Wisconsin's 30-6 blowout of Michigan State was one of the more surprising results from last weekend despite UW's opening-week win over LSU, which it's safe to say has lost some of its shine. After an uninspiring win over Georgia State—which is not Georgia Southern in name or football ability—the Badgers switched quarterbacks from senior Bart Houston to redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook, and the results were better than expected.
The results also weren't quite as good as the final score would have you believe. Wisconsin's drives in non-garbage time:
- 17-play, 65-yard TD drive requiring two fourth-down conversions
- six-play, 28-yard TD drive set up by an interception
- one-play, five-yard TD "drive" after MSU's punter dropped a high snap
- ten-play, 54-yard drive for a 41-yard FG
- six-play, 31-yard drive ending in a fumble on 2nd-and-ten
- seven-play, 45-yard end-of-half drive ending in a Hornibrook interception with one second left
- ten-play, 57-yard drive ending in a punt
- two three-and-outs
Both fourth-quarter drives, after UW already had a 30-6 lead, were three-and-outs. The defense added another touchdown on a fumble return. Meanwhile, one could argue their best drive of the day averaged 3.8 yards per play. Even taking out the two garbage-time drives, the Badgers only averaged 5.0 yards per play.
Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
Yes, Wisconsin rotates two fullbacks who are both quite good, which would be the most Wisconsin thing if Harbaugh hadn't come along.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Beef. Wisconsin rarely goes into shotgun or fields more than two receivers unless faced with an obvious passing down. And, again, two-fullback rotation.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? MANBALL, as you probably guessed. Paul Chryst is very much a part of the Barry Alvarez coaching tree; before a three-year stint as Pitt's head coach, he was Wisconsin's offensive coordinator from 2005-2011, and he played QB for UW in the late '80s. While Chryst has largely been an inside zone guy, he called a lot of power in this game for reasons I'll get into later.
Hurry it up or grind it out? A surprisingly quick grind? UW huddles between most snaps and don't ever try to tempo the defense, but they're an above-average 45th in adjusted pace. I'm honestly not sure how to explain that. They're a good deal slower than UCF and Colorado, and despite what David Jones would have you believe, much faster to get plays off than Penn State.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
SPONSOR NOTES: Getting a mortgage with Matt is a matter of collecting your documents, getting them uploaded to the secure server, and then checking out a set of rates while wearing whatever you want, like pants. Or... not pants.
In addition to being a gentleman replete with Michigan tickets, 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: Okay. Breaking things into front and cover look seems to be mostly functional. By "press" I mean that the two outside corners are in press. Usually the slots are still a number of yards off. This was a 4-2-5 package. The front is nickel over—Peppers is playing S and the line slides towards the run strength—and the cover look was press two high:
Goal line package was called 4-4 press zero:
When Michigan went to a dime package they had a couple of different approaches. This is a 3-man front like you'd see in a 3-4 with OLBs flanking it and just one ILB:
I called this front 3-3 split. They also did some wacky stuff, like putting all three DL to one side of the line:
"Heavy slide 3-3-5." Taco Charlton, the nominal nose tackle, will help tackle an outside run to the top of the field.
And as a reminder I'm lumping all fronts with a bunch of dudes at the LOS under "okie":
BTW, "half press" or "off" looks are usually zone so far.
PERSONNEL NOTES: Just 57 defensive snaps and a ton of rotation on the DL. Charlton seems all the way back and in fact took the most of any DL(39); Godin, Glasgow, Hurst, Wormley, and Gary all had around 30. Winovich got 22.
The two ILBs got every snap until the final drive; McCray was lifted a few times when Michigan went to passing down packages. Furbush debuted for the final two drives. Stribling, Hill, Peppers, Thomas, and Lewis were near-omnipresent. Clark got just 15 snaps before his exit; Kinnel got 23.
[After THE JUMP: this is turning into the usual Penn State game.]
Malcolm Hill [Mike Granse – USA Today]
Basketball season will get here sooner than you think: this is the first of 14 Big Ten team previews.
One of the Big Ten’s most historically prestigious programs has fallen on hard times as of late: Illinois has won just two NCAA Tournament games in the last ten years and haven’t had a winning record in conference play since 2010. Last season, three long-term injuries to would-be starters put the Illini in free fall – they finished with a losing record and a 12th-place finish in the Big Ten. Of their five conference wins, four came against Rutgers and Minnesota (two historically bad teams) – and two of those games were won in overtime.
John Groce, a former Thad Matta assistant, is now in his fifth season in Champaign – Illinois’s Kenpom rating has fallen every year of his tenure and they have missed three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. While last year’s spate of injuries offers an excuse – and a very good recruiting class that’s entering its senior year of high school offers hope moving forward – Groce probably needs to show marked improvement to survive at Illinois.
The return of those three injured players will help: despite Tracy Abrams’s inefficiency, he’s a decided step up from last season’s point guards; Leron Black was a touted recruit and will improve Illinois on the glass; mammoth Charlotte transfer Mike Thorne could be a double-double machine. The Illini had two main scorers after the injuries – wings Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. While Nunn was dismissed, Hill will be returning for his senior year after putting up 18.1 points per game as a junior. Black’s return will likely slide Hill (who operated mostly as a mid-range iso player a year ago) from the four to the three.
A jump into NCAA Tournament contention will require some significant changes, as Illinois was equally bad on offense and defense and finished –10 points per 100 possessions against Big Ten opponents last season. Even though any chance of success last season was effectively wiped out by those injuries, it’s debatable as to how much any of those players would have helped as the Illini lost to low-majors North Florida and Chattanooga at home even with Thorne and Black. Groce will get another go of it with a veteran-laden roster, but that roster falls towards the worse half of the Big Ten and an NCAA Tournament bid would surprise.
[More on the Illini after the JUMP]
[UM Bentley Library]
It was 1986 and Michigan’s senior quarterback Jim Harbaugh was 30 minutes away from having to eat his brash prediction. That’s when Bo’s top assistant Jerry Hanlon told his troops how they’d attack the Buckeyes in the second half: MOAR tight ends. By John Kryk’s count, Michigan came out in some kind of balanced (a tight end on either side) formation just 3/38 plays in the first half, when Ohio State mostly shut down the Wolverine offense. In the second half that went to 25/38. Their plan was to see where Ohio State’s great linebacker, Chris Spielman, would line up, and go the other way. Here’s how Cam Cameron—yes the same guy who got Les Miles fired at LSU—explained their reasoning at the time in Kryk’s HTTV article:
“Real simple,” Cameron says. “We were just trying to balance up Ohio State’s defensive front. Really, it gave us a double strength formation. It gave us a strong-side running attack either right or left. Once you balance the defense, now you can run strategically away from the safety, and you just get stronger at the point of attack. They had shifted their defense to our tight end, and any time a team did that to us we were going to balance them off with two tight ends.”
The tradeoff was going with just one wide receiver, at which point either your running game is going to win its matchups or lose the game, because passing is severely nerfed. What made that a win for Michigan wasn’t this macro strategy, however, but the subtle blocking tweaks that Bo—ever the offensive line coach—and Hanlon had instilled in their linemen.
~~~~~~30 YEARS LATER~~~~~~
Penn State is, by some margin, the worst-coached team on Michigan’s schedule this year. I’m nobody’s idea of a football coach, so when I was picking up on things Michigan was doing in the middle of a series and Penn State wasn’t reacting, either I’m just guessing really luckily or it’s a REALLY bad sign for the sideline.
Wilton Speight said this in the postgame presser:
“Yeah, I think there was one drive—I think it was the third or fourth quarter—where we called the same play like eight times in a row. We would just flip it back and forth, and I started laughing looking at the play call because they’d do the same signal, same number in every time. The linemen were getting so excited because I’d call the same play. I think we were getting like nine or 10 a pop, so when that happens it’s demoralizing, probably, for a defense. I’ve never played defense, but I can imagine that would suck to go through that every single play having someone just run you over. That builds our confidence and probably makes them lose confidence.”
Calling the same play and relying on minutiae is a bit old fashioned, but not completely out of style, especially if your opponent has already thrown in the towel. This drive occurred after Penn State punted on 4th and 1 while down four scores with about a quarter and a half left to play. Michigan picked up a big chunk on their rollout draw and Speight turfed a throw to Perry when Mason Cole uncharacteristically got bowled back into the pocket. Then this sequence happened.
Bo would have loved it. And Michigan’s upcoming opponent Wisconsin would instantly recognize it. Let’s jump and see what Michigan was doing.
[After the JUMP: balanced formation and inside zone]
David and I traveled to the friendly confines of Wayne State’s Tom Adams Field last Friday to watch Orchard Lake St. Mary’s take on De La Salle. It was a beautiful game for a certain definition of the word; if you like heavy sets and spread-to-run offenses, then this was a game for you. It was also kind of ugly. Neither team had much of a passing game to speak of, and a fairly strong wind made punting an adventure, as one punt looked like it was going out of bounds before a gust sent it careening past the sidelines toward the stands. OLSM ended up eking out a 14-7 win while holding De La Salle to 63 yards passing and 81 yards rushing.
De La Salle’s offense may not have been able to get much going, but their zone read and jet sweep action made it an interesting game for linebackers. It just so happens that a linebacker is exactly who David and I were there to watch, as we wanted to get a look at how Michigan commit Josh Ross had developed halfway through his senior season.
[Video and scouting of Ross after THE JUMP]
"I've been thinking a lot about this over the last four, five, six weeks," Harbaugh said after No. 4 Michigan's win. "Because I am the football coach doesn't mean I can dictate to people what they believe. I support our guys. I think this is something, it's not going away, it's gonna keep happening."
Jim Harbaugh didn't know ahead of time about the pregame display of unity and strength by members of the football team, but hearing his postgame comments, it's clear his players have his full support. That became even more important yesterday, when racist propaganda was posted around campus, prompting a denouncement of the fliers from the University and a protest at the Fishbowl.
I know how our readers feel about getting politics mixed with their sports, so I'll keep this brief, though as Harbaugh said, this isn't something that's going away. As a human being, I was horrified to see what appeared on campus yesterday; as a Michigan grad, I could not be more proud of the actions and statements from the players, the support and response from the program, and the swift action taken by many on campus. I hope we can all agree that hate has no home at U-M. For far more nuanced thoughts on this, I strongly encourage you to read these pieces by MTV News's Jane Coaston, a Michigan grad, and SBNation's Spencer Hall.
And now, let's see that ref take a football to the face again.
[Hit THE JUMP for the Penn State game in GIFs.]