Orange Bowl Preview: Michigan Receivers vs. Florida State Secondary

Orange Bowl Preview: Michigan Receivers vs. Florida State Secondary


December 27, 2016

Tarvarus McFadden (image via Warchant)

MICHIGAN

Starters: Fifth year senior Amara Darboh (52 catches, 826 yards, 7 TDs) has been more productive this year than any Michigan receiver since Jeremy Gallon in 2013. Darboh has had some key drops, but that’s because he’s the go-to guy for quarterback Wilton Speight and gets the ball thrown to him in crunch time. Otherwise, he has made some highlight-reel catches and turned in some big plays this year. Michigan likes to use him as both a possession guy and a downfield threat, although he’s not a huge weapon in the deep passing game. Classmate Jehu Chesson (31 catches, 469 yards, 2 TDs) has seen his production fall off dramatically from the second half of the 2015 season, and he just doesn’t look like the same player after a knee injury against Florida in last year’s bowl game. Senior tight end Jake Butt (43 catches, 518 yards, 4 TDs) stands 6’6″, 250 lbs. and won the Mackey Award for the country’s best tight end. He’s not a great blocker, but he’s a very good route runner with sure hands.

Key backups: Michigan will be without the legally challenged Grant Perry (13 catches, 183 yards, 1 TD) due to legal troubles, and he’s the only other wideout who has been regularly targeted this season. The next most productive guy is 6’0″, 180 lb. freshman Eddie McDoom (5 catches, 59 yards; 15 carries, 154 yards), a speedster who has clearly made more of a mark on end arounds and reverses than in the passing game. Fellow freshman Kekoa Crawford (4 catches, 47 yards, 1 TD) and redshirt sophomore Drake Harris (2 catches, 11 yards) may also see some additional time. The backup tight ends haven’t factored into the passing game much: five tight ends have caught either 1 or 2 passes. We should see a lot of 6’6″, 276 lb. redshirt freshman Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. and 6’3″, 287 lb. freshman Devin Asiasi in mostly blocking roles.

Hit the jump for the rundown of Florida State’s defensive backfield.

FLORIDA STATE

Starters: The Seminoles have just four healthy safeties remaining after a spate of injuries, including receiver-turned-safety Ermon Lane, who started for the second half of the year. They have also been missing standout safety Derwin James and Nate Andrews for most of the year. Sophomore A.J. Westbrook (6’0″, 186 lbs.) should continue to start at free safety, where he has made 32 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack, and 3 PBUs this season. The strong safety is expected to be junior Trey Marshall (6’0″, 210 lbs.), who has mostly been playing a hybrid LB/S role this year. He has 54 tackles, 2 TFLs, and 4 PBUs this season, but he’s used to playing at the line of scrimmage, so he may be a liability if forced to play deep. Things are more solid at cornerback, where sophomore boundary corner Tarvarus McFadden (6’0″, 198 lbs.) was a First Team All-ACC selection after making 17 tackles, 3 TFLs, 8 INTs, and 5 PBUs; he also won the Jack Tatum Trophy for being the nation’s top defensive back. Opposite McFadden is senior field corner Marquez White (6’0″, 184 lbs.), who made 22 tackles, 2 TFLs, 2 INTs, and 3 PBUs this season. Naturally, Michigan should stay away from McFadden and White while trying to test Westbrook, Marshall, and/or whomever else gets thrown in at safety. The coaching staff will have to figure out ways to get Darboh and Chesson matched up with the safeties.

Key backups: The primary backup at corner is 6’1″, 196 lb. sophomore Marcus Lewis, who has 22 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, and 2 PBUs on the season. He may end up playing a fair amount of Star (Marshall’s position) if they do indeed move Marshall back to strong safety. Another option at Star is 5-star freshman Levonta Taylor (5’10”, 169 lbs.), who has 12 tackles and 1 PBU this season. At safety it’s guys who haven’t played much. That includes sophomore Calvin Brewton (6’0″, 186 lbs.), who has played in eight games and made 6 tackles, and freshman Carlos Becker III (6’2″, 183 lbs.), who has made 5 tackles.

Advantage: Michigan. The Wolverines don’t have an elite-level player at wide receiver like FSU does at cornerback in McFadden, but the injuries at safety are significant. Derwin James was a bona fide star as a true freshman, and it also hurt them to lose Andrews and Lane. Meanwhile, Michigan is mostly intact other than the loss of Perry, who is a solid player but not frequently targeted.

9 comments

  1. Comments: 14
    Joined: 12/21/2016
    Fab5ive21
    Dec 27, 2016 at 4:34 PM

    Who do you think will get the increased snaps at Slot from Perry being out? Seems like a good opportunity to get either McDoom, Crawford, or Harris some increased playing time in preparation for next season. I suppose it could also just mean we see more two TE’s in passing situations but with FSU having injuries at Safety, it seems like a good opportunity to try to get a fast slot receiver behind the defense.

  2. Comments: 342
    Joined: 1/19/2016
    je93
    Dec 27, 2016 at 5:20 PM

    Harris got some work during the in-season suspension, so that’s my guess

    • Comments: 14
      Joined: 12/21/2016
      Fab5ive21
      Dec 27, 2016 at 6:45 PM

      I think that is the best bet as well. I’m hoping Harris can step it up next year and become a true deep threat on the outside. Will help take some pressure off of DPJ as a true freshman.

    • Comments: 2554
      Joined: 8/11/2015
      Lanknows
      Dec 27, 2016 at 7:32 PM

      I’d like to see more from Harris in preparation for next year, but his skills and Perry’s don’t overlap much. It’ll likely be a team effort.

      • Comments: 342
        Joined: 1/19/2016
        je93
        Dec 27, 2016 at 8:23 PM

        Agree on Harris/Perry having much different games, but the next guy in while perry was absent was in fact, Harris… and they used him differently

  3. Comments: 2554
    Joined: 8/11/2015
    Lanknows
    Dec 27, 2016 at 7:46 PM

    Have to be honest that I don’t really see this as advantage UM. FSU has a couple corners that can lock down our WRs one-on-one (as most good corners have). Whatever weaknesses they have in the secondary are limited (they were #25 in pass D per S&P) and going to be difficult for Jake Butt to exploit when he’s getting double covered as usual.

    I get that losing Lane hurts them, but Marshall started a bunch of games at safety last year and did fine. The situation seems similar to us if we had to move Peppers back to safety to cover for a Thomas injury. It would hurt but few offenses would be able to exploit it.

    Michigan could theoretically throw out a 4-WR set to try to hit FSU’s lack of safety depth but that’s not their game. FSU could use more corners anyway and the pass rush would probably wreck Michigan if they did something they aren’t used to doing anyway.

    The nice thing about getting an assembly line of talent is that inexperience can be mitigated and depth is rarely a problem. I wouldn’t count on bombing FSU’s secondary if I am Michigan.

    • Comments: 1958
      Joined: 7/13/2015
      Dec 27, 2016 at 8:04 PM

      A lot of their defensive success against the pass was because of their pass rush. Again, I’m not talking about their pass defense; I’m talking about the matchups between WR/TE and CB/S. McFadden is a lock-down corner, and Michigan doesn’t use a ton of wide receivers, but they can go 3-wide and run a slot guy at a safety. And maybe that guy in the slot is Darboh or Chesson, not necessarily Perry’s “replacement.”

      • Comments: 2554
        Joined: 8/11/2015
        Lanknows
        Dec 28, 2016 at 11:37 AM

        All good points and I agree. Michigan would be wise to get Chesson in the slot. Still, FSU’s presumed ability to single-cover the outside WRs will allow them to double the TE or slot.

        I just don’t think it’s going to get Michigan very far considering the corresponding QB/OL matchups.

        Is a matchup advantage still an advantage if you can’t take advantage of it?

        • Comments: 1958
          Joined: 7/13/2015
          Dec 28, 2016 at 9:02 PM

          It’s tougher to double-team a guy in the slot, but if they want to do that, then that should open things up for other guys. If they want to double-team Jake Butt, then that means someone else needs to win a matchup. Maybe it’s the other TE or the guy not covered by McFadden. Ultimately, you need to win more battles than the other guys. On every play you want at least one receiver to win his matchup. Obviously, it makes it more difficult for Butt (or whoever) to do that if he’s double-covered, but then Chesson or Darboh or Harris or Bunting or Wheatley or Crawford needs to beat his man. If you don’t, you lose.

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