Sunday, September 28, 2014

The New Old Voice

[Ed: A rare post here instead of Maize N Brew, since it's non-recruiting related. Similar post by Drew over there.]

At the end of the 2010 season, in the midst of the tire fire that ultimately doomed Rich Rodriguez, I wrote a piece about who he was as a person. Beyond all the on-field woes, I argued, Rodriguez made several unnoticed decisions that spoke volumes about his character. For a program that set him up to fail and a fan base that had largely turned on him, he always put his players before him: These kids – fast ones from Florida, embodied by Denard Robinson – who took a leap of faith with him, and made the trip to Michigan despite constantly being reminded they weren’t from there.

At the time, it didn’t matter to most. Rodriguez was a dead man walking, the final nailed hammered by Dave Brandon himself after the 2011 Gator Bowl loss. Today, it matters a lot. And reminds us why Hoke should be fired not at the end of this season, but immediately.

What happened on Saturday goes beyond the scoreboard. Losing to Minnesota at home 30-14, being outgained 373-171, posting a -2 turnover margin – all of these come second to 3 defining plays early in the 4th quarter:

  1.  [12:40] On 1st and 10, an already hobbled Shane Morris gets hit low while delivering a shovel pass, bending his ankle backwards and landing awkwardly. He winces in pain, comes up gimping, and tries walking it off. Nobody tends to him: player, coach or trainer.
  2.  [11:30] On 3rd and 16, a barely mobile Morris is forced to execute a designed rollout (!). Theiren Cockran, a 6’6”, 255-lb DE launches himself, helmet first, straight into Morris’ neck as he releases the pass, possibly concussing him. The hit is so violent, not to mention late, that Cockran gets called for a 15-yard penalty when he should have been ejected. Morris can barely stand. In fact, he almost collapses before Braden helps keep him upright. A cheap shot, much like what Gardner suffered at the end of the Notre Dame game that left Michigan players looking confused towards the sideline. Cockran lines up for the next play without any Michigan player so much as saying a word. So does Morris for that matter. Morris runs one more play before being taken out of the game.
  3.  [10:32] Gardner in, on 1st and 10, scrambles for a first down and loses his helmet after being tackled. By rule, he can’t participate in the next play unless Michigan calls a timeout. Down 30-7, Hoke has two, but chooses not to use one (Michigan eventually will finish the game with both timeouts). On TV, the camera catches Russell Bellomy scrambling to find his helmet. He puts on the wrong one, twice. Finally finding a helmet that fits, Bellomy steps onto the field before being pulled back immediately as Shane is already out there. Utter confusion. The camera moves to Hoke, who is circling his finger – an indication to move faster – while yelling “let’s go”. Morris runs the play, again possibly concussed, and barely hands the ball off.

I’ve never been more embarrassed to call myself a Michigan Football fan.

For three minutes, Brady Hoke stopped being a head football coach. Instead, he turned into an overwhelmed, prideful, selfish, incompetent man standing on Michigan’s sideline. His disregard for player safety, his inability to diagnose the situation, his lack of leadership for stepping in are nothing short of atrocious, not to mention dangerous. He completely lost control. In the middle of a game. For all the jokes fans and media make about him not wearing a headset or calling plays, the two aspects of the game Hoke actually is in charge of – clock management and player safety – failed miserably. I can clap my hands too.

In Michigan’s 67-65, 3-OT thriller over Illinois in 2010, Rodriguez pulled Robinson after a hard hit during the 3rd quarter. “He was dizzy and had a headache,” explained Rodriguez, extra cautious his star player might have a concussion. The context is even more important. Rodriguez entered that game 5-3 after 3 consecutive losses to #17 Michigan State, #15 Iowa and at Penn State. Under fire by the media before the season and intense scrutiny by Brandon during the season, Rodriguez pulled the most electric player in college football for his safety in a must-win game. He recruited Robinson, developed him, and above all protected him over his job. If only he was a Michigan Man too.

The comparison between Rodriguez and Hoke is less about isolated incidents, and more about the fundamental responsibilities of a head football coach. Rodriguez wasn’t right for the program for many reasons. But when Brandon hired Hoke, the two carefully crafted a message during the introductory press conference that was designed to be in stark contrast to those failed reasons. Hoke was a Michigan Man, a family man, who called his players “sons” – the lineage of long, storied traditions of Michigan Football. Ever since, Hoke has leaned on those words instead of his record. As Ace from MGoBlog points out, the hypocrisy between Hoke not disclosing player injuries for their safety and his actions (or inaction) on Saturday is “beyond the pale”.

At the start of this year, his fourth season at Michigan, Hoke has set a strikingly different tone and approach – more defiant, more arrogant, more stubborn. Natural, perhaps even understandable, defensive mechanisms for somebody whose record has gotten worse each year. The gimmicky half measures and talk are palatable when you’re 0-0; they ring empty, if not insulting, at this point. But as head coach, Hoke remains the voice of Michigan Football. And for those who follow the program so closely and passionately, often the voice of us. I don’t want Brady Hoke to speak for me any longer. The new old voice has become so disingenuous, it’s unrecognizable – much like anything we’ve seen this fall. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Moving to Maize n Brew

As the season kicks off, an unexpected change here at Maize Pages: I'll be joining the Maize n Brew staff as a recruiting analyst, writing up profiles of current commits and breaking down film.

Not that the announcement here will make any waves; I've already texted all 8 people who follow this blog consistently (hey guys). Nonetheless, I felt like I owe it to the interwebs to announce it in some public fashion. Hey Mike: "We're really doing it though, aren't we buddy?"

I may still post here from time to time, but a vast majority of my stuff will be on Maize n Brew. Let's be honest: angry profanity-laced rants that should not be posted on SBNation will remain here.

I've missed writing consistently over the last few years, especially about Michigan Football, so here's to getting back in the game.

Go Blue.

Monday, September 1, 2014

I Found a Team

How to swat a fly
(David Guralnick / Detroit News)
Much of the talk leading up to this season involved not-so-subtle sarcasm around offensive consistency, competency, and improvement. A running game with positive yards will do, we joked, before a nervous feeling wafted over us. What happens when you lose 2 NFL tackles, start a true freshman LT and pick up Alabama's OC?

Turns out we still have a team. But this time, it somehow makes sense. Moving the chains and scoring touchdowns against an inferior opponent is all well and great, but finally understanding what our
eyes have told us all along -- it's you, not me -- is strangely comforting within itself. Unfortunately, every moment of glee is met with retrospective rage. What we knew was possible last year is being realized right before us this year.

Saturday was about establishing a baseline. This team can do things. And the coordinators, which have always been the story of the off-season, showed us, at least for one week, they know bishops can only move diagonally. After all, you have to know how the pieces move before you can play chess.

  • Gardner mechanics. This is the part where I say it's stupid to pick apart HOW Gardner throws his TD passes, and then pick it apart. Shame on the dude who had a 13/14, 173 yards, 3 TD day. He was sharp and poised -- things you expect out of a 5th year senior QB. But when he steps into the pocket, he does have a jump throw thing going: once hitting an uncovered Funchess for a TD and another missing Funchess on a crossing route, his only incompletion. Something to watch.
  • Green is a straight line runner. One cut and go, which isn't necessary a bad thing in Nussmeier's offense. But it was clear that Smith has a slight edge on vision and finding the right holes. They don't compliment each other in a change of pace way, but I do see Green wearing down defenses more effectively late in games. Once he gets a few steps, he's in truck mode. Either way, it's nice to have both back there to keep each other fresh. 
    Cut and go
    (David Guralnick / Detroit News)
  • It's OK, Mason. Found it pretty funny that Twitter collectively consoled Mason Cole like overprotective parents when he got blown up. That's going to happen as a true freshman starting LT and we all know it. He didn't crumble which is all you can ask for at this point, but it was obvious most big runs went towards Kalis and Braden on the right side.
  • Bunches of Funchess. #1 jersey and all, he looks like Braylon on steroids, showing very quickly why he has no qualms living up to the number on his chest. A matchup nightmare that I will be looking forward to all season. His target rate was really high, even for him as Gardner's go-to receiver. Darboh and Chesson got into the mix but Gardner will need to get used to his 2nd or 3rd option when he goes through his progressions; I suspect Funchess will be double covered most of the time against ND.
  • #hugdoug. A hashtag I used throughout the game, because, well, I wanted to hug him. Bubble screens are back. We passed to set up the run. It was a beautiful thing. 
Alan Branch-esque
(David Guralnick / Detroit News)

  • "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED? IS THIS NOT WHY YOU ARE HERE?". I pretty much imagined Greg Mattison shouting this every time he called a defensive play. Dude finally has the talent and depth he needs to be as aggressive as he wants, which is pretty freakin' aggressive. There were few downs where Michigan didn't play bump-and-run across the board, DB's with a hand on a jersey every time. We're going to test how often refs will swallow the whistle, which is how it should be.
  • Obligatory Peppers update. Did you know Jabrill committed on May 26, 2013? It's been just over 15 months since the Michigan fanbase has waited for his arrival. Finally seeing him on the field was a relief within itself, as if he could still sign elsewhere right before kickoff or something. We saw one missile-like tackle, but the rest was cut short because of a minor injury. But he exists! That's really the extent of my update.
  • More pressure from 2nd team D-line? First, I love that Mattison can swap out an entire D-line for an entire series. Depth is a beautiful thing. It felt like the 2nd team did get more pressure overall. Small sample size, and not really complaining.
  • Clark, Henry, Wormley jumped out. Jeremy Clark with a few nice PBUs, Henry killing a guy (see above), and Wormley doing some good work inside getting consistent pressure and tackling effectively against the run. Even though no turnovers, we're seeing some playmakers develop on D.
  • It's OK, Jake Ryan. Just like Mason Cole, Ryan received overwhelming consolation on Twitter after not dropping back deep enough in zone and allowing a big completion. Position change caveats apply. If we're worried about Jake Ryan's effectiveness on defense, we're probably doing a lot of things right elsewhere. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Official Prediction: 10-2

Two thumbs up for 10-2

After a really long hiatus, I'll be posting periodically throughout this season. And to start it back up again right, a fairly meaningless prediction for Michigan's season:

Sat, Aug 30
Appalachian State
Sat, Sep 6
Notre Dame
Sat, Sep 13
Miami (OH)
Sat, Sep 20
Sat, Sep 27
Sat, Oct 4
Sat, Oct 11
Penn State
Sat, Oct 25
Michigan State
Sat, Nov 1
Sat, Nov 8
Sat, Nov 22
Sat, Nov 29
Ohio State

Notre Dame's suspensions allow Michigan to squeak by in South Bend, building confidence going into Big Ten season. For all the times we screwed Penn State (yay 2005), they go back-to-back on us and stop a 6-0 team in its tracks when they least expect/want it: at home UTL. Career game for Hackenberg. Michigan regroups and gets angry, like for real this time, instead of crumbling mentally. Takes the bye week and goes to war with Sparty to grab a much needed road and rival game. Ugly win. The confidence rebuilds leading into The Game, but by then Urban has figured out life without Braxton pretty comfortably. The talent, coaching and atmosphere at Columbus is still too overwhelming for this Michigan team. 10-2. 

Consistent, albeit painful, improvement on offense throughout the year. The defense is nasty but suffers a few injuries. The record looks fine on paper, but the bad taste after Ohio still lingers as it has almost every year over the last decade. We walk into 2015 with a program that finally has found an identity: stability! Merely returning players and knowing what you're going to get feels so novel that it's enough.

It won't be pretty all the time, but it'll be fun again. Go Blue.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Past Six Months

Hoke Year 3 and we're still searching for the future in Peppers

This site still exists?

I accidentally stumbled upon my own site today, which is kind of embarrassing, and reread my last post over six months ago. The season, the bowl game, players committing and decommitting, National Signing Day – all of it has largely passed me (and clearly this blog) by unnoticed. Two years ago, I spent my weeknights putting together post-game impressions and half-assed analyses, driven by my excitement for and investment in Michigan Football. Today, I look at a picture of George Campbell and check my pulse.

Rehashing arguments bounced between blogs all season is of little use to me right now. I’ve been told to look forward. We all have. But we also know that our (often unhealthy) relationship with Michigan Football can be very personal, and it’s never that simple. Our collective experience, whether it be last year or last decade, shapes our bias -- the lens in which we view the program. The lifers have the luxury to keep zooming out and putting things into “perspective”. I can’t. My lens only goes back until 2003. And I hate my camera.

As we head into the equivalent of college football abyss – post-National Signing Day and pre-spring practice – I’m left, like most, with mixed emotions.  With the exception of Michigan Football, sports serves me purely as a form of entertainment: I cheer for close games, I follow exciting players, I root for drama good or bad. Michigan Football is officially a chore – an obligation, as opposed to a privilege, rooted in some hazy sense of loyalty not to the program, but in sharing the disappointment with everybody else as if my involvement somehow helps dilute the pain. This is new normalcy of the Michigan Football Experience, TM by Dave Brandon.

I don’t have any grand commentary to offer on Brady Hoke or the direction of the program. And this post really wasn’t meant to be some sob story. I will gear for 2014 via self-generated hype – I’ve gotten pretty good at it – like everybody else. Like an addicted gambler, I will double-down again – this time on Coach Nuss, Jabrill Peppers and Team 134, and hell, even believing George Campbell will recommit. But constantly searching for the future makes you weary if you’ll ever enjoy the present.  Michigan makes you work to be a fan these days. Here’s to the day it doesn’t. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Future: George Campbell

5-star FL WR George Campbell committed to Michigan during the Big House BBQ today, which, like, first: WOOOOOOOOOO. Working on a Saturday never felt better as I stumbled upon the news refreshing Twitter aimlessly on my office computer. I then had the distinguished honor of re-breaking the news to my friends first via text. These are the things that matter to me. I'm being serious.

As with any big time commitment, Campbell's presence has both on and off the field implications. On the field is easy: Campbell, teammate of 2014 OL commit Mason Cole, is currently the #1 WR in his class and #3 overall recruit on ESPN. He clocked a 4.37 Forty at this year's The Opening as a sophomore -- one of the fastest times among other elite recruits, most of whom are upperclassmen. At 6'4", Campbell gives Michigan the lengthy, over-the-top, outside receiver it's been dying, and quite frankly struggling, to land over the last few years. It's safe to say both Morris and Speight have huge smiles on their faces today.

Off the field, Campbell's commitment effectively ends a lingering concern among Michigan fans--and occasional criticism from national media--of Hoke's inability to land elite players at skill positions. This conversation first emerged around RB, which Derrick Green addressed head-on. Then came whispers surrounding WR. After whiffing on recruits like Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss) and even to some extent more recently Artavis Scott (Clemson), who is also teammates with Mason Cole, Campbell (+ Drake Harris) not only shuts that door, but also serves as the cornerstone commit for the 2015 class. He is Michigan's future, in more ways than one.

via mgoblog

That Hoke can only recruit in the trenches or Midwest holds little weight these days. With Mattison by his side, Hoke has brought in arguably two of the most dynamic players in the country in Jabrill Peppers (NJ) and now George Campbell (FL) back-to-back. In the Rivals/Scout era, 5-stars coming to Ann Arbor have been few and far between, even for Carr and definitely for Rodriguez; Hoke is starting to land them at an alarmingly consistent rate, with more players potentially still in the pipeline like DE De'Shawn Hand and RB Leonard Fournette. No more perception: the reality is Hoke and his staff have emerged as some of the best recruiters in the country, grounded by growing evidence with guys like Kalis, Pipkins, Kugler, Poggi, Morris, Green, Ferns, Cole, Harris, Peppers and now Campbell.

All of this, of course, has little to do with the Michigan team who will take the field in a month. Actual college football is and should be back on everybody's radar. But I'm a firm believer that a program's energy, momentum and direction matter, even in off-season recruiting. News like Campbell's commitment reaffirms Michigan is moving forward in a big way. Competition breeds success. And with elite talent, it produces championships. Peppers said he wanted to play with the best. Well, he's getting his wish: Go cover Campbell.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Furbush, LB Recruiting and the "4-3 Under"


Yesterday, OH LB Noah Furbush committed to Michigan, becoming the Wolverines' 3rd linebacker of the 2014 class. Most assumed Furbush, standing at 6'4", 235 lbs, would project at SAM and wrap up the class. Instead, he was recruited to play inside; Hoke/Mattison will be looking for a 4th (!) linebacker, likely the SAM we thought, in a class with fairly limited scholarships.

Linebacker has been a position of both strength and turbulence, with considerable movement over the last several months. Jake Ryan's injury and Kaleb Ringer's departure probably accelerated the decision to move Allen Gant to SAM. With Michael Ferns III coming in at MIKE and Chase Winovich coming in at SAM, here's how the depth chart shakes out by position:

Cam Gordon, redshirt senior
Jake Ryan, redshirt junior (injured until early November)
Brennan Beyer, junior
Allen Gant, redshirt freshman
Mike McCray, freshman
Chase Winovich, commit
(Potential commit)*

Desmond Morgan, junior
Joe Bolden, sophomore
Mike Ferns III, commit (EE)
Noah Furbush, commit

James Ross, sophomore
Antonio Pool, redshirt sophomore
Royce Jenkins-Stone, sophomore
Ben Gedeon, freshman

*As Ace mentions in Furbush's "Hello" post, Mattison is still eyeing CA LB Dwight Williams and MO LB Jimmie Swain--both play on the outside--among others to round out the position group in this class. 

3-4 vs. Northwestern via Bleacher Report

When Mattison first arrived, he dismissed any notion of installing his Ravens' 3-4 defense, emphasizing the importance of a 4-man front. True to his word, he implemented the 4-3 Under as Michigan's base--same as all his previous college stops. Yet on game day, he runs out several different formations, many which resemble more of a 3-4 look. Some of that is the Wolverines' inability to rush the passer, but Mattison has always been creative with his defenses, disguising blitzes in offset formations and using extra nickelbacks/linebackers moving before the snap.

The emphasis on recruiting linebackers, based on the numbers at least, reinforces the fact that Mattison values maintaining a flexible enough personnel to comfortably switch to a 3-4-style defense at a moment's notice. He and Hoke took four in 2011, four in 2012, two in 2013 and will likely take four again in 2014. Kellen Jones and Kaleb Ringer have left since, but that's still 14 linebackers in 4 years-- more than enough depth for a position group that's supposed to trot out 3 every down on defense.

In the end, it really doesn't matter what you call the formation or how it looks on the field; as long as it's effective. But expect Mattison to continue reserving a solid portion of each recruiting class to the linebacker position.