I did not make this headline up
1/1/2008 - Michigan 41, Florida 35 - 9-4, 6-2 Big Ten
1/2/2008 - West Virginia 48, Oklahoma 28 - 11-2, 6-2 Big East
Every year in February, people around the country who happen to be something other than Chinese vaguely recognize the existence of the Chinese New Year, a holiday that seems simultaneously old and strangely futuristic, much like the odder outposts of Chinese cooking. ("Oyster cake." The mind reels.) Chinese people, of course, go nuts for the biggest holiday on the calendar.
It's later than it should be, it's flashy, enticing, and rousing, and it seems vaguely superior* to old fashioned New Year's largely because of unfamiliarity: the past two days have been Super Chinese New Football Millennium for Michigan fans.
It was nice to send out the old regime with a rousing win. It was better to see it happen with an offense that looked remarkably similar to Rich Rodriguez's spread 'n' shred. And, truthfully, it was better still to watch West Virginia carve the nation's #9 scoring defense into Sooner tots and hold the nation's #3 scoring offense 15 points under its average. Hell, if West Virginia wasn't forced to play Ryan Mundy they would have yielded two fewer personal fouls and one fewer 60-ish yard pass reception and possibly turned the game into the laugher it always threatened to become.
Rich Rodriguez put that team together, and though he was absent the framework of that team's offense and defense were his responsibility. That team's offensive and defensive coordinators will be Michigan's offensive and defensive coordinators. That team's recruiting coordinator will be Michigan's recruiting coordinator. And that team was a national-championship-caliber one cobbled together from quarterbacks LSU wanted as a wide receiver and terror-beast fullbacks from Division III schools in Wisconsin.
This might have been a good hire.
Meanwhile in Orlando, Michigan put on a show that was at once tantalizing and depressing. Let's be clear: Michigan's ability to put up numbers like this would not have saved them against Wisconsin and Ohio State, when Ryan Mallett and Chad Henne's busted shoulder combined to put up the worst back-to-back quarterbacking performances in Lloyd Carr's career, but it's impossible to watch Michigan refuse to punt after the first quarter and not wonder "what if" about a half-dozen games over the past decade. Even the one standout piece of Lloydery, Michigan's final run-run-run-oops-let's-FG drive, was apparently the result of a screwed up Henne check instead of Lloyd Carr giving his old "how to lose in the fourth quarter" playbook one last spin.
(Not that there should have been the option for a run check there anyway, and it is mighty suspicious that Henne would prefer said run, as it makes no sense unless you've undergone some serious protect-ball-all-costs brainwashing. But nevermind all that. It doesn't matter.)
And any questions about said lose-it-late playbook were obliterated when Ron English did what he'd done all day: make the Florida offensive line look like Ohio State's in the Not Fiesta Bowl last year. He attacked.
The whole team attacked; the whole team looked entirely different, like a group of people determined to make the future something of their own devising. One of the most frustrating aspects of the Carr era was the frequent appearance that Michigan is coached like it is afraid of a poor outcome. For an example, check any late-game punt from inside the opponent's 40. Too often Michigan has passed up the right call in favor of the safe call, and it has cost them.
But not this year, and not in the future. Michigan took control of the Heisman winner, battering him until his final pass wobbled skyward and fell to the ground. West Virginia met every attempted Oklahoma comeback with a thunderous riposte. No shells. No idly hoping things fall your way. No waiting to be given something. Reach out and take it. It's a new year.
- And so it goes when Michigan plays the SEC. Even leaving aside the Vanderbilt game, Michigan is 5-1 against the home of "southern speed" in their last six bowl matchups. Why does the SEC suck so much? Why can't they be competitive against us? Am I enjoying being as parochial and narrow-minded as virtually every football fan south of Maryland? No, not really.
- Do we like the 3-3-5 a little more now? The final numbers were respectable for Oklahoma -- 419 yards and 28 points -- but WVU was ahead so much most of the night that OU was in desperation mode from midway in the third quarter on. OU's final two drives netted a useless 76 yards as WVU was correctly in a full-on prevent; without those this team held OU 100 yards under its season average. (This is obviously not quite fair, but if WVU had been grinding the clock out instead of, like, scoring on the first play of every drive those yards would never have happened; WVU's D faced 14 drives, a hefty total.)
- And that was with OU almost literally holding on every play, the sort of holds that get called "egregious" by the announcers, not the sort of holds Penn State fans envision whenever someone in a winged helmet deigns to block anyone. OU picked up a half-dozen holding calls; another half-dozen must-calls went unnoticed. WVU dominated one of the most grinding, powerful offensive lines in the country with their speed and angles. They did this without the use of their best defensive lineman for most of the night.
- Jeff Casteel would be A-OK by me.
- FOX is a terrible network to watch college football on. At points during the Fiesta last night we were treated to the following instead of onfield action: 1) an ad for some stupid movie, 2) an inversion of the "dingle berry" picture that lit up the hur-hur-hur sections of the blogosphere earlier this year, and most egregiously 3) completely inert Gatorade containers. Anyone who wasn't Pat Haden was completely useless.
- B&B made mention of this, and it's true: the gap between Mike Patrick and Todd Blackledge is immense. Blackledge made the most salient point I've heard an announcer make all year when he pointed out that though Tim Tebow has a gazillion rushing yards and touchdowns, he's not Dennis Dixon or Armanti Edwards and the threat of Owen Schmitt taking off and rumbling through your secondary just doesn't come with the same elevated threat level. I actually said out loud to no one in particular "huh. That's a really good p
oint." Meanwhile, Mike Patrick called Arrington "Harrington" for most of the first half.
- The one downer in an otherwise schwing kind of game yesterday was the parade of personal fouls; twice WVU got not one but two on the same play; both times one of the offenders was Mundy. This is probably a fluke; I'll take a look at RR's penalty yardage over the years at some point in an attempt to confirm. Also, we can blame that on interim head coach Bill Stewart.
- SMQB has us pegged.
- Achtung, pounding PA FB/HB Christian Wilson and your potentially iffy commitment:
This offense... it's not so bad for you.
(*Less chance of waking up with a raging hangover and an ominous creaking/neighing sound coming from the other side of the bed; also the parades seem way more fun.)
The Toledo Blade is causing a tizzy with a piece headlined "Mallett planning to transfer", but the actual texty bits are not so strident:
There is speculation out of Ann Arbor that freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett has decided to leave Michigan and will transfer to UCLA, according to a person close to the team.
CYA to the max, but probably not a good sign.
Perhaps you can take comfort in this?
In his diary entry dated Dec. 30, [MI RB Jonas] Gray writes, "If I had to guess where Terrelle goes, I would say he ends up at Ohio State. I could still see him at Michigan, but he's going to watch the Ryan Mallett situation closely. I know Mallett is going to decide after the (Capital One) bowl game and if he decides to transfer, Terrelle Pryor is going to Michigan. I have a real good feel for that."
Stay stay stay. Questions about the commitment statuses of two of the more highly-rated commits have been answered. Sam McGuffie:
"He was just like, 'You've seen what Noel Devine has done and Steve Slaton, fast guys like that. We can get you the ball like that and incorporate you the same way.' That will be good. Just get me in space and let me shake some people."
"Where I stand right now, the day of the game, I'll make my commitment to Michigan," Cissoko said. "I actually got my hat in the bag. I talked to coach (Rich)Rodriguez and I talked to his staff also so right now everything is going smooth for me."
Meanwhile, Michigan is widely expected to have to deal with a re-recruiting job on one Ryan Mallett, the presumptive starter at quarterback next season should he choose to stick around. Rodriguez on his conversations to date with Mallett:
"I've talked to Ryan twice about it and told him our offensive system can really fit different skill players on offense whether you're a drop-back guy or a multi-purpose quarterback that can run or throw," Rodriguez said. "He's got to trust it. If he doesn't see his fit, that's his decision. We certainly hope he stays around. I think he's a talented young man who's got a lot of ability, and we can fit our system to the best quarterback."
Also of note in that article is one hell of a final, unexplained sentence: "In terms of recruiting for the 2008 class, Rodriguez said he expects to sign a full class of 25."
This would mean serious attrition. At the moment I think Michigan has 19 scholarships open, -- that's what the board says, anyway -- and that's with the projected departures of little-used seniors Grant DeBenedictis and Brett Gallimore (both have a fifth year available, but are unlikely to ever see the field). Mario Manningham's universally expected NFL departure is not included in that, and there are rumblings that Adrian Arrington, Terrance Taylor, and Tim Jamison could enter as well. If all those guys left, 1) that would suck and 2) that would still leave Michigan two scholarships short of 25. One additional departure possibility: redshirt freshman DT Jason Kates, who did not make the bowl trip for unexplained reasons.
Assistant rejiggeration. We know that OC Calvin Magee, recruiting coordinator and defensive backs coach Tony Gibson, and current Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson will be members of Rich Rodriguez' staff. We know that Ron English, who is now the defensive coordinator at Louisville will not. The assumption past those four was Rodriguez might retain a couple more Michigan assistants -- most likely some combination of Loeffler, Campbell, and Stripling -- and fill in the rest of the gaps with former Mountaineers. In the same article linked above, however, Rodriguez leaves the door open for some outside hires:
[Rodriguez] has not yet finalized his staff. "Not completely," Rodriguez said. "I have some, obviously, in mind. When all the bowl games are over, I'll complete it probably within a week."
Rodriguez said he has not completely ruled out rehiring others from Carr's staff.
"That's yet to be determined," Rodriguez said. "To be fair to everyone, I met with all the guys (on Dec. 20). They were very good, very professional about it. Obviously I'm very loyal to the staff I had at West Virginia, with several of them coming with me and several others, possibly, from other schools."
Probably the most important decision facing Rodriguez at this juncture is whether to bring over current WVU DC Jeff Casteel and continue using the 3-3-5, a defense often derided as doomed against the power rushing attacks that supposedly dominate the Big Ten.
But... like... why is it derided like so? West Virginia's rush defense rankings over the past several years:
That ugly "104" was the year that spurred WVU's shift to the 3-3-5; implementation of said saw their rush defense immediately fly up 74 spots. Since their implementation of the stack, WVU has never finished below average in run defense and has been top twenty the past few years.
Beating up on overmatched opponents? Perhaps. But this is a complete listing of West Virginia's front seven (eight, actually, as the stack is always an eight-man front) draft picks in the odd stack era:
2003 5 144 James Davis LB Detroit Lions
(FWIW, two corners were also taken. In general, the WVU draft history stands as a tribute to Rodriguez's coaching ability. He's had two first-day picks in the entirety of his tenure at WVU, though when Slaton comes out he'll likely make it three. Michigan doubles that in a good year. He must feel like a kid in a candy store.)
WVU does not appear to have a massive talent advantage against the Big East. There is probably something to the theory that one extra game against a nonconference chump helps the stats out, but that's a marginal effect at best.
Does West Virginia's explosive offense get teams behind so quickly that they abandon the run? This does not appear to be a major effect. Rush and pass attempts by WVU opponents the past three years:
|Year||Rush Att||Pass Att|
Over the past three years -- both the apex of Rodriguez' spread 'n' shred offense and West Virginia's run defense -- opponents have run more than half the time.
I went to the trouble of purchasing the 3-3-5 coaching thing video put out by Casteel and WVU the year after their switch, and the interesting thing about it was its complete and wholesale focus on the run game. Every time they explored how they lined up against an opponent, it was player X has the C gap, player Y has the A gap, with only cursory references to what's done in pass coverage. The 3-3-5 is a rush defense that's quite effective despite having all of one NFL player at its disposal during its tenure at West Virginia.
I know John Tenuta is sexy, the Scarlett Johannson of defensive coordinators, but Casteel has quietly assembled an innovative and effective system without a major talent advantage over his competition and would be an attractive candidate even if he was the recently freed coordinator at Georgia Tech instead of Rodriguez' right-hand man.
Note: I previously stated there would be no CapOne UFR due to its general irrelevance for the program going forward, but since that was a pass-based spread offense that seemed to incorporate many facets of what Rodriguez does said irrelevance no longer applies and I'll do one early next week. I'm also downloading a couple WVU games and will provide those later this month.
Videos galore. A pre-bowl fluff piece with Carr:
And Carr's final locker-room speech:
Highlights from the Big Ten Network are at MSC; damn if I can figure out how to embed it, though. There are also kips from frequent clip provider Chris at Dangerous Logic:
TSN has the Arrington catch in all its spectacular glory:
And finally, MSC also links to this BTN video of Shawn Crable calling out Kirk Herbstreit:
Not sure of the wisdom of calling out someone for saying you have no D after giving up 35 points, but whatever.
Torrent is up here; Ten Yard Torrents registration required.
VEQ? Miscommunication, poor scheduling, and a post-Independence-Bowl -drinking-game induced screwup meant Orson and I did not hook up. And yes, I mean it just like that.
So, right. Tomorrow at 1 PM Michigan plays Florida. This is what we know:
Run Offense vs. Florida
Mike Hart's ankle injury seemed innocuous in the aftermath of the Purdue game, but quickly metastasized into a season-crippling disaster that lingered for the rest of the year. Though he played against Michigan State and Ohio State, he missed games against Illinois, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and was ineffective even when in the game.
Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown were adequate to good against Illinois and Minnesota, non-factors against Michigan State, and swarmed under against Wisconsin; OSU had a steady diet of TFLs against a gimpy Hart and a lost offensive line.
Florida's 11th-ranked rushing offense appears to pose a stiff test, but a closer look reveals an inconsistent unit that benefited from a soft rushing schedule. Florida State was 96th nationally, South Carolina 101st, and a large portion of the rest of the schedule was Troy and Florida Atlantic and Vandy. Against teams in the same approximate range as Michigan's #44 ranking -- which is may be distorted postively by Michigan's run-pass distribution (56% run) but is also distorted negatively by Hart's extended absence -- this is how Florida did:
|Team||Rush Off||Att v UF||Yards v UF||YPC v UF|
(Note that QB and "team" carries were excised for everyone except Auburn's Kodi Burns and LSU's duo -- LSU uses a lot of option and QB draws even with Flynn in the game -- as Florida racked up a large number of sacks in certain games, distorting the totals. Team carries are almost always kneeldowns. Sacks are passing events and will be dealt with in another section.)
This concludes the pulse-bearing rush attack section of the Florida schedule. There is one dominant performance, one pretty good one, and three decidedly meh ones. I tentatively declare Florida's rush defense a paper tiger.
Will this matter given Michigan's downright dismal performances against Wisconsin and Ohio State? I lean towards no. Michigan's scheme has been void of new ideas since the Oregon game and is currently trying to make do with a terribly out-of-shape Alex Mitchell as a starter. Steve Schilling has also been ineffective most of the year, though more prominently in pass pickup, and Carson Butler is guaranteed to pick up one holding penalty and utterly whiff on three other blocks. There are too many points of failure, and Michigan's run offense is probably closer to the Tennessee-Auburn level than that of the three teams that seriously torched
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus His Traitorous Ankle. I should have an actual matchup for the Ohio State game, but nothing will impact Michigan's run game more than the status of Hart's gimpy wheel.
Pass Offense vs. Florida
Ohio State preview:
This preview assumes that Chad Henne will play; if he does not please substitute "HEAD FOR THE HILLS! ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE!" for the text in this space.
Henne did play, but was obviously broken. If he remains broken you can feel free to change the channel at halftime. The current state of injury rumor suggests that this may be the case, but we won't know until Henne starts throwing. More ducks like the OSU game and it'll be a long day. If he's on, really on, like Henne at his apex, Michigan can keep it close and maybe pull it out with a bounce or two, but I don't think anyone's banking on that anymore.
This is where the Gator sacks come in: though they racked up huge numbers against Auburn and Kentucky above, Florida was actually pretty average at this: 58th nationally at just over two per game. UF has a couple of decent-to-good defensive ends -- as a true sophomore, Jermaine Cunningham is definitely promising -- but no one on the level of OSU terror Vernon Gholston. With some help for Schilling, Michigan may be able to forestall the Florida pass rush decently. This would allow them access to the Gator achilles heel, their crappy defensive backs. Every time people are surveyed about Michigan's preferred strategy in this game someone says "attack Florida's crappy defensive backs with your excellent receivers," and this makes sense around these parts, too.
The catch: Henne's shoulder was separated in the Illinois game and held together until Wisconsin, at which point he left the game and Michigan collapsed to two straight season-ending losses. Will it be better? Dunno. But I bet you can guess the next section...
Key Matchup: Henne versus his traitorous shoulder. Unless he's a lot better than he was against OSU, we dead.
Run Defense vs. Florida
Ohio State preview:
I'm looking for a way this won't be ugly and can't find one.
What do you get when you combine Armanti Edwards, Chris Wells and jean shorts?
Goddammit. The progenitor of the term "OMG shirtless," Tim Tebow went from uber-recruit to Heisman winner in two years. Michigan's rush defense has had two weaknesses this year: the zone read and interior running. Given this, Tim Tebow is hell in pads. Then there's Kehstan Moore, mighty mite Brandon James, and Percy Harvin.
Percy Harvin. Goddammit. Percy Harvin is also an uber-recruit, and every time I watch him play I'm reminded of this:
Considering that Ohio State's quarterback spent the day doing his best Jimmah Clausen impression and Tressel gave up on anything not totally predictable as soon as he got a two-score lead, Michigan did an okay job on Chris Wells aside from a 62-yard touchdown jaunt and several other trips into the secondary.
Key Matchup: Uh... Tebow versus cowering.
Pass Defense vs. Florida
This has been a pleasant surprise. Morgan Trent matured into a respectable corner and Donovan Warren has turned out to be worthy of his recruiting hype. Brandon Harrison had a fine year as the teams nickelback and even if the safeties weren't great they were fairly competent. A soft schedule helped, but Michigan still finished the year 13th in pass efficiency defense.
Problem: checking Florida's passing efficiency reveals a big shiny #1
. Tebow is not just a runner but an excellent passer; his ability to be a one-man play action only heightens his crazy ninja football skils. Harvin is a terror here, too; three other Florida receivers have more than thirty catches. This is an advanced, diverse, and threatening pass offense that plays off the Florida run game to excellent effect. Maybe Michigan could find a weakness here if they took away said run game -- Florida is even more run-heavy than Michigan, rushing the ball on 58% of their snaps -- but that is extremely unlikely to happen.
Key Matchup: Trent/Warren on Harvin? Hard to pick out anything in particular here, as Brandon Graham stopped being a dominant pass rusher once teams started running at him constantly and there is no #1 threat for Michigan to shut down amongst the panoply of Florida wideouts.
- Henne looks un-improved.
- The team looks listless. (IE: the team looks like it's looked most of the year.)
- Mallett transfers at halftime.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- We did hire Rich Rodriguez. And they'll probably talk about that. Cackle then.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Chrisanti Edwells, +1 for Yeah, We're Still Frickin' Gimpy, +1 for Not A Virtual Road Game, An Actual Road Game, +1 for And No One Cares, I Bet This Extends To The Players, +1 for Real Chance of Tennessee Replay).
Desperate need to win level: 2 out of 10. (Baseline 5, -3 for Who Cares?, -1 for I'd Rather Watch The 2005 Sugar Bowl, -1 for This Has No Bearing On The Future, +1 for I'd Like To See Hart Win Something, Anything, +1 for SEC Fans Are So Annoying)
Loss will cause me to... UFR WVU games.
Win will cause me to... UFR WVU games.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
We lose bad. This team has been disjointed and disinterested most of the year, and now they know they're in this bowl they don't deserve to be in against a team that's probably a lot better than them; the coaching staff is getting replaced wholesale, to boot.
And we're playing some sort of awful hybrid Michigan kryptonite, and it's a 100% road game, and it appears that one or both of Hart/Henne will not be 100%. Woo! Shoot me.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- 4 Michigan fans attend.
- They're pretty pissed off.
- Florida, 35-17.