national champs baby
Taking what I can get. Yes, Michigan did beat Central Michigan handily in their season opener, waxing the Chips 87-60. Both Big Ten Wonk and Hawkeye Hoops wonder aloud whether Tommy Amaker is reading blogs for his strategery, as Daniel Horton took all of four shots in 27 minutes and allowed Abram and Sims to shoot 16-for-20. I'm guessing he doesn't; the turtleneck thing persists.
Big Ten Wonk pointed out offensive rebounding as a canary-in-the-coalmine stat for Michigan this year, but I'll be looking closely at two other stats: defensive rebounding and turnover percentage, especially from the guards. I'm resigned to the fact that Hunter, Brown, and Sims are all going to turn the ball over with frequency, but there should be a dramatic improvement in the backcourt. For all of Horton's fobiles and Harris' struggles, they're worlds better than Dani Wohl, Ashtyn Bell, and the rest of the IM All Stars. As far as defensive rebounding goes, there's just no excuse for a team with a veteran and deep set of posts and a couple wings (Coleman and Abram) who are capable on the glass to finish dead freakin' last in the league. Michigan must improve drastically to compete for an NCAA spot.
So far? Freshman Jerrett Smith had nine assists and two turnovers; Horton had four and zero. Ominously, 17 turnovers were turned in by others, including four each from Abram and Sims. Better news is to be found in the defensive rebounding, as Michigan crushed the Chips to the tune of 86%. Even notoriously soft Chris Hunter got in on the act with seven defensive boards in only 19 minutes.
Yeah, other people think it sucks, too. RBUAS:
It was 21-12 and I kept getting the feeling I'd seen this game before. The way the lead was so unsatisfying, how bewilderingly it had been obtained, and how petrified I was even while up nine points, knowing fate would soon realign itself and things would be back to normal, with Michigan baffled as to how another one got away
ugh, it was like watching the Lions.
Ah, the joke that never got to be made. After all-everything Ted Ginn handled a couple of punts like an epileptic with a hot potato, I was foaming at the mouth to make the "nice muff" joke. Twice. But Michigan wouldn't let that happen.
Joey's probably twitching in a ditch somewhere, but no doubt he'll check in with something appropriately rabid.
Drafty bits. The NHL's Central Scouting Bureau has released its preliminary rankings, which you can see up at INCH. Long story short: Mitera #3, Miller #17, Turnbull #21, Swystun #25, and Sauer the #1 goalie. The preliminary rankings are only per league, but since the NCAA has averaged from 5-8 first round picks in recent years, it appears that Mitera is a likely first-rounder. Sauer may be as well, though it's really hard to tell with goalies until much later in the year.
Well, there's always the Pistons. Despite getting blown out of Dallas by the end of the first quarter on Saturday, they're still 8-1 and Rasheed is still saying things like this:
"I'm telling you, Darko is a Serbian gangster," Rasheed Wallace said. "Darko's got some bodies back there (in Serbia-Montenegro). He can go psycho on guys."
XOXOXO Sheed. Remember that he is known as the King of Vulgarities when he takes a penalty.
(via Detroit Bad Boys)
11/19/2005 - Michigan 21-25 Ohio State - 7-4, 5-3 Big Ten
Now, despite forcing myself away from this space until I could compose some semi-rational thoughts, comes the bile. It won't go away and I have to write something. I pre-apologize. There's little less seemly than the semi-coherent invective of a fan directed at a coach, but the camel got an anvil this year. I wish this was better, but since it's not in all caps and I retroactively removed all the swearing and (non-oblique) references to retards I declare a tenuous victory over emotion.
I'm not the kind of person to go around blathering about how I was OMG RIGHT. I wrote a lot of words this year. Random chance indicates that some of them are going to be right. But did it have to be this stuff?
When Wisconsin took the ball with around 4 minutes left and calmly marched for a winning touchdown, I said this:
So how about that strategic blunder?
Michigan allowed the worst possible thing to happen to them on Wisconsin's final drive: a touchdown with vanishingly little time on the clock. When the Badgers got the ball back Michigan should gone nuts with aggressive man to man and blitzing to prevent the 8-10 yard plays that Wisconsin got with frequency. They were aggressive up front with eight man fronts but the coverage they played behind it was soft and the corners and safeties were playing far off. When it became clear that Wisconsin was A) going to have more than enough time to do whatever they want and B) not going to punt, Michigan should have taken its timeouts and told Wisconsin that if they were going to score, they were going to score quickly. First and ten from the 24 was the tipping point, if not sooner. Passively watching Wisconsin drive down the field and getting the ball back with 29 seconds left is a recipe for defeat, and defeat is not Good Eats.
Our miraculous escape from the Penn State game did not prevent me from revisiting the topic:
What is the deal with that last drive?
I don't know. Robinson made some excellent throws but Michigan also played off, never blitzed until first and goal (except when they sent all of five guys on one play), and generally made things as easy on him as they could in an effort to not give up a big play. In doing so they repeated the mistake they made against Wisconsin by not adjusting their defense to a much more aggressive stance. Playing soft with that much time on the clock eats time, often preventing the offense from mounting a response drive. Michigan had 20 or 30 seconds against Wisconsin and just 50 against Penn State. Without the Breaston return they lose. The advantage of having the ball last in a close game is often overlooked and Michigan played in a way that immediately reduced their chances of getting a last possession.
Passivity also makes much less sense when the offense is going to go for it on fourth down. Allowing medium range passes without serious resistance when the opponent has four cracks at a first down instead of three is a tactical error since you're relying on the opponent to screw up an extra play. Given that Penn State had way too much time on the clock for it to pressure them in any way, the correct strategy in that situation was to increase your aggression, reducing the chances of each individual first down at the expense of increasing the chance of a big play.
When Iowa nearly did the same thing until Ferentz caught some Carr-itis of his own, I said this:
This was a wretched defensive performance. Reviewing the tape I kept thinking to myself "how did we win this game?" A large part of Tate's success was due to Michigan never using man coverage. We played so far off their receivers that the only time we actually covered them is when they went deep. ... This is the essence of bend-but-don't-break: sit back until your opponents screw up, if they screw up. Michigan blitzed two times (I don't count the delaying LB tactic as a blitz as the LB is the fourth rusher). Two! Even blitz-hating TMQ would find that excessive. You can count the instances of man coverage on one hand . Not coincidentally, you can count the instances of covered receivers on the other hand. ...
We had the good fortune to get a number of drive-killing Iowa mistakes and thus managed to hold them to 17 points, but Michigan's defensive strategy in this game loses it 8 out of 10 times. We relied on Iowa drops and penalties and failed stunt pickups to win this game, which is crazy considering that Iowa was the least penalized team in the league coming in and is generally regarded as one of the best coached teams in college football. A series of flukes conspired against them in this game, otherwise they put up 30+. ...
Yes, this seems viciously harsh for a game in which Iowa scored 17 points in regulation, but ask yourself: when Iowa got the ball back with two minutes to go, what did you think our chances of stopping them were?
Those things were all true, no matter how much I wanted them to be false. My cockeyed optimism got the better of me after Northwestern, though:
I submit that Lloyd Carr is working towards that sweet eight-track player by changing his habits built up over the decades.
No, he isn't. Despite getting immediate negative feedback on his punt-and-pray strategy no fewer than three times this year, we saw Garrett Rivas jog on to the field to attempt a pooch punt 110,000 people knew was coming. The punt was quickly followed by a Charmin-soft zone that ceded the 22 meaningless yards gained in three plays and a touchdown scored without any time for Michigan to attempt a late-game drive of its own. Just like Wisconsin. Just like Penn State minus 30 seconds. Just like Iowa minus one point. A strong case can be made that Lloyd Carr and his coaching staff learn slower than laboratory mice, who generally figure out that the electric shock button is bad after one or two trials.
So I hope you'll forgive me when I say that with Ohio State on the 50 yard line and the deja vu hitting its most overwhelming point, I uttered a deadly serious declaration of hatred not directed at anyone in red. I was means and opportunity away from ending up on Fanopticon under a headline better reserved for English soccer fans. I sat there stupefied at Michigan's passivity, stupefied at its willingness to let Ohio State dictate the pace of the game, stupefied at the utter incompetence of it all. The entire year had led up to this futile point when the coaching staff consciously decided to use the same strategy that failed every time it was pressed into service to date, including the most recent Ohio State drive. In doing so they threw away every effort the players made to make up for a coaching staff that was damn sure that they were right no matter the copious evidence presented by the prosecution.
I give up. Despite the natterings about negativity from OMG PROGRAM INSIDERZ who think that any criticism that doesn't come from their mouths is null and void, this space has tried to hew a middle ground between those who are willing to blame Lloyd Carr for everything and those willing to blame him for nothing. No more. After watching Carr fail to learn a goddamned thing after ten years of the same thing over and over again, it's clear that we'd be better served with Algernon. This is a painful admission for me, since every year I've scoffed at those who think that Carr is mediocre to worse coach. The record speaks for itself, I said.
Well, yeah, it does.
Ballot links and suchforth and sowise; I don't have anything to ask this week, but if you've got something strident to say go ahead.
Well... here we go. I think I should have called the preview "Columbo Delenda Est" but that would result in the small but real possibility of Peter Falk kicking my ass.
Nervous? Yeah, I'm a little nervous. Not even about Peter Falk.
The quid pro to Tom Orr's excellent quo is now up at the OZone if you just can't get enough content. How do I work in a Tron reference?
Find out! Yow!
Run Offense vs. Ohio State
Oy. This is not so looking the good. Ohio State is now the second-ranked rushing defense in the country, though that is due in part to their tendency to sack the hell out of the quarterback--38 on the year for 244 yards. Game by game against teams with a pulse:
- Texas: 35 carries for 127 yards discounting sacks, 3.6 YPC.
- Iowa: annihi-tated (ha!). Albert Young gets 25 yards on 10 carries. Tate gets sacked for a loss of 43 yards; Iowa finishes the game with -9 yards.
- Penn State: 37 carries for 117 yards. Tony Hunt does get 64 on 16 for 4 YPC.
- Michigan State: Stanton is sacked 12 times for 58 yards. Outside of that Michigan State rushes for 174 yards on 39 carries, slightly over 4 YPC.
- Minnesota: 42 carries for 182 yards, 4.3 YPC.
- Northwestern: 27 carries for 116 yards, 4.3 YPC
What does this mean? It does appear that Ohio State's run defense is slightly flattered by its copious sack numbers. In general, teams not named Iowa or Illinois or Indiana can expect around four yards per carry. These numbers don't show the yardage variance but I suspect it's fairly high if the linebacker sack numbers accurately reflect the level of aggression in this defense, which would make sense with its profile. A defense that gives up 16, 0, 0, and 0 yards on four runs is a much more effective defense than one that gives up 4, 4, 4, and 4--it's the difference between punting on third and ten and having a second and six. Aggressive defenses that occasionally give up a chunk of yards because of said aggression are effective ones. Ohio State has an effective defense.
The upshot? There's the possibility of an actual running game if Hart is healthy and Henne is throwing short slants, crosses, and screens accurately. Michigan can't afford to hurl itself into the line 30 times if second and eight is going to be a punt most of the time, but if they do find an ability to keep the chains moving despite getting stuffed with frequency, the run game might break out like it did against Michigan State: nothing nothing nothing OMG RUN LITTLE MAN RUN.
Key Matchup: RB Mike Hart versus Carve Your Name In The Heart of This Game. He can do it if he's healthy, if he's on, if he's got space. He was shut down last year, yeah... but I'm saying there's a chance.
Pass Offense vs. Ohio State
This is where those 38 sacks come into play. The thing is, only 13.5 of them come from the defensive line. Carpenter has 8. Hawk has 7.5. Safety Donte Whitner has four. Obviously Ohio State is blitzing the bejeezus out of its opponents to pick up 24.5 sacks from people who are normally tasked with defending receivers. How do you combat such maniacal aggression? EA Sports Lee Corso says it several times a fictional football game: with screens and draws.
Michigan happens to be rather good at both these things, especially the former. Henne's inconsistency and the plethora of Michigan wide receivers capable of making those who attempt to tackle them look extremely stupid has made the wide receiver screen a staple of this year's offense. With the Ohio State secondary looking creaky past the first corner or two, Michigan appears poised to flip the script and use the passing game as a consistent source of low-variance first down yardage. There's only so much the vaunted Ohio State linebackers can do against Steve Breaston taking a screen to the sideline.
That won't suffice for the entire game, however, and Henne will be forced to drop back and throw downfield at some point, possibly very early if Ohio State comes out pressing. The Michigan passing game has been a comedy of errors at times this year, but the flame flickered a bit against Indiana as Henne hit all manner of routes both short and deep as well as you possibly can. He has the capability to beat a Buckeye secondary that has given up yards in big chunks against Texas, Minnesota, and Michigan State if Dr. Jekyll shows up. Michigan's success going downfield will be sporadic--Henne will be under pressure and the offensive line will allow pressure up the gut--but there will be opportunities. The difference in the game will be how well Henne takes advantage of open deep crosses and corners. Wisconsin == loss. Indiana == win.
Key Matchup: Offensive Coordinator Terry Malone versus Defensive Coordinator Tim Beckman. Chess match here. Michigan does have an advantage on the edges but attempting to exploit it too frequently will reduce its effectiveness. Malone has to pick his spots right.
Run Defense Vs Ohio State
For a variety of reasons Michigan's run defense has been very bad. Some of these reasons have to do with injury--Woodley's been out for about three games, David Harris missed the NUI game, Graham's been walking wounded, several DEs found their way to the bench--but there are systemic flaws that the now almost totally healthy team still has to deal with. Pat Massey is just not good at football. Chris Graham and Prescott Burgess have major issues with outside containment. It is possible that Michigan is healthy and experienced enough to drag some of the main offenders off the field, as John Thompson has proved himself a capable player and the defensive ends are finally all healthy at the same time, allowing Branch to slide back inside where he is equally effective. I would think that Graham and Massey might get less time than normal. They'll play, but it seems obvious to all that there are better alternatives. Michigan is out of injury and playing-style excuses.
Antonio Pittman has emerged as the starting tailback for the Buckeyes but remains a question mark in my mind. While Michigan's run defense is statistically not great, it's probably better at this point than it has been all year, and Pittman has been eating up a rich set of bad defenses. He will get a dose of something closer to reality tomorrow. I think the Hart-Pittman faceoff versus their respective run defenses is a push... wild-eyed optimism perhaps, but there it is.
However, Ohio State has an X-factor in quarterback Troy Smith, who has rushed for almost 600 yards this year. No doubt Ohio State will attempt to exploit his mobility much like it did last year when Smith rushed for televenty jillion yards, most of them by accident. Ohio State's used a lot of quarterback draws this year; given Michigan's chronic inability to stop said draws expect to see at least a few.
Key Matchup: Graham and Thompson versus Pittman. It's critical that Pittman is held down on early downs so Michigan can put the Buckeyes in spots where a third down Smith scramble is unlikely to garner a first down. Otherwise Michigan will be forced to zone up and play back, and that leads to a lot of easy conversions.
Pass Defense vs. Ohio State
I don't know exactly what to make of this. I fear Grant Mason's erratic tackling against Holmes and Ginn on short routes. I think Troy Smith is not the sixth-best quarterback in the country, and I think he's probably forgotten what it's like to see a defensive back within six yards of his receivers over the past few weeks. I think that I would rather not see the ball hurled skyward towards Santonio Holmes on a regular basis. Much could happen here and it would not be surprising. Smith could turn out to be a total mirage that a competent defense shuts down because they can actually cover and tackle just a little bit. He could turn out to be mini-Vince Young. So you've got me here. I'm throwing my hands up when either team drops back to pass: I don't know what's going to happen.
I do expect that Michigan will throw a ton of zone at Ohio State and rely on Woodley and company to get to Smith without compromising their deep coverage or their ability to track down a scrambling Smith. I think Ohio State will not be consistent enough to move t
he chains like Tate did against our zone, nor will they have all that much time to throw against what should be an active defensive line. But then there's those fast guys, and our tendency to show exactly our intent before the snap, and... I could fabricate a bunch of stuff here. But it would be a guess.
Key Matchup: Lamarr Woodley versus RT Kirk Barton or Alex Boone. Boone's a monstrous, hyped recruit but still only a freshman. Barton has been in and out of the lineup with injuries just like Woodley. If Smith is not forced to make quick decisions he will pick apart the zone. The defensive line's ability to force stupid mistakes will be key.
Will be heavily hyped but are unlikely to have much impact on the game. As I've started harping upon recently, Ross Ryan has severely limited opponent return opportunities. Ohio State's Josh Huston and AJ Trapasso have done likewise. Ryan's had 11 of 44 punts returned; Trapasso 11 of 40. Ryan has put most of his kickoffs into the endzone; Huston has done the same. Neither Ted Ginn nor Steve Breaston figures to get much in the way of return opportunities.
Ohio State has an advantage in Huston. While Garrett Rivas is reliable inside forty yards he has limited range and something of a tendency to miss important kicks. Huston has hit 18 of 21 this year, though he's only had a few opportunities from beyond 40 yards (he's 3 of 4 from 40-49 and 0 of 2 from 50+). He has hit every field goal from within 40 yards.
Key Matchup: Garret Rivas versus The Lurking Ghost of Hayden Epstein. I assume that both returners will be neutralized and Huston will be reliable; the only thing left is Rivas and his occasional tendency to mess with our heads.
No, I didn't type in SARS kitten, just "desperate kitten." I think that sums it up well: the kittens are prepared for the worst but still holding out hope in the form of a jaunty blue bell collar.
Three Things I'd Like To See:
- Henne throwing downfield like he did against Indiana.
- John Thompson instead of Chris Graham.
- Evidence that the OSU offensive line is as unprepared to deal with Lamarr Woodley as they were Tamba Hali.
Three Things I Don't Want To See
- Any sort of limping from Hart.
- Antonio Pittman exploiting the Massey issue.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 9 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Goddamn That Is An Intimidating Defense; +1 for Hart/Long... Please?; +1 for Ewwww, Mobile Quarterback; +1 for Just Because.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for The Game! The Game!)
Loss will cause me to... have nightmares where John Cooper and Lloyd Carr turn out to be my parents.
Win will cause me to... root for a last-second, controversial Michigan State victory and a matchup against a Big East team in the BCS.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Columbus delenda est. Columbus delenda est! Michigan's brutal schedule and injuries combined with Ohio State's recent dance through the dandelions has many convinced that Ohio State is clearly the favorite. I do not think this is the case, as I laid out above. It's even. So will I pick a Buckeye win? In the immortal syllables of Dana Carvey's George Bush I impression: "Na ga da."
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- No one does anything in the return game.
- Henne comes through in the clutch.
- 23-21, Michigan.