Football and Tempo
If there is one team that embodies the combination of old-school football and newer philosophies, it is the Wisconsin Badgers. Since Gary Andersen took over the helm in 2013, he got to work installing a 3-4 defense (at the time the only one in the Big Ten) and adding some athleticism to his defense. How did he do it?
"We're famous for taking guys and moving them to a different spot," Andersen said. "That has been invaluable in my career. Does it always work? No. But you never know if you don't try it. That's what you do as a coach."
Defensive ends were moved inside; strong-side linebackers became defensive ends. Safeties beefed up and became athletic interior linebackers. Each position got faster. This isn't just the norm at Madison; it's happening throughout college football. Defenses are trying to find ways to match the athleticism and tempo of the offenses that they're facing. It's the ongoing battle between offense and defense, and so far the offenses are winning.
"You got to be able to play in space, with guys who can run," said UCLA defensive coordinator DeWayne Walker. "Those offenses are stressful. The more the defenses are on the field, you're giving the offense opportunities to make plays on us."
He added, "You have to play a little bit more ball control on your offense."
Wisconsin's offense is poised for a big step forward if it can maintain its bruising offensive line and run plays that manipulate a defense on the back end. With the advent of tempo, two positions are now more important and put under more stress than ever before: the linebackers and the safeties, the middle deep part of the field. Offensive coordinators are constantly trying to find new ways of putting pressure on defenses to get them out of position, create mismatches, or keep them from functioning as a cohesive unit. Think of it like a defensive coach trying to blitz and catch someone on the offensive line off guard, except stretched out over the whole field. For a defense, athleticism is one-half of the equation; teamwork is the other.
This has not been lost on Pat Fitzgerald or the other Northwestern coaches. "Defensive football is a lot like baseball," Fitzgerald said. "You better be great at the catcher, pitcher and center fielder, the belly of your defense, and that shortstop and second baseman are plenty important, too. [In football] you've got to be strong at D-tackle, the linebacker position and safety. I'm not minimizing the ends and the corners, but if you don't have those things inside, the belly of your defense gets exposed. ... You can't stop people." How is this impacting recruiting? "We’re trying to bring in big safeties who play linebacker, and we’re trying to bring in really, really athletic safeties who play safety."
The rise of tempo has caused a dramatic shift from some football truisms of old. Most NFLers still think the corner is more important than the safety... but the gap is closing. Teams need good safety play to help in run support, cover up mistakes by the corners or to help with the speed and height of tight ends and receivers. It's not extreme to say that the safety position is now more important than at any time in its history. And as for the linebackers, DCs are putting lighter and faster linebackers on the field at the expense of run support - something a Todd Gurley or a Carlos Hyde can also take advantage of.
Even Iowa is looking into the advantages of tempo, though I'm not sure how it will look or what they're aiming for. Iowa almost beat Ohio State in 2013 by holding the ball and controlling the line of scrimmage, while throwing out two-tight end sets that tested the discipline of the Buckeyes' secondary when they got sucked up in run support (which is itself part of what tempo is trying to do, disrupt the cohesion of the secondary). But Iowa is just one of many teams looking to have it in their arsenal, joining Indiana, Penn State, Northwestern and several others. It will be a part of Michigan's playbook, too, as defensive players mentioned having to deal with it in practice.
1950 Snow Bowl: Michigan 9, Ohio State 3
I had been a Michigan fan for a few years before I realized that Michigan's history was much, much richer than a lot of other programs, and while I knew this peripherally, it didn't really hit home until the 2013 Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, when in researching Kansas State I learned they were dubbed 'Futility U' by Sports Illustrated in the '80s. Michigan's recent stretch of hardship is really the first time this has happened in its history, which is downright incredible (well, sure, there was a period in the '50s and '60s that we weren't that hot, but nobody cares about that). Ever since then, I've been more interested in Michigan's history and trying to learn a few things.
One of the very interesting games was the original Snow Bowl (the nickname has since been used a few other times), against Ohio State in November of 1950. Michigan had gone 4-3-1 up to that point, including losing to #1 ranked Army in Yankee Stadium, 27-6, in front of 61,472 people. Ohio State was 6-2 and 5-1 in the Big Ten, and was in line to go the Rose Bowl. The game was set to take place in Columbus amid a terrible blizzard, and Ohio State had the chance to call it off, sending them to the Rose Bowl automatically. But OSU's officials either didn't want to refund the tickets or felt they'd never have "lived this down," so they chose to play in the game.
The statistics for the game were incredible. Michigan punted 24 times, Ohio State 21. Ohio State's Vic Janowicz, who won the Heisman Trophy that season, got 685 yards in the game from his punts and also scored on the field goal. All of the points came as a result of recoveries from blocked kicks, and Michigan never completed a pass or got a first down - though they did get 27 yards rushing. Ohio State was better through the air, going 3 for 18 for 25 yards, with another 18 rushing.
Teams would routinely punt on any down, hoping for the other team to fumble, while 50,503 people watched from the stands and a few volunteers swept the sidelines so people knew where the field was. OSU scored first, on a field goal, but watched Michigan recover a safety and then a touchdown to win.
And because Northwestern beat Illinois the same day, Michigan got a chance to go to the Rose Bowl, where it defeated Cal in Pasadena, 14-6. Wes Fesler, whose record fell to 0-3-1 against Michigan, was fired afterward and Woody Hayes was appointed his successor.
Hello, Mr. Edwards
If you've followed Michigan news over the last couple of years, you'll probably remember the story that came and went pretty quickly about Braylon Edwards tweeting out his surprise at Michigan for not offering a scholarship to his younger brother.
I don't understand how my brother has the 8th fastes time in the country in the 60m, ran for 1800 yards last year and 20 and UofM wontcall— Braylon Edwards (@OfficialBraylon) March 7, 2012
After this, the story died down and most everybody forgot about it. Ultimately, Michigan sewed up a highly ranked class that included two good running backs. As it turns out, Berkley Edwards found another home inside the Big Ten. Namely, Minnesota.
The redshirt freshman, who ran for over 1,300 yards at Chelsea High School his senior year, is impressing his teammates and his coaches so far. The Gophers look to be four deep at the position, with 1200-yard starter David Cobb from a season ago, 900-yard tailback in Donnell Kirkwood from two seasons ago (he was injured much of 2013), the 235-lb. Rodrick Williams, and Edwards... not to mention four-star true freshman Jeff Jones. However, when asked if Edwards might see "five to seven touches per game," coach Jerry Kill chuckled and said, "We’ll see. He might need more touches."
Michigan wasn't the only one to ultimately not offer him. Iowa extended an offer but then rescinded it when he didn't commit early, and Berkley says both those schools have something to regret.
"Those will be two big games," he said. "I want to definitely prove to (the Wolverines) that at least they should have offered me. But things happen, and it is what it is. (With Iowa,) I waited. But for me, I had to make sure the decision I made was the best decision for me, because this is a new chapter in my life."
Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys has said Berkley has stood out on special teams, too, and teammates have raved about his effortless speed in practice. "When you’ve got Berkley in the backfield, you never really know what’s going to happen," said quarterback Mitch Leidner. "Like the [50-yard scrimmage touchdown] there, he breaks a tackle, and he’s gone. You’re off the field already. That’s what our offense really needs."
A miss for a legacy commit from a great (and fast) young man will be the benefit of Minnesota. And, Berkley still has his older brother looking out for him.
"I guess it really hit him," Berkley Edwards said. "All these years, he was saying (I'm) the next one, and that I would be going to Michigan. So it was just a big shock. But I was happy to see that he was there for me, and I know he will be in the future."
Hitting the Links Loves the Big Stage
Here is the game summary of the Snow Bowl printed in the Michigan Daily on November 26th, 1950.
Mattison said something very interesting during the spring game, that he had talked to Brady Hoke about switching to the 4-3 over a year earlier, but Hoke ultimately chose not to. Here, Mattison talks a little about what the 4-3 over means and a few other topics.
I've long been a fan of Jim Caldwell. I didn't know he was an Iowa Hawkeye and coached in the Big Ten, though. But at any rate, this is a wonderful video.
This is some more draft coverage - all the undrafted free-agent signees and where they ended up.
Stewart Mandel writes about Bielema's first year in the SEC.
If you want to see the man behind the cat, here you go. I don't necessarily recommend the video; the article captures everything well and in less time.
...here's the background story to get you all caught up.
I'd better get this link in before Maryland and Rutgers start playing Big Ten games.
LSU will aim for a fifth straight 10-win season next year. They open the season against Wisconsin in Reliant Stadium; Les Miles is 41-2 against non-SEC opponents.