Based on what was readily available online, I had the choice of two Rutgers games to break down: their opening-week blowout loss to Washington or last week's blowout loss to Ohio State. I chose the more recent game for this breakdown because RU lost the centerpiece of their offense, Janarion Grant, the week prior, and I wanted to see how they'd function without him. Spoiler alert: not well.
Not well at all. Rutgers punted on every drive that didn't end a half; they didn't even finish a drive in OSU territory. The yakety flea flicker you see above is what happened on the lone occasion they crossed midfield.
They're gonna die.
Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
Glasgow and Taco got shields now that we've tweaked the criteria, and Stribling got his star after last week's performance. On the other side... well, at least they've got a bunch of returning starters? Unfortunately, four of them stand out for the wrong reasons, and TE Nick Arcidiacono easily could've been a fifth—PFF has him grading out at a -7.9 and pretty much equally bad in all phases through four games. This doesn't bode well against a roving band of humanoid ninja stars.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Chris Ash is trying to turn Rutgers into Jersey Ohio State; OC Drew Mehringer is a Tom Herman disciple. This is very much a spread after being more of a hybrid under Kyle Flood.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Rutgers doesn't have the horses up front to run OSU's power read stuff with much success at all. They'll mix some of that in, but for now they're mostly an inside zone team.
Hurry it up or grind it out? Right in the middle. Rutgers is 67th in adjusted pace. They go no-huddle but aren't fast enough to truly tempo defenses.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Was talking with Matt at the Marlin tailgate on Saturday when he broached the idea of buying one of those tailgate trailers with TVs and whatnot for next year. I am strongly encouraging this idea in the sponsor notes of the game column because then I can watch more of the noon games. Do it for your country, Matt.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets and possibly a trailer, Matt is also a good man to know if you need a mortgage. It's striking that we actually get non-astroturfed comments about positive experiences with Matt not infrequently.
If you're buying a home or refinancing, he's the right guy to call.
FORMATION NOTES: Just a couple of oddities other than the train. This was "Ace 3-wide offset." As you can see, the back is... offset.
And Michigan lined up in that formation with Chesson at TE again. Here he is running down the middle of the field.
These formations get appended with "WR hide."
PERSONNEL NOTES: OL and QB as you would expect, with Bushell-Beatty replacing Newsome when he got hurt. Michigan went much more WR-heavy in this game, with around 60 snaps for both Chesson and Darboh out of 77 possible. Perry, Crawford, and McDoom combined for another 38; with Butt near-omnipresent that meant Michigan was without a fullback for about half the snaps.
Smith got about 50% of the RB snaps with Evans and Isaac splitting the rest; Peppers got five snaps, four as a wildcat QB and one as a slot. Asiasi got 23 snaps as the #2 TE with Bunting injured; Wheatley and Michael Jocz(!) got 3 and 2 snaps, respectively.
[After THE JUMP: come on ride the train.]
Watch the receiver at the bottom of the screen
We’re going to be talking more often in the next few weeks about Run-Pass Option (RPO) plays, also known as packaged plays. Rutgers lives off them, Indiana loves them, Maryland is installing them, and Ohio State has made them a bigger part of their offense this year.
The general concept is easy enough: the offense will isolate a defender who has both run and pass responsibilities. The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do, then either throws the pass if that guy attacks the run, or runs the running play if he stays back.
But they’re not good for all seasons—RPOs take advantage of players with both run and pass responsibilities. If there are none, or at least there are super-clear priorities, it’s hard to find a defender to put in a bind. For example Cover 1—which is still Michigan’s base play—has pretty clear-cut jobs for their man-on-man defenders, the linebackers are given small zones they can defend while hanging in to plug their gaps, and one safety is given free reign to roam the deep middle and clean up any runs that get through. But even Michigan can’t stay in Cover 1 forever (cough cough Durkin), and against option-y, spread-to-run teams you’re almost forced to get your safeties involved in the run game, and then once again you’re susceptible to the offense putting that guy in a run-pass bind.
So let’s see how they work.
Solving Stacked Boxes
While run options are an answer to the problem of how to involve your quarterback in the running game, run-pass options address a different age-old problem for offenses looking to run the ball successfully: defenders in the box.
[After the jump: locking them in the box]
[Ed-Ace: For those wondering when you'll see basketball media day and Michigan team preview content, that's coming next week, when I get a bye week breather from football. Until then, Alex has you covered on hoops preview stuff.]
Peter Jok [David Scrivner – Iowa City Press-Citizen]
It was supposed to be Fran McCaffery’s best team in Iowa City: there were four senior starters – and a junior – and those players collectively had more experience than anyone else in the conference by a decent margin. Iowa had been to the tournament in each of the previous two seasons (as an 11-seed, then as a 7-seed) and the level of continuity in the program suggested that there perhaps would be another leap. It was a long time coming after Fran McCaffery’s slow rebuild out of the disastrous Todd Lickliter era.
After the non-conference portion of the season (in which Iowa had a few losses – but no bad ones – and a good win over Wichita State), the Hawkeyes entered Big Ten play and started off hot, winning 10 of their first 11. That start was fueled by season sweeps of Michigan State and Purdue; Iowa ascended from a preseason projection of #36 nationally from Kenpom and spent an entire month of the season in the top five of the algorithm’s rankings. Stretch-4 Jarrod Uthoff and wingman Peter Jok were a formidable one-two punch; the other three senior starters and a deep frontcourt of young talent complemented them well.
A midweek loss to Indiana on the road in early February was the turning point. It was a crazy game: Indiana raced out to a 15-point lead, Iowa battled back to take the lead in the second half, and then the Hoosiers went supernova and scored 17 points in five minutes, winning somewhat comfortably in the end. From there, things spiraled: the Hawkeyes barely beat a horrible Minnesota team at home and then lost four in a row – highlighted by upset losses at Penn State and Ohio State. They won in Ann Arbor to close the regular season and briefly stopped the bleeding – and then lost their Big Ten Tournament opener to lowly Illinois.
Eventually, they were the same seed as the year before – a seven. It wasn’t the first time a McCaffery Iowa team had imploded down the stretch; they were never in danger of missing the tournament like they were in 2014, but with the amount of veteran leadership on the squad – which had been a part of the implosion before – the finish to the season, one that had been so promising, seemed inexplicable. Iowa defeated 10-seed Temple in the Round of 64 before getting routed by Villanova, the eventual national champions, in the next game.
With the graduation of Uthoff, Adam Woodbury, Mike Gesell, and Anthony Clemmons, the Hawkeyes will be forced to replace over half of the team’s minutes; luckily for Iowa, Peter Jok stayed for his senior year and should be one of the best players in the Big Ten this year. The young frontcourt players who got some seasoning last year make those spots less of a concern than point guard, where there are no returning players.
[More on the Hawkeyes after the JUMP]
Biggest risk of not reaching The Game undefeated? Can be opponent or team issue
Seth: My answers are low-score entropy, and the general bloodimindedness of the Big Ten universe. When Stribling fell down those who don't remember Bo-era losses must've thought "well that's what happens when you let a worse team off the hook." Those of us who do thought "Oh no, not again."
Randomness is the enemy of all favorites. When you're an offensive juggernaut with an okay defense, you worry about an injury to your dervish quarterback, conditions that take away something the defense couldn't, and staying on pace. When you're a defensive juggernaut with an okay offense, you worry about the one play.
We were given a treatment for the latter against Wisconsin. When facing a real defense, Michigan's just-okay offense will get bogged down. Michigan can mitigate the inability to kick a 40-yarder with better 4th down strategy, but this feeds the chaos engine.
Iowa brought back most of a great defense and could put it back together at night in Kinnick. Dantonio State will always play its best against Michigan. Indiana is probably better than either of those two and would be utterly terrifying if their chaos seed was just that rather than a curse. And out there on the Big Ten seas lurk the John O'Neill officiating crew, sworn enemies oddsmakers, favorites and ever calling holding unless it didn't happen, and capable of shifting an expected score by 28 points on the regular. When the deck is stacked in your favor, chaos is the enemy
[After THE JUMP: Respekt is earned.]
We have to do this, right?
No matter how many times you look, it's hard to choose. Charles Woodson jumped so high he caught a pass intended for the sideline. Jourdan Lewis long-jumped ~17 feet while backhanding a pass intended for an actual receiver after sticking with him on a dead sprint. Woodson loses minor degree of difficulty points for helping secure the football with his second hand; he regains them and then some by having to toe-tap inside the sideline to complete the catch. Lewis never needs the second hand; he also has the luxury of diving about as far from the sideline as possible. Woodson's came in a rivalry game; Lewis's in a game situation of much greater importance.
Here's the good news: you don't actually have to choose.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the GIFs.]