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Thursday Morning Brews (5/8/14)

What is the B1G doing with its quarterbacks? Can Michigan stuff the run again in 2014? And is Michigan ranked?

Gregory Shamus

The Big Ten Adjusts

I needn't tell you that the Big Ten has been tapering off over the last half-decade, and people have talked about the conference being irrelevant, old-school, and too tied up in its history to change. People have talked about population shifts, spread offenses, and gentlemen's agreements between coaches. But still, on the field, it's always possible to see an Iowa team, labelled too slow and lacking four-star talent, beat up an opponent with its old-school ways. We've seen it with 'Bama, we've seen it with Stanford - that was our football. But something was missing.

Without switching to a league full of Oregon-speed attacks, the Big Ten seems to be adapting to the 21st century. For one, more than half the teams have quietly started using quarterbacks who can run. Braxton Miller (1068 yards) and Devin Gardner (483 yards) spring to mind right away, but Iowa's Jake Rudock ran for 5 touchdowns this past year, Minnesota had two quarterbacks who ranked as their team's second- and third-leading rushers, and Nebraska leaned on mobile big guys in what was Taylor Martinez's injury-shortened senior year. Wisconsin is giving first-team reps to Tanner McEvoy, a quarterback-safety-wide receiver, Michigan State has a mobile pocket passer in Connor Cook and a dual-threat QB behind him, and Maryland has C.J. Brown, who struggles to stay healthy but had a few 100-yard games this last year. Northwestern had Kain Colter.... you get the point.

This works because it only complements what most Big Ten teams do already - run the ball with power. Denardball, as I assume everyone calls it, isn't sustainable, but as part of a solid O-line and a few other rushers... really, you can beat anybody. Kansas State used a Big Ten-style with a mobile QB, and Stanford's been doing the same thing. Not a running quarterback, but a pocket passer who can run it a little to get that first down. Old-man football is alive and well, and still manages to surprise us once in a while.... just like that pesky Grandpa.

A Look at Michigan's Run Defense, 2013

The offensive line has gone from an afterthought at the beginning of 2013 to the strongest point of emphasis among every talking board and fan circle. However, to pull back on that just a little bit, there are other factors that make a successful foundation for your team. While the offense will probably struggle early and maybe often, the defense looks to be stronger overall, and might be one of the most impressive in the conference.

Specifically, I'm talking about run defense. Yes, having your corners not get burned, as Raymon Taylor and Blake Countess were against Kansas State, helps a lot. And Michigan wasn't very great against the pass, at 66th in FBS. However, it was 29th-best against the run, which enabled it to keep 7 in the box so much and shore up the secondary or send extra blitzes.

Yes, the secondary has more depth - Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling are coming along. Yes, Jabrill Peppers will be coming on campus - and I love the guy, but let him pick up a textbook first. But the strength of Michigan's D will come from its deep stable of veteran linebackers and its front four adapting to a new defense and replicating last year's success. Take a look at Michigan's numbers last year, against all 13 opponents:

Opponents' season average yards and production vs. Michigan
CMU 132.8 66 2.3 ypc
ND 151.3 96 5.1 ypc
Akron 122.6 107 3.6 ypc
UConn 84.4 47 1.9 ypc
Minnesota 195.2 136 3.3 ypc
PSU 174.0 85 1.9 ypc
Indiana 201.8 162 4.9 ypc
MSU 173.8 142 3.6 ypc
Nebraska 215.7 128 3.0 ypc
Northwestern 172.4 143 2.9 ypc
Iowa 179.9 168 3.8 ypc
OSU 308.6 393 8.5 ypc
KSU 178.0 149 4.1 ypc

Perception is that Michigan sucked on both sides of the line last year. In truth, Michigan struggled to get to the quarterback with front-four pressure, but its ability to stop the run was, while not elite, extremely capable. Every opponent except Ohio State was held to below their season average, and by quite a bit: 28% in those twelve games. Until Ohio State, runners averaged 3.2 yards per carry and less than a touchdown a game.

Gone are Quinton Washington, Cam Gordon, and Jibreel Black, but Michigan has quietly built up an impressive two-deep full of wet-behind-the-ears maulers, with Bryan Mone, Mo Hurst, and Henry Poggi waiting in line behind them. It's a unit that should be better, perhaps substantially, than last year's. And if the line can maintain that and improve its pass pressure, and if the secondary also improves, you will have a very, very good defense. And we might need it.

Hitting the Links Enjoys the Draft

Big Ten's biggest draft flops and surprises

This is a lot of fun to look through, especially the highly ranked disappointments. I didn't count or anything, but Penn State had 6.

The NFL looks at the top all-time players from Michigan

This list looks at NFL success only. Erick Anderson, LaMarr Woodley, Braylon Edwards, and Jake Long are all absent.

ESPN Way Too Early Top 25

Yes, Michigan is actually ranked. So are five other B1G teams. Also, apparently before the spring practices we were ranked four spots higher. And no, I don't know why we lost four spots.

EW predicts OSU's top five receivers

I'm keeping this in but read it with a grain of salt. I've heard a few different things and OSU has a lot up in the air. They've had a busy off-season. One thing to note is they're looking at using the tight end position a lot more, which is unfortunately very clever and looks like it will pay off.

Archive: B1G Reaction to the 2013 Draft

I love looking back at old reaction pieces and seeing how they hold up... so here's a nice piece from SBNation after the 2013 Draft.

Summary of how 2015 recruiting is looking for each B1G team

James Franklin is recruiting even better than Bill O'Brien was, and Ohio State is sitting at only two commits.

A little drama in the Texas rivalry

The Texas DC takes some time to diss Johnny Manziel and then interact with fans on Twitter. Maybe it's cuz I'm not a part of the rivalry (I love some smack talk with tOSU), but this seems pretty stupid.

Brandon Scherff, Carl Davis standing tall for Iowa

Two good players and leaders. Safety John Lowdermilk is still my favorite Hawkeye to watch, but both these guys are really good.

SI Takes a Look at Rivals' Rankings

Sports Illustrated took their latest mock draft and found out what their projected first-round picks were ranked by Rivals.

Recruit throws Hail Mary pass to himself

If you didn't catch this (haha) yet, it's worth a look. Ok, I'll see myself out.