CFB Rountable: Spring Football Roundup (1st QTR)
With spring football in the books, it’s time to see how the Black Knights’ opponents are coming together heading into the 2019 season. Alas, AFF’s operating budget didn’t allow for a staff writer to attend every single spring game. Still, we’ve had time to sit down and dissect the media coverage for the various teams on Army’s schedule. Hope springs eternal at this time of year, but even so, we found a few kernels of truth hiding in and amongst all the fluffy words about new schemes and emerging team leaders that have come out from the various beat writers who follow these teams for a living.
We’re going to do this series by quarters. Sources are noted at the end of each article (because plagiarism is wrong) for those who want to dig a little deeper.
Rice University sits smack in the middle of America’s football heartland, but somehow the Owls have managed to put together several of college football’s very worst performances over the past three seasons. Last year’s 2-11 campaign followed a 1-11 season in 2017 and a 3-9 finish in 2016. Rice had been better before that, but somewhere along the way, the wheels fell off.
Coming out of the spring game, it sounds like the Owls are trying to build their defense first. They have a decent-to-good front seven that the coaching staff believes can stop the run and get after quarterbacks. Certainly, they succeeded in their spring game, garnering four sacks and disrupting a passing attack that never really got going. In the second year of DC Brian Smith’s system, we should expect some definite improvement.
RB Ari Broussard led the team on offense with 16 carries for 79 yards (4.9 yards/carry) and a rushing touchdown. Broussard is a converted linebacker, and alarmingly, he seemed to have pretty good day against the supposed strength of his team, even with a passing attack that looked anemic at best. Several reporters noted drops from the wide receiving corps to go with repeated quarterback duress, but somehow Broussard still ran for nearly 5 yards/carry. It’s never good to have drops, but that rushing success is concerning given that it came against what is supposed to be the best part of this team.
The Owls are looking for a playmaking quarterback to emerge this summer. Incumbent QB Wiley Green took first team reps during the spring, but Harvard transfer Tom Stewart might win the job if he can come in and provide stability for the offense. It’s a tough ask, though, for a struggling team to somehow figure this out in time for their opener at Michie Stadium.
— Mike Bloomgren (@mbloom11) April 25, 2019
Michigan has become a favorite among pundits to make the CFB Playoff in 2019. That’s kind of a bold prediction given the way they got masterblasted by Ohio State and Florida to close out 2018, but this is a big-market team with a high-profile coach and plenty of media coverage, and that can lead to more than a little magical thinking. The good news for Wolverine fans is that last year’s late season collapse forced some changes in the program, especially on offense. The bad news is that the program had already seen a lot of change over the last few years. At some point, one wonders when change stops being “evolution” and becomes “turbulence”.
Either way, Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is under a Hell of a lot of pressure to finally win the Big 10 and take that next step. It’s been fourteen years since Michigan won a title, and this is with Harbaugh, a legit big-name coach, having been in the driver’s seat now for the past five.
This year’s big change was bringing in new OC Josh Gattis. Gattis runs a no-huddle, “pro spread” system that uses formations and tempo changes to create coverage mismatches. With this, the Wolverines also plan to run their quarterback aggressively to keep defenses honest. All of which sounds great, and certainly the pros are using formations to try to generate coverage mismatches, but this offense still sounds a Hell of a lot like the uber-college zone-read schemes we’ve seen at places like Houston and UCF in recent years. What about running your quarterback sounds like a “pro” spread?
A lot of Michigan’s success or failure will ride on QB Shea Patterson’s ability to read coverages, make good decisions, and stay healthy. Patterson is getting a monster dose of media coverage, but he’s gonna have to earn it if his Wolverines want to succeed.
Michigan’s defense was great last year… right up until they gave up 62 points to Ohio State. They then struggled with Florida’s misdirection running game, and now they’ve lost multiple starters to the NFL. The Wolverines are returning some linebackers, but we ought to see some new faces along the D-Line, too, maybe even some true freshmen. This is a team that prides itself on rushing the passer, but they want to focus a little more on stopping the run via zone defensive concepts in 2019. That’s not impossible, but it’s going to require a disciplined approach from a young front.
For Army fans, the most interesting thing about Michigan’s defense is that they could be fine—really, better than fine—and still struggle with the Black Knight’s offense. Right now, it looks like the Wolverines have a bunch of young but potentially explosive pass rushers who aren’t necessarily huge, especially at defensive end. If those guys are undisciplined about the way they get upfield early in the season, Army will run right by them with the Fullback Dive, and then, well, it could actually be a long day for the Wolverines. Playing man-coverage on the outside, so you can rush the passer is great in the NFL and against the mostly pro-style offenses that we see in the Power 5. It will get teams beat against the triple-option, however, especially if they don’t necessarily have a big size advantage at the point-of-attack.
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) April 27, 2019
University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners
Coming out of their spring game, consensus seems to be that UTSA’s offense will be better, perhaps much better, while their defense holds steady. That would certainly be an improvement. The Roadrunners scored more than 21 points just twice in 2018. Unfortunately, the team also gave up 30+ points seven times and 40+ points four times enroute to just a three-win season. That’s not ideal. But the Roadrunners went through four quarterbacks without actually finding one, so maybe that had something to do with it.
The good news is that redshirt freshman QB Frank Harris went 8/11 passing in the spring game for 66 yards while running for 47 more yards on just 6 carries (7.8 yards/carry). Most of that came on a single 42-yard scramble. But he showed repeatedly that he has excellent poise and escapability to go with his accuracy, and for that, he won the spring’s Most Improved award.
Harris looks like the most important piece for a team trying to rebuild on offense. If he can stay healthy and provide stability, that’s huge. It helps that he’s playing behind what looks to be a solid starting offensive line. Harris’s White team ran for 129 yards on just 21 carries behind the starters (6.1 yards/carry) with RB Brenden Brady leading the way. Brady had 40 yards on just 6 carries (6.7 yards/carry).
Good-looking running game with an efficient short passing game? That has the makings of a legitimate college offense.
UTSA has a proven coaching staff and a lot of talent. Despite last year’s swoon, this is a team that won six games in each of the two previous seasons. That’s not bad considering that they only started playing Division 1 football in 2012. Plus, the Roadrunners’ schedule features at least four winnable games (Incarnate Word, UTEP, Rice, ODU) in 2019 along with at least three more that ought to be toss-ups (Take your pick: North Texas, Southern Miss, Florida Atlantic, Louisiana Tech).
Don’t sleep on the Roadrunners. They may not challenge for the C-USA West title, but getting back into bowl contention looks like a very real possibility.
The 2017 C-USA Defensive Player of the Year became the first Roadrunner to be picked in the first round of the NFL Draft.#BirdsUp 🤙
— UTSA Football 🏈 (@UTSAFTBL) April 25, 2019
Morgan State Bears
Morgan State named former NFL running back and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley as the program’s new head coach back in February. This looks like a great hire. Wheatley comes in with plenty of big-time experience, including most recently, when he served as running backs coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars. This followed a long, storied career both in college and the NFL. Of particular note to the Bears, Wheatley coached running backs at the collegiate level both at Syracuse and Michigan. At Michigan in particular he gained a reputation for being one of the country’s best recruiters.
Morgan State’s football team is going to need all that experience. The Bears finished 2018 with a relatively respectable record of 4-7, but despite impressive wins over teams like Norfolk State and HBCU powerhouse NC A&T, it’s been a long time since the Bears were consistently good. They’ve also struggled in recent years with academic eligibility requirements. Wheatley therefore has what looks like a pretty serious rebuilding project on his hands.
Morgan State’s new coach comes in with excellent qualifications, so maybe he gets it turned around. However, it’s hard to believe he’ll get it turned around in time for Morgan State to beat Army in the fourth game of the new season.
— Morgan State Football (@MSUBearsFB) February 28, 2019
Matthew Bartlett, “Rice Football Spring Game Takeaways,” The Roost: April 13, 2019.
Glynn A. Hill, “Spring football a time of growth for Rice,” Houston Chronicle: April 8, 2019.
Nick Baumgardner, “Michigan football and Jim Harbaugh know ‘close’ is no longer enough,” Detroit Free Press: April 22, 2019.
Aaron McMann, “Michigan mailbag: Could the Wolverines’ D see a drop off in 2019?” MLive: Apr 19, 2019.
Nick Baumgardner, “Michigan football spring game: QB Shea Patterson looks smooth,” Detroit Free Press: April 13, 2019.
“White downs Blue in UTSA Football Fiesta Spring Game,” GoUTSA.Com: Apr 20, 2019.
Julian Barajas, “One Takeaway From UTSA’s Spring Game,” Last Word on College Sports: April 22, 2019.
J.J. Perez, “Spring Game Takeaways,” InsideRunnerSports.com: April 20, 2019.
MSU Athletic Communications, “Morgan State University Names Tyrone Wheatley As Its New Head Football Coach,” MorganStateBears.Com: February 7, 2019.