gallon didn't. I never saw it as a diss of Gallon and I thought the #21 honor was pretty cool.

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    4. The #1 jersey is talked about the most by fans, hasn't been awarded in a decade, and has a scholarship endowment tied to it. It also has not been awarded to mediocre players like Vincent Smith, Brandon Moore, Courtney Avery, etc. which #2, #87, and #11 have. I'll grant that some of those retired numbers have obviously been out of circulation for a lot longer than the #1 jersey, but I don't see people arguing about who should get #47 or #48. And #21 is great and all, but it doesn't have the same history that the #1 has.

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    5. Fans talk about a lot of stuff that coaches and players don't care about.

      I'm not ignoring the history of #1, but it's been blown out of proportion. It was something that Carr-Edwards sort of invented as something to be earned. From there it took a life of it's own and the mess of the Rodriguez era turned the whole thing into speculative fiction.

      Now, we have a number that is an official honor #21, that may or may not go to WRs exclusively. Then we have an unofficial honorary #1, which may or may not be a bigger deal than Desmond Howard's #.

      I just think we can't assert that our subjective definitions are authoritative. I thought Denard should have worn #1 (if he wanted it). Most people did not agree.

      Anyway, I'd be surprised if Gallon viewed his jersey numbers as an injustice of any sort.

      Funchess, as a Michigan kid, probably knows the history better.

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    6. The coaches send out recruiting material talking about who will be the next #1. I think that's a pretty good indicator.

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    7. What recruiting material are you referring to?

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  9. I think you're a bit too stubborn to concede to the fact Smith looks like our best back. He is the better running back. Faster or quicker? No. But better.

    Wasn't very impressed by Clark. Wasn't disappointed either though.

    Both trenches need to get a lot better. This was App state. I don't know who is kicked out when Glasgow comes back, I just hope our line is better because of it.

    I liked Wormley at DT. The few plays I keyed in on him, he looked like a beast. I know effort has always been an issue with him, so I hope he wants it.

    Beyer seemed to be keying in in the QB run, and missed other assignments. I hope this doesn't happen for next week, because Golson will make him pay.

    Funch is the real deal.

    Next week at this time, we will know who our team can be.

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    1. I disagree about Smith, and so, apparently, do the coaches. I think I have a pretty good track record of identifying running back talent. That doesn't mean I'm always right, but I trust myself.

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    2. I think Smith is the better back if we are going to struggle to create holes. His running style probably leads to less TFL in that case but man he looked slow on that long run.. Green appears to be much more capable of breaking big gains...and he even actually broke/dodged 1 tackle in this game!! (maybe the first I have ever noticed from him). I think Magnus would agree that Isaac could very well be better than either -- the staff seemed to agree as he was the #1 focus in 2012 - but we won't see that until next year.

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    3. I'd enjoy having a healthy debate about your track record of identifying RB talent. I remember your misses more than your hits, but then there is the famous case of Mike Cox, who could go either way...

      It's certainly a debatable assertion. I think your track record is good overall, but RB isn't your strongest position to make that case.

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    4. Honestly, the Mike Cox thing can't go either way. I'm trying to be as unbiased as possible, but almost all the other guys who played ahead of him have faded into oblivion. Stephen Hopkins? Disappeared. Vincent Smith? Off doing some good somewhere, but not on the football field. The only guy with an argument is Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was a favorite of mine coming out of high school, had the best college season (2011) of any in the bunch, and at least got a cup of coffee with the Ravens.

      Go back to Brandon Minor. I said he should have been playing more, but people like Sam McGuffie and Vincent Smith inexplicably played ahead of him at times. Then McGuffie couldn't hack it at RB at Rice, Smith was relegated to backup duty by Hoke/Borges, and neither one ever amounted to much in college. Minor was the best of the bunch.

      Again, I'm not saying I'm 100%. But the guys I've liked over the years - Cox, Toussaint, and Minor - all got at least a sniff in the NFL and put up solid numbers. The guys who have not impressed me - Rawls, Austin White, Hopkins, Smith, McGuffie, etc. - have transferred or disappeared. I guess the jury's still out on Rawls, who has most of his senior year left at CMU and might be a late bloomer.

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    5. The Smith thing continues to gall me. Not one but TWO coaching staffs put him out there ahead of other guys who were better ball-carriers. The reasons are pretty clear at the time and become abundantly evident last year when there was no replacement for him. The fact that you continue to not give Smith respect pretty much makes my point.

      You have a decent track record of pointing out that guys who look good running the ball look good running the ball. Your track record of predicting who is a good running back OTOH...

      Plus, you were wrong about the best 'RB' to play at Michigan in a long time...Denard Robinson. (Even though you were critical about his passing, not running, I say it still counts.) Also, you didn't mention Shaw.

      I don't remember what you said about McGuffie, because... this blog started after his career at Michigan ended. Same for Minor.

      What sticks out in my mind is the Smith vs Shaw thing, and then predicting Green would rush for 5 ypc or whatever. I'm not sure Rawls (a 3-star many questioned) is enough to counter that. I was critical of White and Rawls too because they seemed like questionable pickups at the time - so were others. Hopkins may be your best call, because a lot of people were excited about him...but that's not much to hang your hat on. Neither is saying "hey Cox and Toussaint ran for a bunch of yards against scrubs, lets see more of that!"

      Since no one else is reading this anyway, I figure I could be blunt without causing offense... as always I appreciate the analysis and writing, I just couldn't let you toot your own horn on your track record in the RB department without saying something when, at best, it's been a mixed bag, at least on this blog.

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    6. FWIW I've been wrong too. I thought Fitz was an NFL back, turned out he was benched in favor of heavy doeses of Green and Smith last year. I thought Hopkins would be good. I thought McGuffie would thrive under Rodriguez, like most.

      Predictions are hard.

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    7. The comments about Smith confuse me. He was not a good running back; he was a good third down back and pass protector. I was totally fine with him being used in that fashion. What frustrated me was Rich Rodriguez's use of him as a feature back, something Smith was not suited for. Hoke never used him as a feature back, so saying "two coaching staffs saw something in him" or whatever is kind of pointless. I like the way Hoke/Borges used him (for the most part) - Rodriguez is the issue.

      Predicting Green to rush for 5.0 yards/carry was more an overestimation of the OL than an overestimation of Green. I don't really get that criticism, either. Was I wrong about what kind of success he would have as a freshman? Sure. But just about everyone assumed that the line could at least be mediocre with Lewan/Schofield, and the OL was perhaps the worst in Michigan history. I don't really see what that has to do with Green specifically.

      I was high on Toussaint coming out of high school. I also jumped on the Cox bandwagon as soon as I saw him on the field. Toussaint is the only RB since Lloyd Carr to rush for over 1,000 yards. Cox is the only RB since Lloyd Carr to make it to the NFL for more than a practice squad/preseason role.

      Toussaint never looked the same to me after his broken leg in 2012. Maybe it's just a coincidence, but I think that took some of the spring out of his step last year.

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    8. good 3rd down back and pass protector -- sounds like a good running back.

      You might as well say a "sure that DE is a good pass rusher, but he's not a good defender" or "sure this QB is a game-changing runner but he's not a good QB" (oh wait, you did say that). Anyway...

      It's part of the job. A big part of it. 1st and 2nd down matter, ball-carrying matters, but in modern football the pass game is more important than the run game and games are won and lost on 3rd down conversions. The 'primary'/'every down back' is a dying breed. Chris Perry isn't walking through that door. Darren Sproles is one of the best RBs in the NFL. Most teams split RB duties between a bigger 'downhill' back and a shiftier '3rd down'/all-purpose back. Michigan does it, most NFL teams do it. RBs need to block and catch, not just run.

      You can't claim to be good at identifying good RBs if you can't even identify what a RB is supposed to do.

      Rodriguez used Smith as a ball-carrier because a) there wasn't a significantly better option around and b) he wanted to keep defenses honest (unlike Borges who seemed to think defenses were too dumb to see what was coming based on personnel).

      A few years ago we argued back and forth about Smith (not a good ball-carrier) and Shaw (a superior, albeit not great, ball-carrier). Both coaching staffs played Smith more than Shaw in the end. They reached the same conclusion. The guy who was not a great ball-carrier was a better running back than a 4-star guy that was. Smith won, Shaw lost.

      The OL comments irt Green, while somewhat true, are a bit of a cop out. Toussaint ran for 4.0 ypc in 2012 with the same OL plus three 5th year seniors. It was very likely it was going to be worse. Saying "everyone assumed they'd be mediocre" is also a cop out, and not true. My comments at the time amounted too "no way in hell with this OL", but also, I was skeptical of Green as being elite in the first place. And, part of the reason the OL looked so bad was Smith being gone. AND AND AND - D.Smith ran for 4.5 ypc, so it wasn't impossible for an elite RB to top that. Green had the lowest ypc of all the backs. Can't blame Green's woeful production all on the OL. He is not an elite back.

      You weren't the only one to get excited about Fitz and Cox. They looked awesome breaking long runs. The problem was they did it against crap competition and they weren't ready to be all-around backs. Fitz mostly got there eventually (or close) but still couldn't pass block and the team suffered badly for it.

      I think we'll have to agree to disagree again on the topic of RB.

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    9. The "good running back" comment is obviously a semantic argument. You have one interpretation of what that means. I do not share that opinion. Fine. We've had that argument numerous times, and I think a "good running back" should be able to run the ball well during his 15-20 carries/touches a game.

      I have never claimed that Green is an "elite" back, so you're putting words in my mouth or - at the very least - arguing something for no reason. I said from the very beginning that there were several superior running backs in the 2013 class. I am also on record as saying that Green is not someone who can create for himself, so behind a crappy OL, Smith might be a better option.

      I fought the fight on Cox for a long time, and apparently I'm still fighting it. The vast majority of commenters here and on MGoBlog insisted that the only reason Cox had success was because of the competition level. I probably wasn't the ONLY one, because that would be hyperbole, but I was definitely in the minority.

      As for Toussaint, I will say again that I was on the bandwagon when I saw him in high school. The important thing here is that I SELECT players/running backs to get excited about. Some people get excited about every single recruit, but there are guys I question, such as Hopkins, White, etc. I did not wait for Toussaint to bust out against BGSU with a 65-yarder or to start gaining chunks of yards in 2011. And while I didn't see much of Cox in high school, I could tell by his initial run(s) - against EMU in 2009, I believe - that he had speed, strength, balance, and vision.

      I think you're misremembering or misrepresenting some of the things I've said over the years in an attempt to make your point.

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    10. You predicted Green would run for 5 ypc (behind a clearly weak OL) and ranked him #16 most important player heading into the 2013. As an incoming recruit you predicted stardom. Maybe that's not saying he's elite, but it's a pretty optimistic assessment relative to where we are today (with most calling for him to cede carries to Smith, and Isaac on the way, he may be 3rd or 4th string next year.) [Still lots of time, obviously]

      Do you feel like you won the Cox argument because he ran for less than 2 ypc on an injury ravaged Giants team last year? Or was it because he ran for 3.6 ypc at UMass?

      The guy has talent as ball-carrier. We saw it in garbage time, the coaches said it, and his teammates said it. You weren't on a limb other than calling him a good running back instead of a talented ball-carrier. The difference is all the other stuff that goes into a running back that you prefer to ignore.

      Denard Robinson is a clearly superior running back, yet he can't get off the bench in Jax behind Gerhardt and Todman (next exactly overwhelming competition). Why? Because being a running back is not just about carrying the ball.

      Cox ended up transferring and got drafted (which surprised many, including you I would guess) when the Giants lost all their RBs after 2012. Then, due to some very fortunate (for him) circumstances - multiple injuries in 2013, he ended up actually playing in the NFL - getting carries in 3 games. It wasn't based on merit, but circumstance, a situation described by other writers as the Giants "signing RBs off the street".

      http://www.bigblueview.com/2014/6/14/5807794/ny-giants-2014-training-camp-preview-roster-michael-cox-profile

      http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/11/04/david-wilson-having-mri-on-neck-monday-andre-brown-set-to-return/

      This year, I believe he did not even make the team. Of the guys he beat out last year, I'm not sure any are even on an NFL roster anymore. The biggest difference between him and fellow-transfer Sam McGuffie (who is also floating around the fringe of NFL practice squads) is Angry-NYG-RB-Hating-God.

      McGuffie, BTW, averaged more YPC than Cox at Rice and was heavily utilized as RB/WR/PR. Cox led the way for UMass which might have been the worst offense in all of college football in 2012. http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/feioff2012. The generic UMass recruits that replaced him in '13 did the same 3.6 ypc business.


      THAT, is why Cox is not a good example of your predictive prowess. He isn't good.

      Not at RB anyway. He seems to have talent enough to be a viable option as a kick-returner, which is what I was arguing for after we saw him tear it up in garbage time that one game.

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    11. I fully support you in saying you don't cheer-lead every guy. You don't hop on the bandwagon of every 3 star, or even 5 star. The cut-the-BS perspective is why people like me read your blog. But just because you can smell other people's BS doesn't mean you are dishing out gourmet fare.

      I looked back and you are right that you were consistently high on Toussaint and "in early" so to speak. Wasnt fair of me to cite the 65 yarder. So credit there, I guess, but you called him the best offensive player in the class when Denard is the best ball-carrier (your evaluation criteria) in that class and he is the only Michigan player who is a NFL RB right now. Also, he WAS the highest rated back, I believe, to be recruited between Carlos Brown and Derrick Green. So, it's not like you were alone.

      I think your predictions for incoming prospect have, more or less, matched recruiting rankings. There may be exceptions to that, but generally "your guys" seem to be highly ranked and "not your guys" are lowly ranked. Which is fine, expected, and typical of fans, analysts, coaches, everyone.

      Your predictions for guys based on performance, after they hit campus, are nothing to brag about, IMO. You called for Cox and Shaw to get more carries because you like ball-carriers more than "all purpose" backs. But those guys weren't productive and ended up benched and/or transferred. The key difference in your judgement (and others) seems like it's in the definition of running backs. You don't put much stock in blocking and catching, you want a guy that is a talented runner/ball-carrier (like Toussaint, Shaw, Cox). You make a bigger deal than some others about garbage time and scrimmage production against 3rd rate competition.

      You wanted Hopkins to get benched and he was. You wanted Smith to get benched and he wasn't (though his role evolved, he still played...A LOT).

      If you were a Jaguars blogger you'd be calling for Denard to start, probably, though your old-school 90's football mentality might inhibit that because of his physique.

      But others, most notably our coaches, keep playing other guys not because they don't see the talent, but because they need guys who can block and catch and who won't mess up (like V.Smith) to play. And our coaches are actually pretty "old school" in the same way you are.

      Anyway, I'm digressing. I'd say you have a long way to go to argue you have a proven track record with predicting Michigan RBs.


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    12. It sounds like your current prediction is D.Smith being better than Green. Which makes sense, because his YPC has been consistently superior. Also, I doubt many disagree. He has looked better as a ball carrier going back to last years Ohio State game.

      What we don't know is how much of that is situational. Still, you may be right. If you are, I think you should remember that it was Green, not Smith, that you thought was the superior player before switching gears in the offseason.

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    13. That's a pretty wordy argument for not knowing what you're arguing.

      I don't think I have ever suggested that Cox is a star running back. You're confusing "he deserves to touch the football" with "he's a good running back." When he was at Michigan, I wanted him to touch the football more. The other guys who DID touch the football were not good, such as Vincent Smith and Sam McGuffie.

      Your comparison of McGuffie and Cox is odd. You're sort of arguing that McGuffie was better in Rice's offense than Cox was in UMass's offense, while also pointing out that UMass had a terrible offense (due to poor talent at most positions). When McGuffie was the primary ball carrier at Rice, they had the #64 overall offense in the country. When Cox was the primary ball carrier at UMass (wasn't that their first year in the FBS?), they had the #124 total offense.

      So...you're comparing apples to oranges.

      You're doing the same thing with Derrick Green, and you're misconstruing the things I've said - whether by choice or because you forgot my actual thoughts. You're right that I suggested he would run for 5.0 yards/carry. Is that Derrick Green's fault or the offensive line's fault? It's probably a little of both. He came in overweight, and the OL was really, really terrible. I don't think anyone expected the OL to be that terrible, and Fitzgerald Toussaint - who averaged 5.6 yards/carry in 2011 - was down to about 3.5 yards/carry in 2013 (IIRC).

      That's the way predictions go sometimes. There are so many factors that go into it (play calling, injuries, offensive line play, discipline, etc.). Keep in mind that the offensive coordinator calling the plays and developing the playbook was fired after 2013. Is that a freshman's fault, or is it because the offensive coordinator wasn't doing his job well enough?

      Also, you'll find that I predicted stardom for Green based on past history (Rivals #1 running backs usually do well, for example) and based on the OL talent Michigan has recruited. If you look hard enough, you'll find comments where I say that if the offensive line develops the way it should based on recruiting, virtually anyone could find success running behind it. This is much the same way that Michigan used to churn out running backs (Powers, Biakabutuka, Wheatley, Thomas, Perry, etc.) who were "stars" and gained a lot of yards, but didn't do a whole lot in the NFL.

      In summary: you're twisting my arguments over the years into suggesting things that I never said. That might be fun for you, but it's not really an effective way of arguing.

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    14. @ Lanknows 7:25 p.m.

      I called Toussaint the best offensive player in the class. That's true. I was wrong. That doesn't have anything to do with the discussion at hand. There was very little film of Denard Robinson, and what there was showed him running a Wing-T offense. He was very hard to evaluate via highlight video. Regardless, I never "rated" him as a running back, because he never played running back until the end of his senior year when he was having nerve issues in his throwing arm.

      So you're right that I rated Fitzgerald Toussaint as a better running back than Denard Robinson. Because Denard wasn't a running back. You win, I guess. You manufactured your own argument, and you won. Congratulations.

      I somewhat disagree with your assertion that my evaluations fall in line with recruiting rankings. As I've mentioned before, my sleeper recruits in the past handful of classes have included Jake Ryan, Willie Henry, and Desmond Morgan - all of whom have turned into pretty good players. That's not to say that I don't have my fair share of misses and such, but I do my own evaluations - I don't need Rivals or Scout or ESPN or Tom Lemming telling me how to evaluate players.

      I don't understand your comment about Denard Robinson and the Jaguars. On the one hand, you say that I would be calling for more Denard Robinson...but then you also say that I wouldn't. Personally, I don't know what I would do because I haven't watched the Jaguars, and I don't give a s*** about them other than hoping that Henne and Robinson have success because they're former Wolverines.

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    15. @ Lanknows 7:28 p.m.

      That depends on your definition of "better." You confuse some things I say sometimes. I don't entirely blame you, because it's hard to keep track of what someone else says, especially when that person says lots of things in 2-4 blog posts a day. So I get it.

      My current thought on the RB situation is this: Smith is the more "creative" runner who can break tackles and has better vision. That has always been my analysis. Green is the more explosive runner who can do more damage if the OL is opening holes. That has also always been my analysis. The team currently needs someone who can grind out yards because the OL is pretty bad, so playing Smith makes more sense.

      If you go back and look at the things I've said about Green since his recruitment started, my thoughts are exactly what everyone is repeating now on fan sites, blogs, etc. It's funny that you're trying to throw my high opinion of him in my face when there are other people saying "I know you voiced concerns about him from the beginning."

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    16. Denard/Toussaint - Yes, I certainly don't question you not evaluating Denard as a RB for obvious reasons, but you did feel confident enough to evaluate him as the fastest recruit. I think you called for him to move to WR at one point as well (I said RB made more sense). My point was simply that you can't pat yourself on the back too much for liking Toussaint. It's not that you missed the best RB, it's that you missed the best offensive player...who happens to now be a RB.

      RE: sleepers. I'm only talking about RB. Again, I like reading your evaluations and I think your prediction track record is solid in general. You've influenced me to buy into your "former-QBs at other positions is a good thing" theory. But if you go through your track record, I actually think RB is one of the weakest positions on your 'resume'. Which is what this convo is about. I appreciate and respect that you do your own evaluations.

      My point irt Robinson as a pro is that he can't block or catch -- therefore isn't a good RB. Which is why he doesn't play more, despite being a gifted runner. Similar to Cox and Shaw at Michigan and, to a lesser extent, Fitz. You advocated for those guys at UM, so you MIGHT advocate for Denard...if you gave a damn about the Jags.

      Regarding Green - I guess I don't know what 'others' are referring to. You seemed to be extremely high on Green. You said we should expect Beenie Wells. You called him the best offensive recruit. You gave him a 92 ranking, then revised it to 95. Then you predicted he would run for 5 ypc.

      http://touchthebanner.blogspot.com/2013/01/a-history-of-1-rated-tailbacks.html
      http://touchthebanner.blogspot.com/search/label/Derrick%20Green

      So, to me it seemed you were pretty high on him. I don't think that's unreasonable. The most negative comments I see are "he won't be the best RB in history". In his commitment post you wrote"While I don't think Derrick Green is the best running back in the country like Rivals and Scout do, I think he's one of the top three to five backs in the nation... he is already better than the other running backs on the roster, save perhaps a healthy Toussaint; and I also think Green is superior to fellow 2013 commits Deveon Smith and Wyatt Shallman." [What is it with you and guys named Smith ;) ]

      I just don't see how all that makes you a Green skeptic. Maybe you weren't as high on him as Rivals and the guys flipping out, but there are always going to be those people. You were a smidge reserved early on, but you seemed all-in after your analysis of #1 ranked backs.

      FWIW, I agree with your assessment of the current RB situation.

      BTW, my predictions are often wrong too. Predictions are hard. But in going through the Green stuff my comments here on Dymonte Thomas seem pretty valid:

      http://touchthebanner.blogspot.com/2013/02/2013-recruiting-awards.html#comment-form

      "As for Thomas - no question he was highly recruited and has talent, but I was rather disappointed to hear about his struggles in coverage. Sounds to me like he's a ways off from playing time and I worry a little bit about him being a Marvin Robinson type of 'early bloomer' who ends up getting blocked by others. Thomas is going to see pretty strong competition with all the guys brought in the last few classes at Safety and he could get lost in the shuffle. I almost wonder if he isn't headed for WLB eventually. Still - glad to have talent like that in the class."

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    17. Back to Cox...

      I don't see how Cox's performance at UMass proves that he was better RB than Smith or McGuffie. Good ball-carrier, bad RB. That's what we saw at Michigan.

      Part of why Umass had a crappy offense was Cox. Part of why Rice's offense wasn't crappy is McGuffie.

      McGuffie was and probably still is a better RB than Cox. He played over Cox at Michigan and he was more productive after transferring than Cox. Neither guy has done anything as pro worth touting. It's splitting hairs really, because both guys are far from great. But you're asserting Cox is superior based on what?...getting drafted in the 7th round by the RB depleted Giants, I guess?

      Whereas Cox is a good runner and a bad running back. Smith is a bad runner who is a quality college running back.

      Smith played ahead of Cox under Rodriguez and he played ahead of Shaw (who you argued was clearly superior to Smith) under Hoke. So that's two coaching staffs that endorsed him over guys you wanted to play. Again, I don't see how Cox or Smith prove you right at all.

      You keep asserting that Smith is inferior but two Michigan coaching staffs disagree with you, at least relative to the other guys you preferred (except for Fitz, who I don't think anyone had a problem seeing more carries). That you keep calling Smith a bad RB compared to guys who sat behind him just seems like denying reality at this point.

      ----

      For Green, you've used the OL excuse before. again, I'll point out that he had an inferior ypc than the other backs.No one knew it was THAT bad, but everyone knew it could be bad. I understand your argument that, if the OL was good, Green might be better....but nobody (sane) thought the OL would be good in 2013. It's a strange hypothetical to use as a defense of your position.

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    18. This reflects a good summary of what I think your position on Green was.

      You wrote:

      ThunderFebruary 12, 2013 at 12:23 PM

      I was reserved in my initial judgment of Green, but he improved a lot from his junior to senior year. I also did that study of #1 rated tailbacks, and when you combine that with the offensive line Michigan is bringing in, you almost have to expect that he'll turn into a high NFL draft pick unless he's a head case like Bryce Brown.

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    19. re: Denard Robinson. Yes, I called him the fastest recruit. He was a track star and reportedly had a 4.3-ish forty. Why wouldn't I call him the fastest recruit?

      re: Derrick Green. He averaged 3.3 yards/carry last year (IIRC), while others had more. The OL was terrible, and he came in overweight. How would I know that he would show up to fall camp at 240-245 lbs. when he was reportedly down to 225 as a senior in high school? Now he's in better shape, and he's a better runner than he was in 2013. I can only evaluate what I see on film. I can't always predict if a guy is going to flunk out of school, sucker punch a bar patron in the jaw, or be a fatty.

      re: Mike Cox and Sam McGuffie. I'm pretty much done arguing my case for Cox. In the U.S. of A., the be-all-end-all is the NFL. NFL coaches and general managers decided to draft Cox, and they decided to let McGuffie go undrafted. They decided to put Cox on an active roster, and they decided to keep McGuffie on a practice squad for a bit. You can compare Rice's established (albeit mediocre) program to UMass's first-year FBS offense if you want, but I think that's a silly comparison.

      Of all the running backs on Michigan's roster during Mike Cox's time in Ann Arbor (Shaw, Minor, McGuffie, Smith, Hopkins, Toussaint, whoever else), the guy that I clamored for most was Cox. Out of those 6+ guys, the only one to get drafted and/or make a regular season NFL roster was Cox. I don't really need to make this argument. The information speaks for itself.

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    20. Only if you ignore context completely. The Giants were decimated at RB in consecutive years. They probably gave carries to 20 guys in a two year span. Most were bad. If the Packers (or whoever McGuffie is on) lose a half dozen players at his position, McGuffie may play too. Doesn't mean he is an NFL-caliber player.

      This year, Cox didn't make the team. He got a shot because he has talent. Talent isn't the question here, it's performance and production.

      Cox has never been successful. Not at Michigan, not at UMass, not in the NFL. He is a practice squad player, just like McGuffie.

      McGuffie was successful at Rice, has been on NFL practice squads (just not on attrition-laden teams), and played at Michigan, more than Cox ever did.

      I say this not to trumpet the awesomeness of McGuffie but to point out that a hypothetical McGuffie-loving Michigan blogger could make a case of "see I was right all along, he was good at Rice and is still floating around NFL practice squads". Said blogger would sound kind of silly talking about how his McGuffie-touting proves he's good at evaluating RBs.

      This Cox got drafted thing is the equivalent of saying "I was right to say Kevin Grady is a good RB" because he is better than Max Martin, on the basis of recruiting rankings and scholarship offers. Grady had more talent maybe, but neither is good RB. It's a ridiculous argument. [Please don't point to real stats here because my point is just that they both kinda suck.]

      Another comparison is pointing to some Iowa walk-on who ended up getting carries after all their backs got hurt. Doesn't prove they are better than the guy who got a scholarship at Northern Iowa and didn't do anything. Both suck.

      Cox is not good and he deserved to sit on the bench at Michigan. You were wrong about Cox being a good RB, 'relatively' or objectively. He didn't play here in 4 years and then he stunk everywhere else he went afterward. You ignored the negative practice rumblings at Michigan, you make excuses for meager production at UMass, and you ignore his situation (and lack of production) in the NFL.

      Putting aside confirmation bias, Cox is an argument AGAINST your judgment on RBs, not for it. It points to a myopic view of the position, just as the Shaw/Smith debate does.

      Your argument would be stronger if you clamored for Denard to play RB. He has the talent to be the best RB Michigan has had in the NFL since at least Hart and could even end up more successful than anyone since the 90s. You thought he should be a WR (IIRC), the NFL disagrees, and so did Michigan when he couldn't throw.

      Re: Denard. My point about speed was that you knew enough to make SOME evaluation of him, in response to you saying you couldn't see enough film to rank him ahead of Toussaint as an offensive player. You knew enough to say something.

      I think what you view as "speaking for itself" is really "speaking to myself".

      ...which is probably what both you and I are doing at this point, so it's time to end this, I do think. Thanks for discussing.

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    21. You can't just say "your evidence doesn't matter because I have deemed it so."

      You say that Cox sucked and that the only reason he got drafted and made the team was because the Giants were decimated by injuries. Fine. Let's assume that's true.

      Who else was available to be picked in the 7th round of that 2013 NFL Draft by the Giants? Hmmm...let's see...Sam McGuffie and Vincent Smith. Yep. Both of them were seniors that year. They were both passed over in favor of Cox. If the Giants desperately needed running backs, then why wouldn't they choose McGuffie or Smith if they were better? It's probably because the Giants didn't think McGuffie and Smith were better than Cox.

      That whole line of thinking doesn't dovetail with reality. I don't know what your point is by saying "The Giants needed running backs." Well, yeah. That's why they drafted a running back. I need food, so I eat food. If I have a choice, I will choose a grilled chicken breast over Spam, because the grilled chicken is better. I don't just close my eyes and pick randomly when those are the choices. The Giants decided that Michael Cox was a chicken breast, and they also decided that Sam McGuffie, Vincent Smith, and numerous other UFA running backs were Spam.

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    22. The NFL drafts on who they think COULD be better, not necessarily who IS better. They make no secret of that. The Giants thought he was worth drafting as a late round flyer. Well great, now that they've seen him play RB, they don't think he's worth keeping on the roster. Basically the same story at Michigan. Has talent, has potential - can't play, doesn't produce.

      There is obviously a correlation between draft position and player quality. But if you're talking about 7th round picks who don't pan out vs undrafted practice squad guys -- the difference can just be one guy having seen a glimmer of potential. For all we know, they liked him to play special teams.

      Furthermore, the NFL is a different league. Great college players don't necessarily translate to the NFL because of size. David Molk was a great college player, but is not a good NFL player. Ben Braden might make a better NFL player than college player.

      Once a guy fails, his draft position becomes moot. Brady Quinn. Alkili Smith. Cox got a shot. More of a shot than McGuffie and Smith, sure. Those guys had size limitations that make being an NFL player an uphill battle.

      The point is: those guys were better than Cox in college and Cox did nothing in the NFL to prove college coaches wrong (or you right.)

      Cox is more talented, as evidenced by coach comments and him getting drafted. The debate is not about talent. Cox is not a better running back. Arguing otherwise is casting aside all available evidence - he played less than them, he produced less than them.

      (BTW, I was right with you on Cox, thinking he deserved to play more early on. His talent was evident. But as the years went on, I changed my mind and assumed there were legitimate reasons why he never got off the bench.)

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  10. Magnus, can you describe the extent to which these teams are using film nowadays? I'd heard they get HUDL cutups after each practice, and the players are graded out every day on film...I think people think there might be a lot more subjectivity about starters selections than there really is. For instance, this isn't about who Fred Jackson likes more, it's probably about how the backs graded out on weekly film...hence the coaches emphasizing that players need to bring it every day in practice.

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    1. There was an article a year or two ago talking about how the players would go back to their dorms and watch practice cutups on film. I believe they are provided with iPads on which to watch film. Even as a high school team, we film every practice and game and have it available on Hudl a couple hours afterward.

      Running back is a tricky position to grade, though. Offensive line is fairly simple - you have a guy to block, and if he gets blocked by you, hooray. If he doesn't, boo. Running backs have obvious miscues (for example, the botched handoff between Gardner/Green) but once they have the ball in their hands, it's tough. That's when it becomes subjective. You can see on film if a hole opens up or not, but so much of being a good runner is pure instinct that there's no cut-and-dried way to say "You should have juked this guy" or "You should have made this cut" or "You should have taken this angle."

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    2. many thanks. Exactly what I was looking for.

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