Mailbag: How will Craig Roh be used?

Tag: Mississippi State

25Jan 2011
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Mailbag: How will Craig Roh be used?

Indiana sucks.  Craig Roh doesn’t.

My understanding is the he DC ran the 3-4 at Baltimore and I’m concerned what this means for Roh.  He doesn’t seem suited to play LB or DE in that system. Is he strictly a one-gap lineman and if so, how do you see him being used by the staff?

First of all, I think Roh is one of the top two defensive players on the roster (with Mike Martin).  He’s 6’5″, 250+ pounds, he’s strong, he can cover a little bit, he’s pretty quick, and he’s aggressive.  So I don’t blame you for being concerned about how he will be used.

Luckily, I think new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will put Roh in a position to achieve success this coming season.  In my opinion, the old coaching staff was almost criminally negligent in their use of Roh last season.  As a true freshman in 2009, Roh split time with Brandon Herron and notched 7.5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks.  As a full-time starter in 2010, Roh inreased his total tackles by only six (37 to 43) but his tackles for loss dropped to 5.5 and he had a whopping 1/2 sack.  That’s why I was so convinced that the spring 2010 practice rumors were erroneous or overblown that Michigan would be using a 3-3-5.  Sure enough, Michigan tried to play Roh as an outside stacked linebacker, which was a failure.  Rumors popped up that Craig and his father, Fred, approached the coaching staff about using Roh appropriately . . . or running the risk of seeing him transfer.  Almost immediately afterward, we saw Roh playing defensive end again.  I can’t vouch for the validity of those rumors, but generally, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

As for Michigan’s defense in 2011, recruits have reported that Brady Hoke has been relaying messages about running a 4-3.  Obviously, things could change or be misinterpreted, but that’s the word on the street.  On the other hand, Mattison did indeed run a version of a 3-4 this past season with the Baltimore Ravens, and I have a hard time believing that he would change schemes at the snap of a finger.  On the other other hand, someone with Mattison’s age and experience probably knows the ins and outs of both systems.

Really, it would be nothing more than a guess for me to say what type of defense Michigan will run in 2011.  There seems to be evidence for both.  But Roh has the size and skill set to play weakside defensive end in a 4-3 (Tim Jamison was 6’3″, 263 as a senior) or outside linebacker in a 3-4 (Terrell Suggs is 6’3″, 260).  My guess is that the defense will be a hybrid type of 3-4/4-3 in which we’ll see Roh deployed like he was in 2009, back when Greg Robinson had some semblance of a clue what he was doing with the defense (remember when Roh looked promising and Steve Brown had such a solid season?  You know, before Rodriguez forced the 3-3-5 on him?).  Once in awhile, Roh will drop back into the flat or pick up a running back in man coverage.  Once in awhile, Roh will stand up and blitz the interior of the line.  Most of the time, he’ll rush the passer.

I was wrong last year when I said that Michigan would probably run a 4-2-5, but after the defensive performance of 2010, I’m not convinced I was wrong that Michigan should have run a 4-2-5.  It’s not that the 3-3-5 can’t be successful in the Big Ten, but that assumes that the linebackers can be competent.  Obi Ezeh was a disappointment, Mouton was off-and-on, Roh was misused, and by the end of the season, only Mouton remained in the same spot (Ezeh was benched for Kenny Demens, and Roh was put at defensive end).  Rodriguez, Robinson, and the other defensive assistants had no clue how to work together and employ their personnel, and they were sent packing because of it.

Now that Hoke is in charge and brought in one of his guys – somebody he knows and trusts – I think the defensive coaching will be much smoother.  Michigan had an identity when Rodriguez brought Calvin Magee to run the offense.  They both knew what they wanted to do, and the offense improved steadily.  Conversely, Rodriguez brought in a 4-3 guy that he didn’t know (Shafer), forced him to run a 3-3-5 after two-thirds of a season, fired Shafer, brought in a 3-4/4-3 guy that he didn’t know (Robinson), forced him to run a 3-3-5 after a full season, and then got everyone fired.

I still believe in Roh’s talent, and sadly, a 3-3-5 is just about the only defense where he can’t fit somewhere.  I think 2010 was a bit of an aberration in Roh’s maturation, and we’ll see an explosive pass rusher and stellar athlete wearing #88 once again, rather than this:

Yes, that’s a 250 lb. defensive tackle lined up over Mississippi State’s left guard.  It’s also a touchdown.

2Jan 2011
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Mississippi State 52, Michigan 14

Kick returner Martavious Odoms stiff-arms a Bulldog defender

Well, that was disappointing.

Martavious Odoms is a beast.  Odoms came back from a broken foot that he suffered halfway through the season, and he played an excellent game.  His only reception was an impressive 27-yard catch on which he twisted in the air to reel in the ball.  But he was also very effective on kickoff returns, taking back 7 kicks for 161 yards (23.0 yards per return).  You have to appreciate how hard this kid plays on every single play.

Chris Relf is not a beast, but Michigan made him look like one.  This is nothing new – Michigan makes opposing quarterbacks look awesome.  But never has that been more apparent than on New Year’s Day.  If you extrapolate Relf’s performance on Saturday over 13 games, he would have ended the year with 234 completions on 299 attempts (78%) for 3653 yards, 39 passing touchdowns, and 13 interceptions (and Relf’s lone interception was a Hail Mary at the end of the first half).  Prior to the Gator Bowl, Relf was 111/197 (56%) for 1508 yards, 10 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions.  That’s right.  Michigan literally made Relf about two or three times better than he was during the rest of the season.

James Rogers is fast.  Even coming out of high school, Rogers’ #1 strength was his speed.  Although the Bulldogs scored on the very next play, kudos to Rogers for chasing down running back Ladarius Perkins on his 81-yard reception.  Perkins looked like he was gone on the play, but as soon as I saw Rogers turn on the jets, I knew it wouldn’t be a touchdown.

Here’s my weekly rant against Vincent Smith.  Argh argh argh argh!  Guess who got the most carries aside from Denard Robinson?  Vincent Smith.  Guess who has the second-lowest rushing average on the team?  Yep, Vincent Smith (4.42 yards per carry).  Fitzgerald Toussaint (10.88), Michael Cox (9.3), and Michael Shaw (5.36) are all significantly higher.  Freshman short yardage back Stephen Hopkins (4.08) is the only back with a lower average.  And I find it funny that one of Rich Rodriguez’s reasons for playing Smith was “He’s not a fumbler.”  Well, now Smith has fumbled about 5 times this year, which is far more than any other running back.  So how about just putting the best player out there, someone who might have a chance at being consistent and/or making a big play?  It’s ridiculous that the starting running back is so ineffective when there are other options that just don’t get a chance to see the field.

Denard Robinson is still erratic. . .  Look, it’s painful to criticize Robinson.  He doesn’t get much help, he gets beaten up, he’s got a great attitude, he plays hard, and oh by the way, he has a great deal of talent.  But he shouldn’t be throwing the ball 41 times in a game.  I realize that the game situation called for a lot of throws; when you’re down by 38 points, running doesn’t do much.  But this game just didn’t play out well for him.  If backup quarterback Tate Forcier wasn’t an idiot and remained eligible for the bowl game, then the second half would have been a situation in which Forcier would have been inserted.  Forcier is more effective when the playcalling is limited to pass, pass, pass.  So part of this can be blamed on #5, but Denard Robinson was the one who overthrew Junior Hemingway a couple times.  Denard was also the one who consistently made “inaccurate completions” where his receivers had to dive, jump, or twist around to catch the ball.  You’re not going to get a lot of yards after the catch when the receivers don’t have forward momentum.

. . . and so is Roy Roundtree.  I was all about Roy Roundtree early in the season, but he’s totally fallen apart over the past few games.  He dropped a couple passes against Wisconsin, five against Ohio State, and another couple against Mississippi State.  One of the drops against Mississippi State was a very nice deep throw from Robinson that might have gone for a touchdown, except for the fact that Roy Roundtree spent the previous TV timeout eating some KFC.

Field goal schmield goal.  It’s not like losing 52-17 is much different than 52-14, but I was furious when Rich Rodriguez sent out Brendan Gibbons to kick a field goal in the first half.  It’s 4th-and-4, and you’re going to send out a kid who’s 1-for-4 on field goals on a team that’s 4-for-13 overall?  When your defense sucks and so do your kickers, you go for it in that situation.  Those kickers shouldn’t have seen the field except for extra points.

Rich Rodriguez is gone.  This was probably the case prior to the game, but the 38-point loss pretty much seals the deal.  My expectation is that athletic director David Brandon will let Jim Harbaugh coach Stanford against Virginia Tech tomorrow night in the Orange Bowl.  Then later in the week, Harbaugh will be hired to replace Rodriguez.  Rodriguez and his staff had a chance to make a case for themselves in this game, and they laid a very stinky egg.

1Jan 2011
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Gator Bowl Preview (not really): Michigan vs. Mississippi State

Mississippi State cheerleaders

I’m not going to fake it – the holidays have been so busy that I haven’t had time to watch video and develop any kind of strong feel about today’s game.

I’m just going to sit back, relax, and enjoy a New Year’s Day of excellent football games.  I have a strong feeling that today will be Michigan’s final game playing for Rich Rodriguez, so I’m going to be rooting hard for him to go out on a winning note.  We’ll also be saying goodbye to seniors Perry Dorrestein, Steve Schilling, Martell Webb, John Ferrara, Greg Banks, Renaldo Sagesse, Adam Patterson, Jonas Mouton, Obi Ezeh, Mark Moundros, and James Rogers.

Go Blue!

8Dec 2010
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Effects of Coaching Carousel on Michigan

Several coaches from schools around the country have been fired, retired, or resigned recently, and some of those coaching situations may have an impact on Michigan.  Here I’ll discuss the ways in which the departures of Urban Meyer (Florida), Randy Shannon (Miami), and Dave Wannstedt (Pitt) might impact the situation in Ann Arbor.  I don’t think any of them necessarily signify impending doom for Rich Rodriguez (Urban Meyer isn’t coming to Ann Arbor), but they might affect the Michigan program in smaller ways.

All three schools I’m going to focus on harbor Class of 2011 commits who have Michigan offers.

  • Florida: RB Mike Blakely, SR Javares McRoy, LB Ryan Shazier, DB Valdez Showers, WR Ja’juan Story, CB Nick Waisome
  • Miami: DE Anthony Chickillo
  • Pitt: RB/SR Bill Belton, CB Terrell Chestnut, CB Kyshoen Jarrett, LB Ben Kline

The three players in the above lists who have shown the most interest in Michigan are Showers, Jarrett, and Kline.  Showers is from Michigan, and the other two seemed to be giving the Wolverines a fair look before committing to become Panthers.  Assuming that Florida’s head job is filled by someone with Florida roots (Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen, Louisville’s Charlie Strong), I doubt that many Gator commits will waver.  However, Pittsburgh’s open job will likely be filled by an outsider, and that means Jarrett and Kline might be ripe for the picking.  Jarrett has reportedly sent out feelers to other programs, including Michigan, and Kline had Michigan in his top few schools at one point.

Urban Meyer’s intentions are to coach the Florida Gators in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.  However, just like Michigan did with Rich Rodriguez back in 2007-2008, Meyer’s replacement might be hired prior to January 1.  That guy might be Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.  And even though Mullen is familiar with the landscape of Florida and has only been gone from Gainesville for a season, I’m not sure that Florida’s athletic director would want to sacrifice several weeks of recruiting right near the end of the cycle.  I would not be surprised to see Meyer’s replacement hired within the coming week; if Mullen’s the guy, he probably won’t be coaching the Bulldogs on January 1.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Mississippi State would be a mess for the bowl game.  Going back to that Michigan/West Virginia situation in 2007-2008, interim head coach Bill Stewart led the Mountainers to a 48-28 victory over #3 Oklahoma.

It’s practically a foregone conclusion that, at the very least, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson will be gone before the 2011 season.  If it doesn’t happen prior to the bowl game, it will happen soon after.  But with the tenuous status of the entire coaching staff at Michigan, it’s not like some coordinator out there is going to accept a job at Michigan this very instant.  For now, Robinson is the guy.

None of Pitt’s staff is likely to come to Michigan, but the Miami and Florida staff changes may have an effect. 

Randy Shannon was a very good defensive coordinator for the Hurricanes for six seasons before becoming head coach.  He also has NFL experience with the Miami Dolphins, so heading back to the NFL isn’t out of the question.  Shannon seems like a long shot to come to Michigan as a coordinator, especially because Michigan has a tradition of underpaying coordinators.  Athletic director David Brandon might signal a new regime by shelling out some dough for a big-name coordinator, but I have my doubts.

More likely candidates include:

  • Vance Bedford.  Bedford was a defensive backs coach at Michigan for five total seasons, most recently in 2007.  He then joined the Florida staff and followed Charlie Strong to Louisville to become defensive coordinator, where he currently has the #12 total defense and the #15 scoring defense in the country.  If Strong becomes head coach at Florida, that might cause a shakeup in his staff, but I don’t see a significant reason that Bedford wouldn’t follow Strong back to Gainesville except for . . .
  • Chuck Heater.  Heater was a running back at Michigan from 1972-1974.  Though he hasn’t coached at Michigan, he’s still a “Michigan Man.”  He succeeded Strong as defensive coordinator at Florida, and has the #9 total defense and #31 scoring defense in 2010.  If Strong were hired, Bedford or Heater would likely head elsewhere for a coordinator position.  Since Bedford seems to be Strong’s “guy,” this might make Heater a free agent.

The availability of these guys is largely based on speculation and connections to Michigan, so I don’t have any inside sources saying that David Brandon is pursuing these guys.  However, they seem like fairly logical choices to replace Greg Robinson at Michigan.  As I said in a prior post about Rodriguez’s future in Ann Arbor, I stated that one of the caveats should be that a defensive coordinator should be hired and Rodriguez should be told to keep his hands off the defensive side of the ball.  Shannon, Bedford, and Heater have the experience and credibility to come in and run their systems without too much blowback. 

All of these dominos are unlikely to fall, but they’re things to consider as Michigan likely searches for a defensive coordinator and staff this offseason.

6Dec 2010
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Gator Bowl, here we come!

It was announced on Sunday that Michigan will be playing the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the Gator Bowl.  Not only did Michigan bounce back to bowl eligibility in 2010, but they’re playing in a New Year’s Day game, perhaps the best day of college football.  The game will be in Jacksonville, Florida, on January 1, 2011, at 1:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

Mississippi State ended the season ranked #21 with an 8-4 record.  Their signature win was a 10-7 victory over Florida, but the Bulldogs also lost close games to Arkansas and Auburn, two good teams.

More statistics and analysis will be provided as the month goes on, but with guys recovering from injury and various other dramatic events that might unfold in the next few weeks, an in-depth preview at this point might be premature and outdated by the New Year.