The BluePrint Blog

Where Michigan fans get it in!

General Info:

When: 12:05 p.m. Saturday

Where: Michigan Stadium – Ann Arbor, MI

TV: FS1

Line: Michigan -27

Week one didn’t go quite as expected if you are a Michigan fan and as far as those who expected a different outcome in last week’s match-up, count the entire BluePrint staff in.  As a result, our social media feeds have been flooded with acrimonious overreaction, justifiable criticism, plain old apathy, and everything in between, in regards to Michigan’s performance. Quite honestly, a seven point loss felt to most more like a 35 point drubbing. The fact is, fans cling to every optimistic bit of info they get about their team, prior to the season, as if it’s the holy grail and surely as if everything is fixed, even if those fans say they don’t.  It’s hard not to get caught up in off-season hype, even when you say “I’m not going to get caught up in the hype”.  How do I know? Because the same fans who were saying this prior to the opener were outright butt-hurt when some of the same problems from last year, reared their ugly heads again last Saturday.  Instead of having the “see this is why I don’t buy into hype” reaction, it almost felt like fans were ready to rally against the “lying” media like Buckeye fans supporting their estranged-domestic violence supporting or at a minimum ignoring-beloved coach.

Dudes and dudettes, news flash, nobody was lied to.  Things did change, things are better, things will continue to get better – this all takes time.

Yes, opening against a tough Notre Dame team on the road, at night, is a tough thing to do, especially when you have so many changes in terms of plays, personnel, staff, etc. but it also allows you to learn a ton about your team. It’s clear the team is not as close to being ready to go as everyone, coaches included, initially thought.  There is the juxtaposition of thoughts that on one hand, it’s better to learn these lessons early, recover and get better, while on the other hand, a win is a win and perhaps it’s better to just get a W against a lesser team, build momentum and go from there.

Retrospect is always crystal clear it seams, but what is even clearer is that last week’s game is exactly that, last week’s game.  It’s in the past and we can’t change it.  So onward we go.

Week two allows us to check out a Michigan team matched up with the Western Michigan Broncos.  These are not the same Boat Rowing Broncos of a couple years ago, led by Coach PJ Fleck. Instead they are the Tim Lester led Broncos, who last year went 6-6, finished 4th in the MAC West and just got throttled against Syracuse last week.  Throttled may be a bit harsh considering they scored 28 points in the third quarter to make the score a more respectable 55-42 after trailing 34-7 at the half.  This will be WMU’s first road test of the season while U of M, now ranked #22 in the nation (down from 12), will be debuting the 2018 squad at home for the first time.

Let’s just break some stuff down now, shall we?

Michigan Defense vs WMU Offense

First we will look at some key statistical rankings.

WMU 2017 Offense According to Football Outsiders (S&P)Click here to view Football Outsiders’ webpage and to get info on what all this alphabet soup means.

Off. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing

S&P+

Rk Passing

S&P+

Rk SD

S&P+

Rk PD

S&P+

Rk
27.3 79 108.3 37 98.4 69 107.4 54 104.9 48 102.9 58 116.0 27

Michigan 2017 Defense According to Football outsiders (S&P)

Def. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing

S&P+

Rk Passing

S&P+

Rk SD

S&P+

Rk PD

S&P+

Rk
18.7 10 139.1 2 115.9 24 130.5 8 137.4 3 128.6 5 140.5 5

WMU will try to do one thing if nothing else against any opponent, including Michigan on Saturday, run the ball. In 2017, the Broncos averaged 224 yards per game (34th nationally), behind a decent O-Line and with Jarvion Franklin and Jamauri Bogan leading the rushing attack. Jarvion was kind of a beast, accumulating over 1200 yards on the ground while Bogan added another 500+.  Franklin is gone now, though, as is star Offensive Tackle Chukwuma Okorafor who went in the third round of the NFL draft to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  WMU is also now breaking in a new OC as 2017 OC Kevin Johns was hired away by Texas Tech.

The Broncos are a decently efficient team, when their QB is healthy.  Prior to QB John Wassink’s injury a little after halfway through the season last year, WMU had played USC and MSU close and won 5 of the next 6 games. They then finished 6-6 overall.

Last week against Syracuse, the Broncos pretty much picked up where they left off last year with maybe a little better success passing the ball.  They ran the ball effectively, collecting 242 yards on the ground while averaging nearly 9 yards per carry.  The rushing attack was led by LeVonte Bellamy who averaged 10 yards per carry for 120 yards and 2 TDs. Bogan added another 68 on 6 carries.  In the air, Wassink connected for a paltry 52.8 completion percentage but did put up 379 yards and an additional 3 TDs throwing while rushing for one. If I’m a Bronco, here’s what concerns me though. Syracuse does not have the same caliber of defense as does Michigan.  The Bronco QB only hit 3 different WRs and one RB with passes.  Two of those WRs combined for the majority of the yards. D’Wayne Eskridge caught 8 for 240, Jayden Reed added 7 for 121, and Drake Harris (Yes, that Drake Harris) caught one ball for 12 yards. While these are good numbers for the two WRs, the QB, and RBs, in terms of overall production, Michigan will pose a significant challenge for the Broncos.

Last week against ND, the Michigan defense took an immediate right cross to the face, with the Irish marching down the field to go up 7 points on their first drive.  After giving the ball back to the Irish, ND followed with a left uppercut to the body, driving again for an easy score. I found myself confused as to what the hell even just happened, watching the defense appear lost on the field.  This sort of continued until half time and then the boys got it together, sort of like a Rocky movie where they get beat to a pulp, scream “Adrian” and somehow get back to hero status. I said sort of because Rocky usually wins and the Wolverines did not. That said, in the second half, Michigan gave up only 3 points and looked much more like themselves, defensively.

Notre Dame has a shifty QB, who as I mentioned in the last preview, is better with his legs than he is with his arm.  He showed this while dancing for 59 yards which isn’t a ton, but seemed to all come on critical third downs or in situations where Michigan just needed a stop. The ability to keep drives alive in this fashion is what ultimately did them in, along with WRs somehow pulling in the majority of the 50/50 balls that Wimbush put up. Wimbush also spread the ball around to 7 different dudes. “Why does any of this matter when we are doing a WMU breakdown, Derrick?”  Calm down, I’ll tell you why.

WMU does not have a shifty, Wimbush-type at QB.  They don’t run the same type of a “spread” offense, although it is pretty spread out. Instead of the typical gun look, they usually line up in more of a pistol formation (RB directly behind QB), make a call at the line to shift him left or right of the QB, and when running, it’s a simple hand off or pitch 90% of the time (guesstimate). While this may sound pretty “spready”, there is little actual read/option, and it’s a bit more RPO style – also the QB only spread the ball around to like 3 WRs and that was mostly just two.  They do go with a bit of tempo but it’s not quite as fast as NDs offense or say an OSU offense. Against Syracuse, the offense looked a bit more like a West Coast offense.

Michigan is extremely good up front with the front seven, however, rumors are starting to swirl that one of the better DTs on the team, Aubrey Solomon could be out (I’ll leave it at that). It’s a good thing that there is depth.  Look for Mone and Dwumfour to get the bulk of the rushing downs at DT while perhaps Lawrence Marshall, Carlo Kemp, and hopefully Donovan Jeter get some rotation in on passing downs to bolster the rush from the interior.  Speaking of pass rush bolstering, how cool would it be to trot out from end to end, Winovich, Dwumfour, Gary, Paye?  Or maybe switch Paye and Gary, but having more pass rushers out there could cause massive disruption and make the jobs of the secondary a bit easier.

Michigan will shut down the Bronco offense if they are able to stuff the run (gut-feel likelihood of about 90%), get pressure on the QB (gut-feel likelihood of about 90%), and lock down both of Reed and Eskridge (gut feel of about 85%).  After last week, the coaches probably have these guys foaming at the mouth looking to re-prove themselves as one of the best defenses in the nation. The scariest moment of last week’s game was when Devin Bush went down.  That dude hits moving objects, donuts included, like a flying 10-ton wrecking ball. Look for him to continue heat-seeking ball carriers and exploding them on contact this week.  Also look for the LB rotation as a whole to continue to improve as guys like Devin Gil, Josh Ross, and hopefully Josh Uche get game time and show what they can do.  With more of a sitting duck QB, a lesser capable OLine compared to ND, and less weapons to deal with, you have to believe the secondary, who didn’t play terrible but also didn’t set the world on fire, will also step up.

Players to watch on Michigan Defense: Rashan Gary (I read a few tweets calling him a bust LtotheMFnOtotheMFnL), LaVert Hill (time for lockdown Hill to return), Larence Marshall (Just a funny feeling he’s going to have a game).

Players to watch on WMU Offense: QB John Wassink (Wimbush like passing ability without Wimbush like legs), WR Tandem Eskridge/Reed (these guys went completely off last week) RB LaVonte Bellamy (he’ll get carries, and he’ll keep the defense honest, but probably will amass 1/2 of the yards he had last week, on the generous side)

Edge: Michigan

Michigan Offense vs the WMU Defense

Michigan Offense According to Football Outsiders (S&P)

Off. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing

S&P+

Rk Passing

S&P+

Rk SD

S&P+

Rk PD

S&P+

Rk
26.5 85 107.0 44 104.9 49 120.2 14 94.5 86 103.3 56 115.2 30

WMU Defense According to Football Outsiders (S&P)

Def. S&P+ Rk Success Rt+ Rk IsoPPP+ Rk Rushing

S&P+

Rk Passing

S&P+

Rk SD

S&P+

Rk PD

S&P+

Rk
27.3 63 93.7 98 91.8 95 82.6 122 104.6 44 91.2 106 100.4 70

Michigan’s offense looked even more different than I predicted in Week 1.  They ran quite a bit of read/option, they spread the field a ton, they were in shotgun formation much of the time, and even threw in some reverses (not new) and speed options.  The pro-style stuff we are accustomed to in Harbaugh’s system was still there as well, just not as much of it.  There were a few things that stuck out in terms of if we don’t fix these things now, it’s going to be a long season.

One – the snap cadence was as predictable as a house tour.  “Clap clap, point, snap” or “Clap clap, clap clap, point, snap” seemed to be the planned way to receive ball from Center.  This is bad. Defense just has to ignore claps and watch for point, pin ears back, and rush. Just take out the “points’ and go on number of claps.

Two – the Offensive Tackles, blocking in general, but mostly the Tackles, mostly, mostly, the LT, need(s) to be better.  Re-watching clips the LT looked very lost as to how to get himself in the proper position to be in between the edge rusher and the QB.  At times, clearly just crashing inside on the wrong dude, seemed to be the move of choice.  This worked about as well as it sounds like it would.  Anything that required the QB to move or even look to the left side, often resulted in much back-peddling, throw-aways, and errant throws (or hits/sacks/etc.) This also made it tough to find running lanes, and when the running lanes were there it was almost as if it was unexpected as Higdon (mostly) ran to the outside edge of the guard instead of starting to cut outward through the hole. Speaking of RBs and blocking, they too could improve from here, but I did see a few examples of when Higdon came flying up to the line to seal an edge rusher where his LT either decided not to block or was not supposed to, it was kind of hard to tell. Blocking is the single most important piece to making an offense work.  THIS MUST BE FIXED TO HAVE ANY SUCCESS ON OFFENSE AGAINST GOOD TEAMS.

Three – let Shea let it rip a bit more.  30 passes is fine for an opener I suppose, but the kid can sling it.  Keep letting him do that and perhaps sprinkle in a few more designed runs now that we are passed ND so he can regain his confidence running with the football.  Coming off a leg injury can lead to timidness rushing, and against ND, he was one hit from death already, so running him more in THAT game, was probably a bad idea.  Against WMU, you can probably get away with a bit more and work on some of the things you want to perfect before getting into conference play. To me, that includes keeping that playbook wide open, and getting reps on the plays you aren’t sure will work.  Who cares if you put it on film. The more diversity you put on film, the harder it is to prepare for every single thing.  Conversely, if you stay vanilla, teams will be outstanding at eating your delicious vanilla beans, and will only maybe get burned by your untested wrinkles if they should happen to work.

Let’s shift to the WMU defense for a bit.  Last year they were not good on D at pretty much anything.  They were ranked 63 in the over all team D S&P rankings. They were 82 in total team defense according to Sports-Reference.com, 55 according to CFBstats.com.     The Broncos were 55 in rush defense and were even worse at 62 in passing defense.  They gave up on average 379 yards per game.  Against Syracuse last week, they were abysmal, giving up 560 yards (340 rushing and 220 passing).  Granted, Syracuse had a running QB and WMU struggled to contain.  The Bronco LBs looked lost much of the time, or maybe just really hungry, as they bit on almost every misdirection, counter, or play action that the Orange threw at them.  Defensive Back AJ Thomas, only a Sophomore, may already be the best player on the Bronco defense.  He had 10 (3 more assisted) tackles last week.  LB Alex Grace, also played fairly well with 8 (5 more assisted) tackles of his own. The WMU pass rush only mustered 2 sacks, 1 solo by undersized DE Ali Fayad (5 tackles), and a combined sack by LB Najee Clayton and DT Kailien Guillory.  Syracuse pretty much had their way with this defense all day long, and many teams could say they did the same to Western, last year.

Shifting focus back to Michigan and what they need to do to have success, the Wolverines need to be able to run the ball.  Based on the previous week’s defensive showing by Lester’s crew, this should not be much of an issue.  The Wolverines showed  flashes of running ability last week, but no where near what they were able to do last year.  Some of this was game plan, some of this was RB vision, and some of this was poor blocking. This will be the biggest point of improvement we see on the stat sheet this week, Michigan will put up numbers running the football.

Also, Michigan needs to continue to open the play book and give Shea more liberty to improv a bit, whether that is by checking out of plays at the line, or by just making things happen as plays breakdown.  There will be breakdowns, especially if no changes are made to the OL rotation (or lack thereof). The breakdowns just shouldn’t be quite as world-ending, as caused by the Broncos when compared to ND. If I’m the Michigan coaches, I have a really, and I mean really, tight leash on the two Tackles, especially LT, where I’m giving other guys a shot if he can’t hold his own out there in this matchup.  WMU DEs go about 6’2 240lb, which is more like LB size, but that’s not to say they will be pushovers.  They have some quickness and athleticism that could cause trouble for the offensive line if they don’t stay disciplined with sticking to their assignments.

Players to watch for Michigan Offense – QB Shea Patterson (Very accurate last week while running for his life), RB Duo Karan Higdon/Chris Evans (Evans needs touches), WR Duo Nico Collins/DPJ (Both looked good but Nico looked really good)

Players to watch for WMU Defense – DB AJ Thomas (sky is the limit with this kid), LB Alex Grace (best LB on the roster), DE Ali Fayad (Quick and probably the best pass rusher on the team)

Edge: Michigan – too many weapons to deal with, as long as they can get some sort of protection.

Thoughts From The BluePrint Family

@WarnerT53: 

Coming off the heels of a rather ugly loss at the hands of Notre Dame, Michigan looks to get the season’s first win against in-state opponent Western Michigan. The home opener of the season looks, on paper, to be a cake walk after losing to the Syracuse Orange.

In looking at the ‘Cuse plan of attack on offense they utilized three things to carve a 34-7 lead at halftime.

The orange came out and let their quarterback make decisions early and often, from the same shotgun fake pitch read that would gash the Broncos’ defense time and time again. Second, Dungey found a mismatch against WMU’s Slot CB and used this to his advantage plenty. Third, the WMU interior DLine had no answer for the Orange rushing attack which could seemingly run anything they wanted.

My key points for Michigan to win are as follows:

Block the edge rush: Surprisingly still sounds silly to me saying we have to focus on WMU and their edge rushers but with how poor tackle play was in week 1, the unit could use a confidence boost regardless of who they are playing.

Get back to an aggressive style: Honestly, just smack this team right in the mouth no mercy. I really wouldn’t mind it if this teams home opener looked similar to Minnesota last season, be aggressive at the point of attack and get yards on the ground. This also will go hand in hand with blocking the edge rush, as if they lose discipline on holding the edge Michigan will be smart in looking to make Western pay the price.

Defense: Make the play, simple as that.

Coming off that disappointing loss in South Bend last weekend, I can see Michigan coming out with a lot to prove and winning in a blowout win. Western Michigan had just come off a loss last weekend at home against Syracuse. Syracuse led 34-7 at halftime against the Broncos. Western Michigan allowed more rushing yards than passing yards in that game (334 to 226 passing yards). Michigan’s Shea Patterson had a good game against the Fighting Irish going 20-30 for 227 yards and an interception that was caused because he didn’t have enough time to throw – the offensive line struggled the whole game against a talented Notre Dame defense.
I expect the Wolverines defense to go out and more than likely pitch a shutout. They gave up big plays last week in the opener but once they settled in, in the second half, they got things going. They will shut down the Broncos offense but we need to see more of what the offense has to offer with this only being the 2nd game of the season. I think we will see a blowout and we need to get James Hudson and freshman Jalen Mayfield some playing time at the tackle positions. We need to get better at that position so Shea doesn’t have to run for his life every play. We have to get better scoring on offense before conference play or we will have a long disappointing season with this talented group of guys. WOLVERINES WIN BIG IN THE FIRST HOME GAME OF THE SEASON. GO BLUE

@MMBaker5 ‏:

Week 2 game against my hometown WMU Broncos.

This will be the shortest preview out there. WMU can’t compete against UM (without Fleck) even with him they still lose.

41-0 Michigan

Shea Patterson and Dylan McCaffrey will both have a great game. Higdon and Evans will run the ball well and we will open the field to DPJ, Collins and Gentry. Don’t be surprised if Gary has 3+ sacks as they try to contain him and Winovich.

11-1 on the way.

THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS.

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Derrick Ryan
What's up guys. I'm Derrick Ryan, the Webmaster for this site. I'm also an editor and blogger for The BluePrint Blog. Aside from these responsibilities, I also work full-time at a Fortune 500 company in IT, in my not-so-spare time. In addition to the above, I also love spending time with my family. I have a beautiful wife and was blessed with twin children, a boy and a girl. Our children keep us busy with sports, school and music, but I also enjoy video games (hit me on on XBox Live: DertyDoc), movies, music, camping, and cooking (I'm a goon with the spoon). Lastly, I'm extremely passionate about the University of Michigan and Michigan Athletics. GO BLUE! P.S. -Thank you RaSean aka Michigan Man Ray for giving people like me a platform to express my interests and opinions.
Derrick Ryan

Latest posts by Derrick Ryan (see all)

Derrick Ryan
What's up guys. I'm Derrick Ryan, the Webmaster for this site. I'm also an editor and blogger for The BluePrint Blog. Aside from these responsibilities, I also work full-time at a Fortune 500 company in IT, in my not-so-spare time. In addition to the above, I also love spending time with my family. I have a beautiful wife and was blessed with twin children, a boy and a girl. Our children keep us busy with sports, school and music, but I also enjoy video games (hit me on on XBox Live: DertyDoc), movies, music, camping, and cooking (I'm a goon with the spoon). Lastly, I'm extremely passionate about the University of Michigan and Michigan Athletics. GO BLUE! P.S. -Thank you RaSean aka Michigan Man Ray for giving people like me a platform to express my interests and opinions.

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