I’m sure this comes as no surprise, but Jordan Kovacs will be Michigan’s top returning defender, according to my grades
(image via Maize and Blue Nation)
Over the last three games of Michigan’s season, I took the time to grade the defense. For individual games, you can look at the grades for Nebraska, Ohio State, and Virginia Tech. The following shows each player’s cumulative grade:
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that defensive linemen seem to rocket to the top of the grading scale, while defensive backs linger toward the bottom. By the nature of the sport of football (and the angles that television uses), defensive linemen and linebackers are more involved in the game. And when the ball is in the air, roughly 60% of the time it’s going to result in a completion and an angry defensive back.
Obviously, this three-game sample is not indicative of the entire season. For example, J.T. Floyd’s best game was probably against Illinois, which isn’t a game I graded. On the flip side, Frank Clark ended up with a +11 largely because he was outstanding in the Virginia Tech game.
This interception was Frank Clark’s best play of the day, but not his only good one.
Just like post-Nebraska and post-Ohio State, I reviewed the film of the Sugar Bowl and graded out the defense for good/bad reads, filling/missing assignments, and physical superiority/inferiority. Each time a player had a significant impact on a play, he was given a grade ranging from +3 to -3. GRADES FClark: +10 . . . Too quick for offensive line to handle; made a great interception JRyan: +10 . . . Pursuit and hustle were stellar; took great angles MMartin: +9 . . . Seemed to get tired in second half, but too fast off the snap most of the time RVanBergen: +9 . . . No spectacular plays but just disruptive enough to force Wilson to hesitate JKovacs: +7 . . . Good tackler but also wades through trash well CRoh: +3 . . . Got reach blocked a couple times, but mostly filled his assignments BBeyer: +1 . . . Limited playing time KDemens: +1 . . . Missed several tackles, but made a nice PBU and filled his gap QWashington: +1 . . . Limited playing time JBlack: 0 . . . Looks too slow for weakside end CAvery: -1 . . . Had trouble fighting off blocks early, but supported run well after first quarter WCampbell: -2 . . . Got reach blocked too easily; too passive mostly, but had a couple “wow” moments TGordon: -2 . . . Had a rough first half but got better as the game went along BCountess: -3 . . . Picked on especially in zone coverage, but fared better in man DMorgan: -4 . . . Not bad for a freshman linebacker but looked like a freshman linebacker JFloyd: -5 . . . Okay in pass coverage, poor against the run
The usual suspects were stellar for the most part, but sitting atop the list is a bit of a surprise: freshman defensive end Frank Clark. Aside from the highlight-reel interception, Clark consistently beat Virginia Tech’s left tackle with slants and speed rushes. Of course, part of the credit for Clark’s +10 goes to Greg Mattison, who used Clark to stunt more often than he did with Roh. Hooray for using players’ strengths!
Redshirt freshman SAM linebacker Jake Ryan was also outstanding, receiving only one negative mark (for being a little slow in getting to the flat in pass coverage). Mike Martin was great in the first half, mediocre in the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth, and outstanding in the last few minutes of the game. Ryan Van Bergen was solid throughout, but you could tell by the fourth quarter that his foot was bothering him. Jordan Kovacs also made some nice plays throughout the game, although he did make some uncharacteristic misses in run support.
Going to the bottom of the list, redshirt junior J.T. Floyd wasn’t picked on much in coverage, but he received most of his negatives in run support. He just wasn’t physical at all when coming up to support the run and at times he looked to be running away from contact. On the opposite side of the field, freshman cornerback Blake Countess was targeted throughout the game. And while he was more effective than Floyd in supporting the run, the more experienced and bigger Hokie receivers took advantage of him a little bit.
Freshman linebacker Desmond Morgan alternated a couple bad plays with one very good play. Virginia Tech frequently motioned tight ends across the formation to change the strength, putting Morgan on the strong side and running at him. He reads the backfield pretty quickly, but when a tight end or slot receiver would come crashing down on him, he would be a split second late in reacting to the block; at least one time, his slowness caused middle linebacker Kenny Demens to get caught up in the trash.
Meanwhile, defensive tackle William Campbell continued his inconsistency by literally knocking an offensive guard on his ass . . . and then playing pattycake on other plays (not so literally). He is virtually unblockable when he fires off the ball, but if he stands straight up, he’s very easy to block. The problem with playing Campbell is that he oscillates between performing like Mike Martin and performing like Adam Patterson. His ceiling is great, but his floor is terrible.
Desmond Morgan struggled with Braxton Miller’s speed but otherwise looks like a solid player for the Wolverines
I once again worked out some grades for Michigan’s defense against OSU (see also: Nebraska). Grades for each play ranged from +3 to -3 for good/bad reads, filling/missing assignments, and physical superiority/inferiority. GRADES MMartin: +10 . . . Not as dominant as in previous games, but doesn’t get beaten – ever RVanBergen: +8 . . . More big plays than Martin, but got out of rush lane a couple times WHeininger: +6 . . . Physically overmatched, but slanting helped him be effective KDemens: +5 . . . Solid tackler who doesn’t give ground JKovacs: +5 . . . Decent day but took a late hit penalty CAvery: +3 . . . Consistently solid and then made a huge pick to seal the game JBlack: +2 . . . Nice play near goal line to keep his feet and chase down Braxton Miller TGordon: +2 . . . Beaten in pass coverage but made some nice tackles in open field DMorgan: +2 . . . Usually in position but not fast enough to keep up with Miller. Future MIKE? WCampbell: +1 . . . Didn’t play much but held his ground when he did CRoh: +1 . . . Had some nice pass rushes but big mistake on Miller’s TD run JRyan: +1 . . . OSU ran away from him most of the game BCountess: 0 . . . Got lucky on an overthrow, but mostly tight coverage NBrink: -1 . . . Unfair to be matched up against Mike Adams but got blown off the ball MJones: -1 . . . Just isn’t very fast or aggressive TWoolfolk: -5 . . . Seemed to make some bad reads JFloyd: -10 . . . Beaten deep a couple times, missed tackle on Dan Herron’s TD run
It sure seemed like defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was willing to take a lot of risks in this game, in hopes that Braxton Miller would make some freshman mistakes. He did, but not a lot. It looked like Mattison realized that his defensive line had been playing extremely well for the last several weeks and his game plan revolved around them dominating the game. The starters combined for a +25 grade with Craig Roh being the weak link.
DeVier Posey is a great deal better than J.T. Floyd and Blake Countess. There’s no way around it. Michigan doesn’t have anyone who can handle him on the regular, so it might have been a good idea to try to force Miller to scramble and look to check down. Miller probably played his best game of the season when it comes to throwing the ball, because they put almost the entire game on his shoulders.
OSU tried to take advantage of freshman weakside linebacker Desmond Morgan, but he held up pretty well. Morgan was too slow in the open field to catch Miller a couple times, but it’s no surprise that an inside linebacker is going to be at a disadvantage against a guy like him. Otherwise, Morgan made some excellent plays inside and blew up fullback Zach Boren a couple times. He might lack the athleticism to stay at WILL for his entire career at Michigan, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him slide over and replace Demens in 2013.
I tried out something new this week. It’s still a work in progress, but I graded the defense. The scoring formula is very similar to that of MGoBlog in that a player’s score on each play can vary from a +3 all the way to a -3. Only players who are directly involved in each play were scored, so for example, the backside corner on a sweep to the right is unlikely to be involved. Points were added or subtracted due to good/bad reads, filling/missing assignments, and physical superiority/inferiority (i.e. getting juked is a negative, open-field tackle is a positive).
MMartin: +17 . . . Had a monster day, beat offensive linemen off snap, crushed a RB trying to block
JKovacs: +9 . . . Also had a great day, made several plays in the open field RVanBergen: +7 . . . Made a lot of nice plays, but lost gap responsibility a couple times KDemens: +6 . . . Played downhill nicely, made some plays in coverage too JRyan: +5 . . . Up and down day, played physically, punished a slot receiver trying to block him DMorgan: +3 . . . Did good job flowing to the ball, missed a couple tackles in the hole CAvery: +2 . . . Played well when called upon, did a good job of covering flat WCampbell: +2 . . . Hustled to crush Martinez, notched a sack, got blown off ball by double-team TWoolfolk: +2 . . . Largely a non-factor but had a nice pass breakup FClark: +1 . . . Athletic but raw BBeyer: 0 . . . Average, perhaps too stiff to remain at OLB permanently BCountess: 0 . . . Lost contain on final Nebraska touchdown, but even Urban Meyer never saw play before JFurman: 0 . . . One good play, one bad play DHollowell: 0 . . . One good play, one bad play
MJones: 0 . . . Just not very athletic JVanSlyke: 0 . . . Ho-hum JBlack: -1 . . . Looks like a future 3-tech DT, poor change-of-direction skills NBrink: -1 . . . Overmatched
JFloyd: -1 . . . One bad beat, a couple good plays in coverage
WHeininger: -1 . . . Somewhat overmatched, got too far upfield once CRoh: -1 . . . Needs to do better job of disengaging from blockers in run game RTaylor: -1 . . . Beat in coverage once QWashington: -1 . . . Mostly invisible BHawthorne: -2 . . . Doesn’t know how to wrap up ballcarriers TGordon: -2 . . . One bad beat, otherwise not involved much
I don’t think I can overstate how awesome Mike Martin was. Even when he wasn’t making tackles, he was pressuring Martinez or screwing up the blocking scheme. Van Bergen was pretty dominant up front, too. Michigan fans are pretty spoiled right now, because there are two seniors up front who are taking care of business. Next year there’s bound to be a dropoff at those two positions, so enjoy these last two games.
The freshmen weren’t great but weren’t horrible, either. Desmond Morgan, Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer, Blake Countess, Delonte Hollowell, and Raymon Taylor combined for a +3 score on the day, mostly thanks to Morgan. Brandin Hawthorne’s unwillingness to wrap up when he tackles is maddening; he actually packs a punch despite being undersized, but it doesn’t matter if the guy doesn’t fall down.