The complexities of football don’t become easier defending against a triple-option.
Against Army last Saturday, Don Brown said Michigan called a blitz “every snap of the game.” Of course, it’s more complex than that — they only actually ran a blitz 18-20 times. Bridging the space between the initial call and what the Wolverines actually ended up doing falls to the middle linebacker.
Brown gave the example of Army coming out in a double slot formation. The middle linebacker’s job was to use the ‘Horns up’ signal — Longhorn, in Michigan’s parlance — indicating the triple option, which starts with the same letter T as Texas. The alternative is just yelling “Blitz!” the result of which is self-explanatory.
The example was small and understandable enough that Brown could explain it to a group of reporters — most of whom aren’t qualified to step onto a football field — in minutes. So imagine a whole book of them, then imagine a player getting that responsibility thrust on him midgame, and then you might understand Jordan Anthony’s predicament.
Anthony, a redshirt sophomore, had played in eight games at Michigan before last Saturday. In three of them, he played only special teams, and in the other five, he contributed in bite-sized increments, often at the end of blowouts. He’s never totaled a sack or a tackle for loss in college. Certainly, he had never played a half of football for the Wolverines in which he was on the field as much as Saturday. As soon as starting linebacker Josh Ross went out with a stinger, it was almost inevitable that Anthony would notch career highs in every category in which he put up a stat.
“He’s played about this much time for us since he’s been here,” Brown said, gesturing to indicate just how little time it was. “Now he’s going to take over.”
For Michigan’s defense, a unit that faced questions all offseason about losing Devin Bush in the middle, this was quietly as big a test as Ross taking over the position. In the past, it had the requisite depth to withstand injuries. Now?
Let Lavert Hill explain.
“Jordan Anthony came in, he just stepped up big time for Josh Ross,” the senior cornerback said. “He just came in, did what he had to do, just helped us get to win.”
The Black Knights scored 14 points in the first half; they wouldn’t score again until overtime. Anthony made four tackles — as many as he did all of last season — and kept up with those calls. Michigan won, and the consternation this week is not about a defense that lost its best three players to the NFL, but an offense that came into this season as a presumed upgrade.
This is the kind of depth that Brown dreams of at any position. Ross is a year ahead of Anthony, having played his freshman year instead of redshirting. Through two games (with the obvious disclaimer for level of competition), he’s provided adequate replacement of Bush. When he went down, Anthony did the same for him, and did it against a team for which complication is inherent.
“And in the half of football — ‘How did he play?’ ” Brown said, incredulous at his own fake question. “Well all I know is the half of football he played, they scored zero points, so how do you think he played?
“It’s amazing to me.”