Monday, October 14, 2013


Prior to the start of this season, I was 50-50 to shut down this blog. Through the design of its content, BWS had reached the point of diminishing returns: was I really going to spend another season—another 5 seasons?—rewatching game film, taking screenshots, and chopping up video, hoping every day that I wouldn't meet the same legal doom that befell MGoVideo and MGoBlog? The one thing I knew I didn't want to do was start the season and quit after a week or two.  But anyone who visits this blog even semi-regularly can tell it's not coming back.

It is with a heavy heart that I am officially shuttering Burgeoning Wolverine Star.

I started reading MGoBlog in 2004 as a freshman at U of M. Before my freshman year, I was considering not buying football tickets: I never had any emotional connection to either Michigan or football, and spending $300 seemed like an expense I couldn't incur. My parents insisted, however, and I fell in love with the team. Prior to every game that season, I'd post one line on Facebook and AIM and whatever other social networks existed at the time: “Chad Henne, lead us to victory”, because that's what was most important every Saturday afternoon. Five years of reading MGoBlog, MVictors, Smart Football, and every other piece of Michigan-related content on the internet that I could, I knew enough about the sport to start the pretender's guide to Michigan football blogs.

But BWS didn't even start as a Michigan blog. It began as a college football blog, evidenced by the first 15 posts which range from “Debunking Alabama” (Lolz) to schemes about how to guard Georgia Tech's flexbone offense. When my passion and writing trended toward specifically Michigan, however, the site became exclusively M-focused. Then MGoBlog did this...

…and I felt a sense of pride I had rarely experienced. I had built something.

The last time I underwent a significant change in writing tendencies, it concerned music criticism. I had begun writing single reviews for Pitchfork, a lifelong goal, when my longtime girlfriend and I broke up (this blog took an extended hiatus then as well). This shutdown takes place under nearly identical circumstances, but that's not the driving force behind its collapse, despite it being the impetus for my recent lack of writing; I don't really enjoy watching this Michigan team knowing that I'll have to write about it in the future.

I am MGoEeyore, a designation bestowed to me by MGoBlog and just about everyone else in the blogging community. Because of the content on the blog, I spend all game looking for what's going wrong. If everything is going as planned, there's not much to write about, though Greg Mattison's blitzing schemes argue against that concept. The things that are currently going wrong with Michigan are both beyond my pay grade and outside of my interest. Specifically, the footwork of offensive linemen isn't something I'm qualified to write about, nor does it draw my interest the same way as gaming a defensive scheme into QB Oh Noes does.

With every passing season, there are more Michigan blogs as qualified or more than this one to produce the same content. Upward mobility in this blogging community is nearly impossible. MGoBlog is the Facebook of college football blogs: create a start up, get Brian's attention, and hope he snaps you up so you can do something more salient. But I enjoyed being the thorn in people's side and still feel that same tinge of pride when Brian namedrops me on podcasts talking about Courtney Avery's zone coverage responsibilities. I'll miss those moments, the back-and-forth with readers, and really feeling like part of the Michigan blogging family. But I also can't wait to watch Michigan games and just root for our starting quarterback to lead us to victory again.

Thanks are necessary. To Brian Cook: your support, links, and brilliance are what made Burgeoning Wolverine Star what it is today. You are a continuing source of inspiration and someone I strive to emulate. To my brother Andrew: for being the smartest person I know and calling me on my bullshit. You've made this blog far better than it would have been without your honesty and analysis. To Andrew McIntyre: for being my GChat sounding board and producing the play schematics that have come to define this blog over the last year. To Forest Casey: for the beautiful banners that made this blog look like something professional. To Ace, Chris Brown, Heiko, and the rest of the blogging intelligentsia: for producing excellent content on a daily basis and forcing me to be my best. To the readers: for your interest in and love for the program, for questioning my reasoning and helping me to produce the best content I could.

I am not disappearing completely. I recently began a Detroit Pistons blog (Isiah Was a Prophet), born of my growing passion for NBA hoops. And I'll forever be on Twitter, making snarky comments about Michigan et al. I hold out hope that Burgeoning Wolverine Star will reappear in the future in some form or another. Until then, thank you and Go Blue!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Status check

Melanie Maxwell |

So year two of graduate school is dramatically more taxing than year one. I had a few posts from the Notre Dame game that I intended on posting this week, but following Saturday's debacle and some complications in my personal life, the status of this here blog is in question. Don't expect much content around these parts this week; rewatching the Akron game strikes me as gratuitous masochism (my apologies to Brian at MGoBlog for being expected to write UFRs on this game).

In the coming weeks, I'd like to get my schedule a little more hammered out and begin writing here again. Updates are forthcoming.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Preview: Notre Dame 2013

#14 Notre Dame vs. #17 Michigan
Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor
Kickoff 8:00 pm EST
Forecast: Low-70s, 30% chance of rain 

Last Week
Temple 6 - #14 Notre Dame 28. Notre Dame welcomed the Temple Wet Owls to South Bend last week and won in marginally convincing fashion. Temple left 7 points on the field, missing two field goals and having an extra point blocked. Meanwhile, the Irish put up 14 points in the first five minutes of the game, and were only able to punch it in twice for the rest of the game. Worse still, those first two touchdown drives relied on huge plays (45, 32, 51, 32), of which the team only managed one more (a 66-yard pass for the team's third touchdown). Notre Dame's inability to put together sustained drives could have been anticipated after the loss of starting QB Everett Golson, but against a team like Temple, the offense should still be able to move the ball.

The vaunted Irish defensive line failed to impress as they were expected to; the Owls managed 4.5 YPC on 29 rushes. ND did keep junior QB Connor Reilly to a 50% completion rate and only 5.0 YPA. Then again, this marked Reilly's first game action, so a rough outing was expected.

Offense vs. Notre Dame
John T. Greilick | Detroit News
No matchup will be more important than how Michigan's offensive line manages Notre Dame's defensive front. The names to know are Louis Nix III (aka Irish Chocolate, apparently) and Stephon Tuitt. Nix anchors the defense, acting as a black hole in the middle of the defensive line. At 350+ pounds, Nix presents problems for the inexperienced interior of the offensive line. MGoBlog postures that Michigan introduced the zone stretch into the offense in order to attack Notre Dame's defensive ends rather than trying to push Nix off the line.

Flanking Nix at defensive end will be Tuitt, a havoc-sower for all teams that don't feature Taylor Lewan. Tuitt finished 2012 with a team-leading 12 sacks, and still stands at over 300 pounds, making him difficult to attack in the run game (unlike, say, Frank Clark). Michigan remains uniquely prepared to handle Tuitt with two senior offensive tackles, including the best left tackle in the country. The third lineman in Bob Diaco's 3-4 defense is sophomore Sheldon Day, a nondescript defensive end who should be a non-factor in this game.

Notre Dame's only other defender of note is senior outside linebacker Prince Shembo, who finished the 2012 season with 7.5 sacks, 21 solo tackles, and 27 assists. Shembo is pitch perfect for Diaco's aggressive, blitzing defense, and will challenge Michigan's running backs to block him on blitzes (of which, Fitz Toussaint did poorly in week one).

Concerns about moving the ball against Notre Dame have been tempered following a subpar performance against Temple. But as we've become all too aware, Notre Dame, Michigan State, and Ohio can look awful all season and still drag Michigan through the mud. Non-Gardner runs will be touch and go throughout the game. Nix and Tuitt are going to beat Michigan's offensive line a few times. Dispersing those negative plays across multiple drives and recovering quickly from them will be important if Michigan will produce multiple, sustained drives.

Because Notre Dame's defense relies heavily on blitzes, Gardner's scrambling could pay dividends. His ability to get out of the pocket may slow the Irish front seven, allowing Michigan to run from their base offense more easily.

In the secondary, Notre Dame is unexceptional. If nothing else, the Irish defensive backs have experience, boasting two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore. Most of the turnovers that the secondary produces are a function of Notre Dame's front seven getting pressure. Once again, blitz pickups from Michigan's backs will allow Garnder the space and time to find receivers downfield. As we've already seen this year, getting traffic in Gardner's face can end in turnovers.

The man behind the curtain, as always, is Al Borges. Michigan's offense against Central Michigan was vanilla. During fall camp, we saw plenty of footage of Michigan running the inverted veer and other spread concepts which were largely absent in the opener. I fully expect Michigan's offense to have a little more pizzaz against Notre Dame. What that entails, I'm not sure, but a few more zone reads are likely, as are play action off of those.

Defense vs. Notre Dame

Good news everyone! Tommy Rees is back. In spite of his perpetual derpitude, Rees set his career record for passing yardage against Temple and has been serviceable+ against Michigan in his career. But on the quarterback fear index, Rees ranks just above a half-slurped Go-Gurt. With Everett Golson getting booted from the team, this season was always going to be a reclamation project on offense. But it might be worse than originally thought, in spite of a solid performance against Temple. Rees' long passes last week came on a wide-open post route with no safety help, a bubble screen, a wide-open corner route with no safety help, and a wide-open seam route to a rumbling tight end. He has not developed into junior Chad Henne. This is just Tommy Rees.

Golson wasn't the only loss from last year's offense. Cierre Wood graduated and junior Theo Riddick entered the draft early, stripping Notre Dame of their top two rushers from a season ago. In week one, Notre Dame's running backs were not great. Nominal starter, junior George Atkinson, squeaked out only 34 yards on 8 carries--one of which was a 14-yarder. Junior Amir Carlisle had the highest YPC (68 yards on 8 carries; 9.7 YPC) but that number is bolstered by his 45-yarder that was handed to him after Temple's linebackers blitzed with no regard for running lanes.

On the outsides, Notre Dame's wide receivers do not intimidate. Gone are the Michael Floyds and Golden Tates of recent years. TJ Jones returns for his senior year after averaging 13 yards per catch last year. Against Temple, Jones had six receptions for 138 yards. He is your prototypical slot receiver and will be the recipient of many screen passes. He has good speed and will need to be tackled in the open field often; how Courtney Avery and Thomas Gordon handle Jones could go a long way to determining how this game goes. But other than Jones, the Irish receivers do not intimidate.

Michigan's ability to get pressure on passing downs with only four men against Central showed promise for this matchup. Notre Dame is going to spread the field on almost all downs, so to avoid big plays, Michigan will need safety valves for when man coverage invariable goes wrong. If Michigan's front four can generate a pass rush, that will help alleviate a lot of the stress on Michigan's safeties.

How does Michigan win? Notre Dame's defense didn't overwhelm Temple, which bodes well for Michigan's chances. Michigan's offensive line looks improved from week one and the team averages 5.5 YPC. Notre Dame's blitzes are occasionally effective, but more often than not, Gardner is able to scramble out of danger and either pass or throw for significant yardage. Defensively, Michigan's front four completely dominates the Notre Dame offensive line and the Irish can never get their running game started. One or two big passing plays from Tommy Rees are all that keep Notre Dame alive, but Michigan dominates the game throughout.

How does Notre Dame win? Nix and Tuitt look more like they did last year than in week one. Michigan's young offensive line struggles to block Notre Dame's pressure and the team averages only 3.8 YPC. The Irish blitzes also disrupt Garder who makes bad decisions and bad throws, tossing multiple interceptions. When Notre Dame has the ball, Michigan's young secondary struggles to contain Brian Kelly's spread attack and Tommy Rees avoids mistakes while throwing three touchdowns. Michigan's front four can't generate a pass rush and has to dedicate linebackers and safeties to the pass rush, opening things up on the back end.

Arbitrary chances that Michigan wins? 78.492%

Final Prediction. Week one matchups are only a single data point, but they can be illuminating. For example, we know that Michigan State's offense is going to be unwatchable this season. Michigan and Notre Dame's respective games leave very little doubt about which team is better right now. Notre Dame's offense struggled against a lowly Temple squad in ways that didn't look to be week one jitters. With an offense that appears to be boom or bust, the Irish are going to struggle to score against a Michigan team that has been stout against the big play for two years now. Rees will complete a 3rd and 18-ish that will infuriate Michigan fans, but Notre Dame's big plays work only toward self preservation. Tuitt winds up being a non-factor in the game, but Nix cuts a number of Michigan drives short by setting up third and long situations. Michigan's run game as a whole doesn't look devastating, but Gardner shakes off the game one interceptions and accounts for 350 yards. Notre Dame 17 - Michigan 27

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Wide nine defensive front

At this point, even the most casual observer can see when Frank Clark goes tearing around the edge with no consideration of passing lanes. But while rewatching the CMU game, I noticed a play in which Mario Ojemudia and Brennen Beyer did the same, only in this instance, Greg Mattison called for the reckless rush from his defensive ends.

With CMU facing a third and ten in the second quarter, Mattison called for a formation that was all the buzz in the NFL two years ago: the wide nine. The formation is named because of the alignment of the defensive ends, who are playing "nine tech", or aligned outside of the tight ends. Even if there aren't tight ends (like on this play), the DEs still play at the nine tech. This is a pure pass-rushing formation.

Prior to the snap, the inside receiver from CMU's bunch formation motions into the backfield. Ojemudia and Beyer remain at the nine tech, but Beyer actually slides a few steps inside. My guess is that he lined up outside of the motion man in the original formation and moved after the offensive shift.

At the snap, Ojemudia rockets off the line and sheds the right tackle (highlighted; bottom). Beyer engages with the left tackle (highlighted; top) but will quickly shed him to get into the backfield. Neither player is considering their run fill responsibilities, opening huge holes between the offensive tackles and guards.

CMU is running a strongside lead iso, and because of the defensive front, Michigan has completely vacated the strongside B gap. You can see Ojemudia and Beyer now both closing in on the backfield, but neither has the momentum to get to the running back. Meanwhile, CMU's lead blocker has attempted to block one of Michigan's DTs who was already falling to the ground.

Central's fullback (#49) is now falling behind the ball carrier (#6). Without the lead blocker, CMU's running back is staring down Joe Bolden.

Bolden freezes and allows Central's running back to bounce outside.

Michigan has reinforcements rallying to the ball, including Ojemudia who you can see chasing the play. As a side note, how nice is it to see seven Michigan defenders in this screen?

The play ends here-ish.


Mattison can somewhat safely call for the wide nine in this scenario. With a chance to get Central off of the field, giving up 5-8 yards on a scramble or, as is the case here, designed run, won't hurt Michigan. But don't expect to see this strategy employed against Braxton Miller or Kain Colter. This play is designed to have the defensive ends disregard their run responsibilities in favor of getting into the backfield. The five-wide underneath zone defenders act as the safety valve if the offense checks into a play that will attack the relentless pass rush. However, had the CMU fullback blocked Bolden, Delonte Hollowell would have been forced to come downhill and make a tackle in the middle of the field, so this is still a risky proposition.

This play forces me to reconsider at least some of Frank Clark's irresponsible pass rush. Mattison values getting to the quarterback with only four pass rushers enough to install the wide nine. But Clark's history does not reveal many of these situations. Chances are good that Clark takes this aspect of the defense as a green light to so consistently ignore his run fits.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How Blake Countess saved a certain touchdown

Central Michigan didn't have many opportunities to put points on the board, but one innovative playcall nearly cost Michigan seven points until Blake Countess read what was developing and made a leaping PBU. No caveats about competition apply here. Countess' field vision and instincts are on full display here and hint at a special year to come.

It's early in the first quarter, and Michigan shows its base 4-3 under formation. The pre-snap alignment shows that Michigan will play single-high safety, man coverage. Josh Furman (lined up on the hash at at the first down line) will cover Central's slot receiver, and Countess is split out wide on CMU's outside receiver.

At the snap, Michigan's middle and weakside linebackers blitz. Central Michigan shows a zone read, leaving the weakside defensive end (Keith Heitzman) unblocked.

Heitzman crashes on the handoff, but doesn't overcommit, about which more next. Furman and Countess begin to head downfield as the CMU slot receiver bows out for a flare screen. This is a triple option look that Michigan deployed often with Rich Rodriguez. Often, after a mesh point in the backfield, Denard had the option to sling the ball outside to his slot receiver. However, the Chippewas tweak the receiver route slightly.

Heitzman realizes that CMU quarterback Alex Niznak pulled the ball on the read. He plants his foot and gives chase to string out the QB run. The ability to string out this play while also forcing the QB pull is not easy to do. This is a promising reaction from a player not expected to make a huge impact this season.

At this point, Furman dismisses his coverage assignment (highlighted). Cam Gordon is scraping over the top of the play to attack the QB run, and even Countess is crashing from the corner to defend the run.

What Furman doesn't realize is that CMU's slot receiver has turned the flare screen into a wheel route and is running upfield undefended (legs highlighted). Countess, being picked by the outside receiver, recognizes that Niznak is pulling up to throw.

As Niznak releases the ball, Countess has actually broken on the pass, recognizing the open defender. On first look, I thought Niznak threw a duck, but if you watch closely, you can see Countess actually tip the ball.

The ball falls harmlessly to the turf. Huzzah.


First, it should be noted that two of CMU's linemen were five yards downfield before the pass was thrown. If it was completed, a flag should have been thrown for illegal man downfield. But the real takeaway is Countess' play recognition and reaction. Not only did he realize that there was a triple option in play here, but he recovered for Furman who had blown his coverage. I was disappointed with the secondary in zone coverage, but don't remember Countess being the culprit on (m)any of those plays.

I've been high on Countess since he came to Michigan, and his junior season debut held nothing but upside. With unproven safeties, having elite cornerbacks will be crucial to relieving pressure and diminishing big plays. Next week, Countess will see more action, which will give us a better indication with how he'll fare this season. But this was a promising start.