Michigan served notice to Illinois on the opening drive that there would be no rust or dawdling on Saturday. The offense marched the field in 10 plays for an opening touchdown and never looked back. The drive included three different quarterbacks, and oh yes, a formation that featured no less than five tight ends to serve as the perfect finale to an authoritative opening possession.
Have you ever seen a five Tight End formation? No, you haven’t. At least you hadn’t until Saturday. The play started off with the second appearance of Michigan’s new “train” formation this year:
Let’s go ahead and circle the tight ends:
Yep, that’s five: Asiasi, Butt, Hill, Jocz, and Wheatley Jr. All of the action of this play headed towards the bottom of the screen, save for Jake Butt. Tyrone Wheatley Jr ran a perfect rub route that left Jake Butt uncovered coming across the field.
Unlike Michigan State’s receivers against Maryland, Wheatley Jr did not engage in a block on the defensive player and avoided an offensive pass interference flag for a pick play.
Six games down, six games to go in the regular season. As Michigan navigates into the meat of the conference schedule, I thought it would be interesting to track how the offensive staff has used Jabrill Peppers and what that may mean for match-ups down the road. In the short year and a half of Jim Harbaugh’s tenure it has been fascinating to watch him build off of a litany of different looks and motions to put his players in positions to succeed on the field. Additionally, with this staff it’s safe to say that certain formations, packages, and plays are put on film for a reason. We’re a far cry from the Diamond Formation frustrations of yore, thank goodness.
Jabrill’s first offensive touches last year occurred on the road against Minnesota. He finished the ’15 campaign with 18 carries for 72 yards and 2 touchdowns, 8 catches for 79 yards, and one incomplete pass attempt. It wasn’t much of a leap this offense to predict that he would have an increased role in the offense. Through the first half of 2016, his presence on offense indeed has increased, though a cursory glance at the box score does not tell the full story of his impact. To date, Peppers is credited with just 5 carries for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns through six games. This does not account for the eight snaps he has taken at QB or the times he has been on the field as a wideout both in motion and static as a decoy. We’ve seen him in a lot of different areas on offense and with the ball in several different spots on the field.
The defenses remaining on the schedule grade out thusly based on S&P+ advanced stats at Football Outsiders:
The trend is a slow but steady uptick over the course of the final six games in the level of defense that Michigan will be facing. For the sake of reference, Wisconsin grades out at 5th overall, 7th in rushing, and 13th in passing defense. This all adds up to a scenario where I fully expect an increase in Jabrill’s snaps going forward, particularly at QB and RB where Harbaugh can dictate the matchups he wants to help even blockers vs tacklers. I would hazard a guess that this is also why you’ve seen Shane Morris in spot duty thus far out blocking, as well as why he played some at wideout in the spring game. Let’s take a look at some plays after the jump…
I didn’t see the 1989 game between the two rivals live. My wife and I were on some weekend for engaged Catholic couples, and there were no television sets at the place, which was probably for the best, since people would have watched the game instead of focusing on their relationships, and since I would have likely been the only Michigan fan there. For that matter, let me add a third reason: watching Rocket Ismail return back-to-back kickoffs for touchdowns might have caused a few blood vessels to burst.
Oh yes, Ismail. As individual performances go, his performance in that ’89 game ranks with the greatest individual performances in the history of the series. The shame of it from the Michigan perspective is that the Wolverines had the chance to win that game, but Bo insisted on kicking to Ismail, not once, but twice. Yes, all things considered, it’s probably for the best that I didn’t watch that game.
Still, there were bright spots for Michigan in 1989, such as quarterback Michael Taylor connecting with Chris Calloway on a fade into the corner of the end zone for a touchdown, but even then, Michigan missed the point after, and trailed 7-6. Ismail’s first kickoff return gave the Irish some breathing room as the second half opened, but after Taylor left the game with an injury, freshman quarterback Elvis Grbac led the Wolverines on a touchdown drive, completing six of seven passes, including the scoring pass to Derrick Walker. All of sudden, Michigan was right there.
That’s when Bo made the fateful decision to kick off to Ismail again. Again, Grbac led Michigan on another touchdown drive, but Notre Dame recovered the ensuing onsides kick and ran out the clock.
The ’89 game was the last game Bo coached against the Irish. He retired after the season and turned over the reins to long-time assistant Gary Moeller. It was also the last game the rivals would play on the old artificial turf at Michigan Stadium. By the time the Irish returned in 1991, The Big House returned to real grass. Would a slower, real grass surface have helped on a rainy day against Notre Dame in 1989? Maybe. Would it have helped not to kick to Ismail? Absolutely.
Thanks to youtube poster RocketShark, BlueGoldIllustrated and NBC for the footage. As always, I own nothing.
Over the past few years, I’ve reviewed five games between Michigan and Ohio State leading up to “The Game” itself. With the end of the Michigan-Notre Dame series only a week away, Phil agreed with me that it would be a good idea to review five memorable games from this rivalry.
Michigan and Notre Dame first met on the gridiron back in 1887, but for this series, I’m going to start with 1978, the first game in the modern era between the teams. There were several interesting sports stories in 1978. Affirmed won the Triple Crown, an achievement that seems more impressive since no horse has won the Triple Crown since then. The New York Yankees topped the Boston Red Sox 5-4 in a one-game playoff to decide the championship of the American League East. That game was so dramatic that it made the Yankees’ ensuing World Series championship seem almost anticlimactic by comparison.
Of course, in college football, all the talk centered about Michigan and Notre Dame, who were about to play each other for the first time since 1943, so the game was dubbed “the reunion game.” Notre Dame entered the game as the defending national champion, while Michigan enjoying its own renaissance, with Bo Schembechler having led the Wolverines to victories over Ohio State in each of the two previous seasons. Both teams entered the 1978 game with outstanding quarterbacks. Joe Montana was named the starting quarterback several games in the 1977 and promptly led the Fighting Irish to the National Championship, punctuated by a 38-10 win over Texas in the Cotton Bowl. For Michigan, Rick Leach had emerged as one of the best quarterbacks in school history, establishing himself a threat as both a runner and a passer three decades before that became commonplace. With each team boasting a star quarterback, something had to give.
From the Michigan perspective, the game didn’t start well at all. Notre Dame sandwich a pair of touchdowns around a Rick Leach touchdown run to take a 14-7 lead over Michigan into the locker room at halftime. Michigan took charge in the second half, aided by an opportunistic defense. Leach found Doug Marsh in the corner of the end zone to tie the score at 14, and then linebacker Jerry Meter intercepted a Montana pass, giving the Wolverines the ball at the Notre Dame 35-yard line. As the fourth quarter began, Leach connected with Marsh again on an 18-yard touchdown pass to put Michigan ahead to stay. Nursing a 20-14 lead, Michigan’s Michael Harden stepped in front of a receiver to intercept a Montana pass, setting up Michigan at the Notre Dame 40. Leach didn’t waste any time, finding Ralph Clayton for a 40-yard touchdown pass to give the Blue a 26-14 lead. With a little more than a minute left in the game, Michigan defensive lineman Curtis Greer sacked Montana for a safety, and Michigan celebrated the renewal of an old rivalry with a 28-14 win in South Bend. In later years, Montana became the focal point of the San Francisco 49ers’ dynasty, leading the Niners to three Super Bowl championships. The Denver Broncos drafted Leach, but he chose baseball over football, and played 10 seasons in the Major Leagues for four teams, including the Detroit Tigers.
As always, thanks to ABC and youtube member Wolverine Historian for the video clip below. Naturally, we don’t own any rights to this footage. Enjoy!