Michigan Football: A Quarterback Away from a Championship?

Jim Harbaugh’s third season at Michigan suffered through what some might call growing pains while regressing from two consecutive 10-3 seasons to an 8-4 regular season prior the bowl game. The season is being looked at as a disappointment to say the least; failing to beat a team with an above .500 record, with an 0-2 record against chief rivals isn’t what Michigan pays Harbaugh $9 million a year to do.

Despite the perception of Harbaugh having “quarterback guru” characteristics, the QB position was arguably the weakest for the Michigan offense in 2017. Losing a starter, Wilton Speight, in September to a vertebrae injury didn’t help the situation by any means. There’s also an argument to question Harbaugh’s hindsight when (RS) freshman, Brandon Peters, took the field against Rutgers and was evidently the best quarterback on the roster.

Why wasn’t he the starter from week one?

Why didn’t he start over O’Korn once Speight went down?

Why wasn’t he ready to play?

In our mindset, as observers of this program, it doesn’t make sense to not have Brandon Peters starting against Florida for week one. Before we critique how the quarterback situation was handled, something we must keep in mind is that we don’t know what was going on at the practice field. Peters may have not been ready in the eyes of his coaches and I think that Jim Harbaugh, Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton know a little more about football than a lot of us, including myself, do.

In Michigan’s four losses this season, some would suggest that three out of those four losses could have potentially been avoided had there been, at least, average quarterback play.

Against Michigan State, the monsoon was a noticeable factor that effected offensive play for both teams, but John O’Korn’s three interceptions were definitely difference makers in favor of the Spartans that helped result in a 14-10 heart-breaker.

There wasn’t a lot that could be been done for this team to beat Penn State in the White Out game in Happy Valley. They were the better team and they were playing their best brand of football while Michigan was playing their worst. Sure, a better quarterback may have put some more points on the board and made it somewhat of a game at least, but they straight up lost that game, got outplayed, outcoached and it was ugly.

Against Wisconsin, Brandon Peters was holding his own on the day, leading an offense that was moving the ball prior to a concussion in the 2nd half. The score was 14-10 Wisconsin’s lead at the point of losing Peters. John O’Korn came in and then Michigan’s chances for the win were gone. 24-10 final score in Madison.

Against Ohio State, John O’Korn defined his distasteful legacy at Michigan. The offensive play-calling and the game-plan was very well put together. It allowed O’Korn to consistently rely on check-down routes and for most of the game, they were able to move the ball. Michigan was faced with a 24-20 deficit coming off a short Buckeye field goal attempt, with just 2:47 left in the game that gave the O’Korn led offense a chance to control their own destiny and go up 27-24. On the first play of the drive with all the hope in the world on Michigan’s sideline, John O’Korn misses multiple open targets and throws a downfield pass to virtually no one in the area and it was intercepted and the rest was history for a 6th consecutive win in the series for Urban Meyer.

I will not say that quarterbacks were the reason for three of the losses, but I will say that they may have been a difference. Michigan had an arguable championship caliber defense, a solid backfield and young, talented receivers that were starting to create separation with their route running in late November. Is Michigan just a quarterback away from elite status? Some, including myself, believe that a top-tier quarterback play is the one missing ingredient for Jim Harbaugh’s signature season.

Brandon Peters is currently the QB1 in bowl game preparation and will be the starter for the Outback Bowl against South Carolina come New Year’s Day.

Prior to today’s official announcement, it seemed like a sure thing for Brandon Peters to be the starter for the 2018 season. Over the past few weeks, rumors and speculations became a reality when former Ole Miss sophomore quarterback, Shea Patterson, announced his decision to transfer to Michigan following his visit over the weekend.

Suddenly, this quarterback battle for 2018 just got very interesting. Let’s look at career statistics for both Brandon Peters and Shea Patterson:

Peters through 4 games: (37-64, 486 yards, 4 TDs, 57.8 completion percentage)

Patterson through 10 games: (238-392, 3,139 yds, 23 TDs, 60.7 completion percentage)

The Michigan fan base will likely have no issue with whoever wins the battle between these two, both come off as fan favorites as of late. Of course you can’t forget the sleeper candidates on the depth chart in (RS) freshman, Dylan McCaffery and true freshman Joe Milton, who will more than likely redshirt the 2018 season.

Three out of these four quarterbacks all possess the ability to extend a play with their legs; Brandon Peters has shown glimpses of good ability inside the pocket to step up and make tough throws under pressure. Shea Patterson is similar player to Johnny Manziel with a better arm, but a lesser scramble ability.

Patterson, in my guess, will be favored to be the starter in South Bend for week one. Brandon Peters’ only advantage is his prior relationship with the coaching staff and he already knows the offense. Also, Peters will get a golden opportunity in the upcoming bowl game to ball out against an 8-win SEC team and make his case for his coaches and to remind the fan base to not forget about number 18.

Jim Harbaugh’s offense doesn’t require you to be a Tom Brady, just make the simple, routine throws and don’t miss open downfield targets. Brandon Peters overthrew Donovan Peoples-Jones on what would’ve been a lengthy go-ahead touchdown pass against Wisconsin, one of the very few mistakes Peters made for Michigan.

Don Brown will return a defense with more than half of his starters from the 2017 unit. This offense, that struggled heavily in 2017, will have the hopeful return of tackle, Grant Newsome, this will help an offensive line in need of improvement, youthful receivers with talent and then a solid backfield with two shifty runningbacks, Karan Higdon and Chris Evans, at the helm. Now you have four talented quarterbacks to work with, three four stars and one five star coming out of high school. Pick the one who gives this team the best chance for a championship and roll with him.

Excuses are out, you have the experience, you’ve recruited the talent, you’ve brought in outside talent from the SEC and you’ve had three seasons with the program, it’s time to beat your rivals and contest for a championship. We’ll find out what Jim Harbaugh is made of come 2018. This is poised to be, yet another, typical Harbaugh quarterback battle which will be heavily storied and documented on throughout the offseason, and per usual: we won’t know who the starter is until the first snap of the season.

 

 

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Harbaugh: Hopes and Dreams or Smoke and Mirrors

The Michigan Wolverines lost to the Ohio State Buckeyes again last Saturday. It marked the sixth straight win in this rivalry for the team from Columbus. They have also accrued 15 victories in 18 chances since the start of the new millennium.

While “The Game” has been lopsided for quite some time now, U of M was hoping that the man they brought in three years ago, Jim Harbaugh, was going to change that. So far, he has not.

He is now 0-3 against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes and 1-2 against Michigan State and Mark Dantonio. While these guys are both some of the best coaches in the country, they aren’t making over $9 million at their alma mater. Harbaugh is the highest paid coach in all of college football but has yet to lead the maize and blue anywhere in three years besides some good seasons record wise.

Now while I am not saying Harbaugh’s three years in Ann Arbor haven’t been successful, as he has racked up back to back 10-3 records in his first two seasons with a chance to go 9-4 record this year, but that’s not what Michigan envisioned when he stepped on campus in 2015.

With all the highly ranked recruiting classes and 5-star after 5-star walking through the doors of the Big House, Michigan has had high expectations since Harbaugh took over the reins. But each season, seemingly, has started, and ended, the same way. Filled with optimism and then ending in disappointment.

2015 started off with a loss to the Utah Utes but then the Wolverines reeled off five straight wins before losing to the Spartans at home. They also lost to the Buckeyes at the Big House before beating the Florida Gators in the Citrus Bowl to go 10-3.

2016 started off even better as they ran off a 9-0 record with a win over MSU before stumbling at the end of the year. The Wolverines proceeded to lose 3 of their next 4 games, including a loss to OSU, to finish with another 10-3 record.

2017 began similarly with the Wolverines beating Florida at Jerry’s World in Arlington and starting off 4-0 before facing off against Michigan State. Harbaugh and his team once again lost to Sparty to drop to 4-1. They also lost to Penn State and Wisconsin on the way to “The Game” against Meyer’s Buckeyes. And while Michigan had a good chance to win this past Saturday with 14-0 and 20-14 leads, they ultimately couldn’t pull it out and lost 31-20.

So while Harbaugh has had a rough go and winning big games against his rivals, I believe he is still the right man for the job at the moment. After three years, a 28-10 record is not too shabby. I also believe he has brought a different mindset to the university.

While he hasn’t won anything yet, the expectations are there and they have had their chances at returning to Indy to play for the Big Ten title. Under the leadership of Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke, it felt like this team wasn’t going anywhere.

One last comparison/point I’d like to make about Harbaugh is his connection to Bo Schembechler. He played and learned under the tutelage of the Michigan great. But for all the glory that he receives, he never brought home a national championship to U of M in his 21 years as the head coach.

His teams won 13 Big Ten Conference titles, of course, but he could never win the big one. I think Harbaugh could, at the very least, bring a Big Ten title to Ann Arbor in the next few years, but will that appease anyone? Also, if they do make it to the playoffs, is that successful or is nothing short of a national championship constitute success?

So while some people’s patience may be running thin with Harbaugh, I think they need to give him a little more time. Sure, his “Signing with the Stars”, satellite camps and sleepovers may not be endearing to all, but that’s just who he is and I don’t think he is going to change. Harbaugh is an old-school, ground and pound type of coach who wants to shove it down your throat. If that style can/will work in todays college football landscape is yet to be seen.

I believe fans just need to relax and let his plan come to fruition. It hasn’t worked out completely in his first three years, but it’s still a work in progress. Of course there are things he can work on, but what coach doesn’t have room for improvement?

In a couple more years, if Michigan is still floating around at 8-4 or 9-3, or heck, even 10-2 with no Big Ten titles or playoff appearances, then this conversation needs to be revisited. But for now, U of M has the coach they want.

After all, what other option do the Wolverines have other than their “Michigan Man”?

 

 

 

Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week” – Ohio State

by Mark Edwards

Well…that sucked.  Actually, it sucked “big time.”  Michigan, a huge underdog, had Ohio State on the ropes.  I, along with much of the Michigan fan base, is going to feel the sting of that loss for the entire winter.  However, before all of our psychologist bills go up, let me bring you the good news.

Our defense was really good.  Not great…but really good.  Quite honestly, they’ve been really good for 11 games (sorry Penn State but you didn’t beat us with our “A” game).  With the knowledge that the defense would have to carry this team, I would say they held on for as long as they could.  The biggest encouraging thing was the start by this team.

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  1st & 10, Ohio State ball on their own 17 yard line

TIME:  5:56 left in the first quarter

WHY THIS SERIES: With Michigan scoring the first touchdown of the game, the vaunted Buckeye offense took the field for their second series of the game.  After a three and out, this was the drive where all of America thought that J.T. Barrett would march down the field and put doubt into Michigan.

Screen shot 2017-11-28 at 7.32.07 PM

FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Trio Flex Left (You have twin receivers to the boundary while the H back is aligned to the field)

OHIO STATE PERSONNEL: 11 (1 running back, 1 tight end)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  4-2

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES:  This is the classic 4-2-5 alignment.  You have Rashan Gary (#3) to the H back side in a 7 technique.  Maurice Hurst (#73) is in a 3 technique to the H back side while Bryan Mone (#90) is is a 1 technique away from the H back.  Chase Winovich (#15) is in a 5 technique to the boundary.  Mike McCray (#9) is aligned outside of Winovich to keep leverage against the slot receiver.  Devin Bush Jr. (#10) is stacked behind Hurst.  Viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) is four yards from the line of scrimmage on the outside shoulder of the H back.  Cornerbacks David Long (#22) and Lavert Hill (#24) are in their customary press coverage.

Screen shot 2017-11-28 at 7.32.18 PM

FRAME #2

What has changed:  The ball still hasn’t snapped but OSU is running jet motion to the field.  Michigan’s defense has already adjusted to the motion with Hudson now on the line of scrimmage with McCray moving with the Buckeye slot receiver Paris Campbell.

Screen shot 2017-11-28 at 7.32.28 PM

FRAME #3

What is Ohio State doing here?  It is Jet Sweep to the field.  The running back Mike Weber and the H back are trying to double team Hudson (#7).  Notice the Buckeye offensive line has blocked a zone play to their left.

What has changed:  Michigan defensive line has matched their Buckeye counterparts.  Gary (#3) has squeezed it down and is playing the quarterback.

Michigan’s pressure:   Khaleke Hudson is the disruption here.  He is defeating the double team block while Lavert Hill has read jet sweep and is seemingly blitzing (it’s really just a reaction) while defeating the block of the OSU WR.  Devin Bush Jr. (#10) has flowed over the top of the jet.  Michigan has three players outside of the ball right now and all three are functionally unblocked.

Screen shot 2017-11-28 at 7.32.39 PM

FRAME #4

What is Ohio State doing here?  Two of their blockers have turned their backs to the line of scrimmage.   That’s never good for the offense.

What has changed:  Hudson is the key to the run pressure.  He already has his hands on the ball carrier and Hill is free from the WR as well.

Michigan’s pressure:  Hill is setting the edge with Gary and Bush Jr. are running inside out to tackle the jet.

Screen shot 2017-11-28 at 7.32.55 PM

FRAME #5

What is Ohio State doing here?  They are going to be tackled for a loss of 5 yards.

What has changed:  Hudson is parallel to the ground (how cool is this shot?) while Hill is engaging Campbell as well.

Michigan’s pressure:  It’s perfect execution of a pre-snap adjustment to motion and a great read by Hill to recognize jet sweep and immediately attack it from the outside.

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FRAME #6

The epitome of the Don Brown defense has now shown up.  Attack your problems with pressure and aggressiveness.

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FINAL THOUGHT:  It’s been a joy to write this column and I look forward to one more “Bowl Edition” of the “Pressure of the Week.”  It’s so obvious to me that this defense will make another huge jump next year and that Captain Blitz is the right guy to lead this squad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GAME: Ohio State @ Michigan Predictions

The Big House. The Horseshoe. The Maize and Blue. The Scarlet and Grey. Bo Schembechler. Woody Hayes. The Ten Year War. The Big Two and the Little Eight. Jim Harbaugh. Urban Meyer.

This will be the 100th consecutive meeting between the arch-rivals, 113 meetings in total. Records and rankings are thrown out the window because after kickoff, the only thing that matters is beating that team on the other sideline, it’s an absolute war. To keep it short, these schools don’t like each other and that’s just how it is.

(9-2) no. 9 ranked, Ohio State, will come to Ann Arbor and play (8-3) unranked, Michigan. This rivalry is widely considered to be one of the best in all of sports, despite the 21st century being a tad-lopsided in favor of the Buckeyes.

The Block M Insider has just four contributors for both our blog and to run our Twitter pages, and this article is featuring opinions and predictions on how “The Game” will potentially unfold come this Saturday:

Shane: 

Not many will be predicting a Michigan victory in Ann Arbor come Saturday when the Buckeyes will come to the Big House as a likely double digit favorite. Wolverine season-ticket holders everywhere have been looking to sell their tickets, feeling similar to the 2013 game that held little to no confidence throughout the fan-base.

I’d love to sit here and say that the intensity of this rivalry is going to lift this younger, inexperienced, lesser coached, less talented Michigan team to a victory come Saturday but that simply hasn’t been the case in my lifetime. I don’t think this team is good enough to hang with the Buckeyes, but I’m also a firm believer that in college football on any given day, anything is possible.

This Michigan defense is a stout unit with a front to be reckoned with, however they have a inexperienced secondary with plenty of vulnerabilities that have been exposed to man coverage specifically this season. Overall, this group is arguably atop in the nation in terms of quality, they’d be able to perform at a higher level had their offense give them time to rest in between possessions. Going up against this Buckeye offense who has more dimensions than one, they’ll be able to spread it out to attack these said vulnerabilities within the Michigan defense. This will be the best total offense that Michigan has gone up against this season, Penn State being the 2nd best as they put up 42 points. Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown must prepare their best game-plan along with unanimous execution to limit the Heisman hopeful, J.T. Barrett, freshman RB, J.K. Dobbins, and the rest of the Buckeye play-makers.

Offensively in Ann Arbor, this season has not been a favorable one and it’s difficult to say things will change this week. We’ve seen three different quarterbacks under center for Michigan this season and Brandon Peters, the fan favorite, is not a guarantee for play on Saturday, remains in concussion protocol. Wilton Speight’s status remains in non-contact for practice, not likely he dresses. If both are out for the game, that would likely leave it up to John O’Korn, or Alex Malzone if they wanted to risk playing someone with no experience. It’s no secret that the offense has clicked the most efficiently while having Peters in the huddle and it would be in Michigan’s favor to have him ready to go, but the real bread and butter to this unit are two men named Karan Higdon and Chris Evans. The passing game struggle has allowed the run game to open up several times this season; Higdon is 124 yards away from being Michigan’s first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since Fitz Toussiant in 2011. Evans has carried his weight as well with a 594 yard season thus far. Unfortunately for the offense, Ohio State’s run-defense is their strength and Iowa, who routed the Buckeyes, were able to expose their secondary. I can’t express how crucial it is for Michigan to have Brandon Peters’ arm, gives them the best chance to move the ball in my opinion because we’ve seen the John O’Korn offense and I really don’t think there’s a chance with him under center.

As a fan, I’m hoping for a close game that comes within a possession or two at the very least, but I’m taking Ohio State in this one and expect them to cover the spread. This isn’t Michigan’s season, but a win over your rival would essentially forgive the losses this season strictly due to transitional circumstances after losing over 40 seniors and returning less than 5 total starters. Michigan is the least experienced team in the FBS to my understanding, currently fighting for a 9 or 10 win season while the Buckeyes are trying to make their case to the committee for yet another college football playoff appearance.

Prediction: Ohio State 34, Michigan 14.

Mark:

Weird things happen in sports.  It’s the unpredictability that makes fans go crazy.  For Michigan fans, it’s “The Game.”  There have been so many upsets in this rivalry.  They are actually easy to remember.

1969 – Michigan 24, Ohio State 12

1987 – Ohio State 23, Michigan 20

1996 – Michigan 13, Ohio State 9

2016 – Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 (2OT)

Why do I list all of the more memorable ones?   That’s the point.  This game is SPECIAL.  This game is TRADITION.  And for both fan bases who reside on the internet like they know it all, those four games above prove that when you least expect it, we know nothing.

So now let’s move on to 2017…

QUICK FACTS

  • Michigan has allowed 14 points or less in the last 10 home games.  Last team to score more than 14…Ohio State in 1015.
  • Not a player on Michigan’s roster has beaten Ohio State.
  • Ohio State has only scored less than 30 points twice (Oklahoma & Iowa).
  • Michigan has only given up more than 24 points in a game once (Penn State).

Do you know what the problem with facts can lead to?  Short-sighted conclusions based on insufficient evidence.

So let’s get to it.  To the casual observer and to the most loyal fan, this seems to be a game that Ohio State should win. This is the game that Michigan has been preparing for since last year’s loss in the Horseshoe.

The Buckeye offense is potent and features playmakers all over the field…including a dual-threat quarterback.  J.T. Barrett is good enough to make Michigan fans sick to their stomachs.  Why?  Barrett is the only real quarterback that is going to force Michigan into a “Spy” situation.  Don Brown will have to assign somebody to mirror Barrett because the “Cover 10” defense that Michigan uses is the most vulnerable to a scrambling quarterback.  While OSU has made recent gains in the run game with Dobbins and Weber, there is nothing to suggest that they will be able to run against Michigan.   In the passing game, it’s about containable pressure on Barrett while winning the individual matchups outside.

Will he play?  Earlier in the week, my sources around Schembechler Hall thought it was more likely that Peters would play.  As the week has gone on, that outlook has dimmed just a bit. As I pen this prediction, my gut tells me that O’Korn is the starter.  Most Michigan fans just clicked to another website because they think that tells the whole story but let me add a twist to their perceived ending.  Here’s what UM has to do to be in position to win:

  • Be efficient in the intermediate passing game (5-15 yards down field)
  • Stay out of ’22’ personnel and run the ball while spreading out the Buckeye defense
  • Use designed runs/rollouts to enable O’Korn to be on the move
  • Take shots downfield as the Buckeye defense starts to roll to the line of scrimmage as the game is much tighter than they expect.

In both OSU losses, you see the OSU defense lose steam in the second half.  Why?  This Buckeye team is really not built to dominate for four quarters.  They are much more like Ivan Drago from Rocky IV.  They are going to try to knock you out early.  Harbaugh and Co. has to put the Rocky Balboa shorts on and just keep punching.

That’s how upsets happen.  Being told you can’t win can motivate but does this Michigan team have enough toughness to stand in and punch with the B1G Ten’s Drago (no matter how flawed they are).

The answer…yes and it’ll shock the hell out of most of us.

Prediction: Michigan 24, Ohio State 12. 

Now let me get back to my Rocky training montage.

 

 

Brandon: 

First played in 1897, the 2017 edition will be played in Ann Arbor at the Big House. The Ohio State-Michigan game is one of, if not the, biggest rivalries in sports.

This year’s Buckeyes team comes into this game ranked no. 9 by the College Football Playoff Committee while the Wolverines will be unranked. Ohio State is sporting a 9-2 record with a tough loss to a good Oklahoma Sooner squad along with a blowout loss to Iowa on the road. Michigan will come into this one with an 8-3 record with close losses to Michigan State and Wisconsin and a drubbing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions.

So while these teams are only separated by a game in the standings, they’ll be playing for completely different reasons. OSU has already clinched the East for a spot in the conference title game, a win against Michigan on the road and a victory against the Wisconsin Badgers in Indy gives the Buckeyes and the Big Ten a resume worthy of potential consideration for the CFP final four. Michigan on the other hand is looking to beat their rival for the first time since 2011 and have a chance at their third consecutive 10-win season under Jim Harbaugh.

I believe this game will come down to the battle of the quarterbacks. J.T. Barrett leads this Buckeye team and they are currently the fourth ranked offense in the nation when it comes to yards per game as they are averaging over 546 total YPG. They are also averaging over 44 points per contest as well.

Michigan, on the other hand, comes into this game having played three different QBs this season (Wilton Speight, John O’Korn, Brandon Peters) with Speight being sidelined due to injury, O’Korn being benched due to poor play, and Peters playing decent but he is now hurt as well and is uncertain for Saturday’s matchup.

If OSU is going to be victorious, they will need two key elements. First, their defense will need to contain the run game that Michigan employs; Karan Higdon, Chris Evans and Ty Issac provide the offense with a lethal backfield when clicking on all cylinders. When Michigan’s ground game is going, it helps their defense by allowing them to control the time of possession battle. Second, they will also have to not get picked apart by the weak air attack that U of M employs, regardless of who is under center. Iowa put up 55 on the Buckeyes a couple of weeks back and they accomplished it primarily through the air.

If the Wolverines are going to come out of this game with a win, they will have to do two things as well. First, whoever is playing at quarterback will need to attack the weak part of Ohio State’s defense, which is their secondary. Secondly, they will have to put pressure on J.T. Barrett. He one fine player, but when you contain him and make him throw from the pocket, he isn’t himself. This will be a tall task for this Michigan defense, but it is a must if they want to leave the Big House on a high note.

As for my final score prediction, I believe this one could get ugly. Ohio State is a double-digit (I’ve seen anywhere from -11 to -14) favorite in Vegas and I think they will cover the spread. Not saying Michigan can’t shock the world and pull of the upset, but I just see that as a long shot. J.T. won’t be short this year, folks.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Michigan 13.

Michael:

November 25th, 2017 3:50 pm. The ESPN ticker scrolls along, you catch a glimpse of something deceives your eye, you check again and it was true. Michigan defeats Ohio State.

Harbaugh finally gets his signature win, on the heels of a defensive masterpiece constructed by Don Brown. Tim Drevno and Pep Hamilton dig up their best game plan, and the offense clicks just enough to pull of the upset.

Prediction: Michigan 28, Ohio State 7.

Playing for Bragging Rights; 10 Win Season on the Line for Michigan

8-3 Michigan’s prior narrow, division title hopes were officially crushed on Saturday as undefeated Wisconsin put away the Wolverines by two touchdowns in Madison. The game was 14-10 at the point of the Michigan offense losing their freshman quarterback, Brandon Peters, for the remainder of the game. After Peters was carted off the field, so was Michigan’s shot at offensive ball movement; the game took on a final score if 24-10 in favor of the home team.

Not many expected Michigan to win last Saturday, the game very well could have had a different outcome had Michigan been able to keep their quarterback, but to put it shortly: the better football team most definitely won.

Michigan’s expectations for this season were up in the air depending on your confidence in the coaching staff as some were predicting a playoff run, few were saying a 7-8 win season, and others were saying anything in between. When any college program loses over 40 seniors and returns 5 or less starters, it’s really a hit or miss season.

One thing Michigan has at least done so far in 2017, with the exception of the MSU game, they’ve beaten every team they were expected to beat. That doesn’t mean we can ignore the obvious shortcomings: something this program has struggled with in recent seasons primarily is winning the big games; Michigan is 0-16 in road games against ranked teams since 2006.

Michigan might not even crack top three in their own division to end the season, which isn’t a good look. In their slight defense, the Big Ten East is about as tough as a college football division can get. Nevertheless, the highest paid coach in the conference, Jim Harbaugh, should be able to finish better than third or fourth in a division in three seasons right? He’ll get just one more pass for a disappointing conference finish, but excuses are running thin come next season.

What’s next for Michigan? What is left for this nightmare of a season?

  • A chance to beat your rival, something this program and fan-base needs like none other.
  • Win a bowl game.
  • Opportunity to win 10 games for the third consecutive seasons.
  • Showcase what fans can expect come 2018-19.

Much like last Saturday, Michigan will be an Vegas underdog; Ohio State opened as a 13 point favorite in Ann Arbor.

Uncertain of who will be under center on Saturday, Harbaugh just announced today that Peters is in concussion protocol and could potentially be out of protocol by Wednesday or Thursday, or not at all, it’s up to the doctors. We will find out more information on Peters as the week progresses, chance to play is “hopeful”. Wilton Speight’s status is doubtful for Saturday, was cleared for non-contact last week. Harbaugh also said that Lavert Hill was cleared for practice this week.

The Buckeyes are coming off two blowout wins over a respected MSU team (48-3) and over Illinois (52-14). Michigan hasn’t scored more than 36 points in any game this season, they’ll look to their defense as an asset to keep them in the game on Saturday. A healthy Brandon Peters can potentially lower the line for the game, the freshman QB gives this Michigan offense a better chance to open up the passing game.

Despite having their primary goals out of reach yet again for the season, there’s still plenty motivation for this Michigan team to come out fired up this Saturday and for the bowl season. The confidence is scarce, but Jim Harbaugh has pulled off major, statistical upsets at prior coaching jobs.

A lot of this team still has fond memory and a bad taste in their mouths from what some players and many fans feel was an officiating wrong-doing in Columbus a season ago, rivalries can give teams a newfound motivation to up their play and execute.

 

 

How Offenses Attack Michigan’s Pass Defense…You’re Seeing This Every Week!

by Mark Edwards

In the build up for the opening game versus Florida, many (and dare I say most) national pundits were quick to point out the youth factor of the Michigan defense.  While I thought it was overstated, it really was true.  While many Michigan fans took that as a slight on the talent of the players, the experience metric told all of us that there would be “growing pains.”

I can actually make the argument that Michigan’s defense has far exceeded national expectation.  However, this column isn’t intended to rail on the Trevor Matich’s of the world.  As of November 20, Michigan has the #1 ranked pass defense in the country.  They yield 144.4 yards per game.  That’s almost never going to get you run out of the stadium in college football.  Couple this with the #15 ranked rush defense (115.6 yards per game) and I think it’s obvious that the defense has performed at a ridiculously high level.

As the offense has been “hit or miss” this year, the defense has taken the field and known that they would have to be “lights out” to have a chance to win.  The youth metric should have told us that being dominant for the whole season was a pipe dream.

Couple that with the fact that offenses only need to hit a few big plays to turn the tide against Michigan has forced opposing offenses to look for their “one shining moment.”  This article will show you what Michigan’s philosophy is, how teams shift personnel to try to beat it and how Michigan can adjust to the current attack by opposing offenses.

MICHIGAN’S BASE COVERAGE BREAKDOWN

Michigan has changed the defense constantly this year from a 3-3 to a 4-2 front.  While that is not important to the pass coverage, it needs to be stated for the record.  I applaud Don Brown for trying to get as many athletes on the field at once.

Michigan’s primary coverage is “Cover 10.”  Cover 10 is a man-to-man coverage with a single-high safety in the middle of the field.  Depending on the pressure/blitz that Don Brown calls, the free safety “may” have responsibilities in the run game.  Why does this matter?  The answer is that you really are playing with no “help over the top.”  Lloyd Carr believed in safety help for corners (Charles Woodson excluded).  Don Brown almost never does this.

In the diagram below, you see where a single-high safety defense is vulnerable.

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Teams are targeting the Michigan safeties in man-to-man coverage.  Whether it is Tyree Kinnel or Josh Metellus, most teams are running a three wide receiver set and isolating the non-cornerback on a wide receiver.

Let’s be honest here…Michigan’s David Long and Lavert Hill have been outstanding against the pass this season.  Considering the fact that all five members of last year’s secondary are in the NFL right now, you have to praise the Michigan defensive staff for their development of so many young players.

However, safeties versus wide receivers are generally bad matchups for most defensive teams.  Teams have figured this out and now they all are attacking Michigan in a similar fashion.  Given the fact that they only need to hit a few passes to turn the tide, Penn State showed everyone how to do it and people are following their lead.

SHIFTING PERSONNEL HAS BEEN GOOD FOR OPPONENTS

While opponents have struggled to run the ball against Michigan, the passing games have attacked this coverage every week.  This section will detail the adjustments.

Collegiate passing games come down to design and matchups.  While the Green Bay Packers have been doing this for years (ever use the Packer personnel group on Madden?), college teams are starting to do it as well.  Specifically, they are doing it to Michigan to really attempt to get their top receiver on a safety.

EXAMPLE #1

In the first clip, Penn State puts DeSean Hamilton in the slot as the #2 receiver.  This gets their all-time leading receiver working against a safety (in this case Josh Metellus).  The popular route combination is an outside release hitch by the #1 receiver and a fade route from #2.  To be fair and give credit, Michigan State became elite doing this with Kirk Cousins and Connor Cook.  Notice in the clip below that Metellus is giving a three yard cushion.  Michigan is doing this to help the safety against a faster receiver.  Why not press the #2 receiver?  It’s an adjustment to give the safety a chance to run with Hamilton.  The true breakdown is that Metellus never gets his hands on him during the entire route.

Michigan’s coverage technique is all about being physical with receivers and tugging the inside arm (think MSU 2013).  This is a technique breakdown added to a personnel mismatch.   Penn State, on that one evening, was good enough to do it.

EXAMPLE #2

In this example from the final minute of the second quarter, Penn State gets TE Mike Gesicki (6’6″) lined up versus Khaleke Hudson.  Hudson, who has had a great season, is 6’0″ and has been more of a run player than a pass defender.  Gesicki is runs a “sluggo”, which is a slant and go look at Hudson.  Functionally, it is a fade.

Gesicki gets a back should throw from McSorely and as Hudson is trailing the route, the throw is indefensible.  This isn’t horrible coverage but it certainly was an effective plan for Penn State.

EXAMPLE #3

This clip comes from the Maryland game.  It would be easy to surmise that you’re only picking clips where the offensive talent is better than that of the Michigan defense.  This is the example that should tell all fans that the offensive coaches in the conference are seeing the same thing.

Maryland lines up in 11 personnel (1 RB and 1 TE).  So here’s your customary 3 wide receiver set with twins to the field.  Maryland, on their fourth quarterback, decided that they also could get the fade route.  While being incomplete on review, Maryland Taivon Jacobs beats Michigan’s best cornerback in Lavert Hill.  This clip is tough because you can’t see the route.  However, you can see that safety Tyree Kinnel almost got their from the middle of the field.  Undoubtedly, the QB looking at the receiver the whole way let Kinnel get that close.

This is a breakdown in technique by Hill.  Jacobs is a middle of the pack receiver yet still gets behind Michigan on the fade from #2 route.  He couldn’t gain any separation on other Terrapin routes so you have to assume a weakness in the Michigan pass defense exists and opponents know it.

Maryland wasn’t going to beat Michigan so it’s a fairly forgettable play but if the talent of the two teams was closer, you would’ve seen Maryland try this a lot.

EXAMPLE #4

This past weekend, Michigan held a 10-7 lead near the later stages of the third quarter at Wisconsin.  The Badger running game was fairly stifled so what did they go to to not only flip the field but also turn the tide?  You got it.  A fade route from #2.  Now for the sake of transparency, they hit this pass on Michigan freshman Jaylen Kelly-Powell.  Kelly-Powell was forced into duty because Michigan’s normal nickel defender Brandon Watson started at corner due to the Lavert Hill injury.

Wisconsin WR A.J. Taylor actually got off of press contact from Kelly-Powell and ran away from him while QB Alex Hornibrook threw a really good pass to the open receiver.  Notice, this is a 51-yard connection that represented 33.3% of their passing yards for the day.

WHAT MICHIGAN WILL DO (AND WON’T DO) TO ADJUST MOVING FORWARD

The breakdown for Michigan is not corrected by scheme.  Don Brown IS GOING TO continue to bring pressure and play man coverage.  In all of these clips, the QB is not pressured.  Hence, the defensive backs have to cover longer.  Given Michigan’s propensity to bring the blitz, the pass rush has to get home and at least pressure quarterbacks.  They’ve done a really good job but it’s when they don’t that we see opponents pass efficiently against Michigan.

Don Brown isn’t going to become a two-high safety team.  I not suggesting that he should by writing this article.  It’s never one thing that is the fix-all.  Michigan’s defenders will get better at their press technique, faster due to training and more aware of what teams are doing to them.  Michigan’s a single-high safety team 95% of the time.  They will continue to be that.

In this current world of college football, offenses are scoring at rapid rates.  So here we are breaking down a pass or two per game that hurts the Michigan hopes.  Football is a team game and the stress that Michigan’s defense must feel is massive.  This week in “The Game,” look for Ohio State to attempt the same attack.  While each team is different, we are seeing this approach week in and week out.

 

 

 

 

Don Brown’s “Pressure of the Week’ – Wisconsin

by Mark Edwards

Michigan’s defense is ridiculously young, elite and athletic.  However, the thing I marvel at week after week is that the defense KNOWS that they have to play at a level that most defenses cannot ever reach just to keep the opponent down.  Why?  With Michigan’s struggles on offense, Michigan cannot spot a team 14 points and realistically expect to win.

On a cold, windy day in Madison, the defense lasted as long as they could.  This week’s pressure is a great example of a relentless effort to get to the quarterback.  Regardless of the situation, we’ve seen effort like the one below all season.  That is something that should be enjoyed and celebrated as we look at this season.  I know Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown would say this is the expectation but as fans, we still need to appreciate it.  It’s rare in this world of college football.

THIS WEEK’S PRESSURE

SITUATION:  2nd & 15, Wisconsin ball on their own 7 yard line

TIME:  10:20 left in the third quarter

WHY THIS SERIES:  While the offensive red zone struggles were continuing, the defense had Wisconsin backed up and quarterback Alex Hornibrook was shaky.  This series was where most Michigan fans thought, “If we can hold them here and get the ball in good field position, we can take the momentum.”

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FRAME #1

OFFENSIVE FORMATION: Pro Right I (The tight end is to the right along with the flanker.  The split end it to the left.)

MARYLAND PERSONNEL: 21 (2 running backs, 1 tight end)

DEFENSIVE BASE:  3-3

MICHIGAN PERSONNEL NOTES:   In a second and long situation, Michigan is in a 3-3 personnel package and alignment.  The defensive front is DE Rashan Gary (#3)  in a 4I-technique (inside shoulder of tackle) while DT Maurice Hurst (#73) is at nose and DE Chase Winovich (#15) is in a 5-techjnique to the top of the screen.  Viper Khaleke Hudson (#7) is in an “over” alignment, which is outside shoulder of the tight end.  Cornerbacks David Long (#22) and Brandon Watson (#28) are in press alignment.  LB Mike McCray (#9) is stacked behind Winovich while middle linebacker Devin Bush Jr. (#10) is aligned over the right guard.  The key is LB Noah Furbush (#59) who is stacked behind Gary.  He will be moving pre

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This is from the Detroit News and Daniel Mears.

snap to join the five-man pressure.  Safety Josh Metellus (#14) is eight yards deep and responsible for the tight end in pass coverage.

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FRAME #2

What is Wisconsin doing here?  It is still before the snap but they are going to run a screen pass into the boundary (top side of the screen).

What has changed:  Furbush (#59) is coming down in between Hudson and Gary.

Michigan’s pressure:  This is a five-man pressure from the strength of the formation.  In a pro formation, the strength is determined by which side the TE lines up on.  Metellus (#14) has also moved a yard closer to the line of scrimmage.

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FRAME #3

What is Wisconsin doing here?  Both wide receivers and the tight end are vertically releasing, as is customary with a screen pass.  The fullback is fitting into the middle of the line so that he can release to the top of the screen after the defensive line passes him.  The offensive line is take a vertical pass set.  The left guard & left tackle will end  up climbing to level two to the top of the screen.

What has changed:  You now see Metellus and safety Tyree Kinnel (#23) in the screen.  Linebackers Mike McCray and Devin Bush Jr. are dropping into cover zone coverage.  Michigan is playing man-to-man outside with the WRs while they have a they have the linebackers covering each running back.  Metellus has the tight end in man coverage.

Michigan’s pressure:  Hudson is on the attack.  Functionally, he is a “ghost 9” and is rushing to the depth of the QB.  Furbush is blitzing through the right tackle.  Gary has ripped to the A gap on the tight end side while Hurst has ripped into the other A gap.  Winovich is an outside rusher to the top of the screen.

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FRAME #4

What is Wisconsin doing here?  Badger RB Jonathan Taylor has taken a poor path to block Hudson.  You can see the left guard and left tackle leaking out to the left.  The fullback is in the middle of the offensive line.

What has changed:  Hornibrook  knows (and feels) that he’s going to have to evade the rusher to throw the ball.  Michigan has changed their pass coverage responsibilities as Metellus is covering Taylor while Bush Jr. is running with the tight end.

Michigan’s pressure: Michigan is very disciplined in this pressure.  Besides Hudson’s pressure, Winovich has done a nice job setting the edge of the pocket.

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FRAME #5

What is Wisconsin doing here?  The fullback screen is set up but Hornibrook is throwing it too early due to pressure.

What has changed:  The play is actually set up.  If not for the pressure, you are looking at a nice play for Wisconsin.

Michigan’s pressure: Hudson, Hudson, Hudson.

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FRAME #6

Incomplete pass.  The ball was thrown into the ground.

 

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FINAL THOUGHT: I thought Michigan’s defense played a really good game and showed that a power-run approach by an opponent is not a great idea.  Wisconsin scored 7 on special teams and hit two passes.  With the exception of Penn State, it’s not been the run game that hurts this team.