"The University of Illinois is also in turmoil. The university sports an Interim Chancellor, an Interim Athletic Director, and an Interim Football Coach; the game will be played at Soldier Field, making this an Illini Interim Home Game."
Old Mailbag Updates
On old spellin' guy:
Regarding the emailer who asked about Old Michigan Spelling Guy last week, I can confirm that both OMSG and Superfan were in attendance for Homecoming against Indiana. OMSG did the cheers, and Superfan just wielded his cowbell (feel like I should say "of Truth" or something after that).
I didn't know about either of these guys 'til this year; I've normally sat in the southeast corner prior to this year. But I saw Superfan doing these cheers against Western and knew what the emailer was talking about. Where OMSG has been for the other games is beyond me. But since they sat next to each other, Superfan would probably know if asked.
So… he's fine, workin' his magic. On the thing that isn't people shaking keys:
Brian,As a sort of answer to the question about the 3rd down student cheer.I had student tickets from 04-08 and I was at the WMU game also in the student section. I don't really know what to call the cheer, it really just started last year. The band broke out some new (at least I don't remember hearing it before last year) song they play on 3rd downs. As they play it the band director and some of the band sticks their hands out and shakes their hands and fingers, which is why some of the students have picked it up and started doing it along with them. I've noticed that some of the students still pull out the keys and some do the little hand wiggle thing, it's kinda split. I'm not sure what the motivation was for the new song and hand thing, it surprised me a little last year when I saw it the first time. If there was some sort of message to the students last year about doing the new cheer I missed it somehow. As far as I know, the students that started doing it just picked it up from seeing the band do it.Jesse
As I’m assuming you’ve heard by now, that cheer has been used by the Marching Band for decades. I was in the MMB starting in 1993 and we used it back then. And we use it as part of our cadence to and from the stadium. Now, you may be correct about when it was picked up by the football team and then the fans. I remember some of the football players picking up on it late in my tenure (93-97) when we’d do a practice performance for them in the fall. Whether it was specifically 1997 or not I don’t know.
Anyway, thought I’d pass that along. The band usually does the “Great to be….” And “Go Michigan, Beat the XXXX” cheer as part of every game’s cadence.
Adam R. Cole
New Items, But Slightly Old
Brian – I'm sure you are no stranger to this complaint - is it just me, or does Pam Ward's announcing just crawl under your skin and annoy the **** out of you? Her ad hoc commentary is so pointless, is, at best, pawned from the media guide, and sounds no different than what you would imagine to hear if you ever decided to watch a college volleyball game or gymnastics tournament. She can't offer any meaningful insight on football strategy. Her announcing actually made me madder and more hostile while watching the "survivorfest" vs. IU last weekend. She does not belong in a football booth. Is there any way we can get ESPN to permanently put her on Northwestern duty (except, of course when we play them)?
I'm with you. It's not that Pam Ward is a woman, it's that she's terrible. The difference between Ward and McDonough, who was terrific in a game just as crazy, was striking. McDonough injected the game with more drama; his "DROPPED!" on Savoy's drop was outstanding, as was the rest of his call. Ward has this crazy ability to suck energy out of a play. On Indiana's 85-yarder, well…
She doesn't start talking about the play until Willis is ten yards downfield, and when she does it's "Wow, big run out for Darius Willis. Willis down the left sideline. Nobody's going to catch him." She can't sound excited. That's why she's on nooners on ESPN2, I guess. It's Michigan's job to make this irrelevant by getting good enough to get out of that timeslot or hammer their opponents to the point where Ward's lack of excitement mirrors the game.
While I've seen most of the team improve compared to last season, I'm mystified by the punt return. I've got know-it-alls around my section yelling for Mathews head after all his fair catching, but could it be this new fangled punt formation that is affecting the statistics? I know Michigan is using the same type of coverage and while I still think Space Emperor is the reason why our punt coverage is good, could it also be the formation?
I don't care much about Mathews calling a lot of fair catches since he's had little opportunity to actually make any returns. The problem has come when Mathews doesn't field punts. He gave up about 50 yards of field position against Eastern Michigan and failed to field one punt against Indiana that should have been easily acquirable.
Fielding the punt seems about all you can do these days. As you noted, the spread punt formation now sends six players downfield immediately, severely reducing the ability of opponents to get good returns. A brief trip to the spreadsheet to compare 2000's stats with 2008's indicates there's some meat to this theory: In 2000, 46% of punts were returned with team averaging 10.1 yards each. By last year, the spread of the spread punt formation had seen punt return percentage drop to 39% and return average drop a full yard to 9.1. Since there are still a bunch of teams running old-school formations, those numbers underestimate the increased efficiency of the spread punt formation at least somewhat. Anecdotally, I think the difference is considerable.
As returns drop, "catch the damn ball" becomes an increasingly important part of being a good punt returner. Mathews has done that, except when he hasn't, and I'm fine with him back there.
Side note: I'm sick of fair catches. I'd like to see the NCAA institute the NFL rule; in the NFL you can have an illegal man downfield on a punt. I assume that rule is the only thing preventing the widespread adoption of the spread punt in the NFL; the numbers prove its efficacy.
|Last week's ballot|
|1||Alabama||34-24 VT||35-7 Arkansas||38-20 Kentucky||40-14 Florida Int||53-7 N Texas|
|2||Texas||34-24 Texas Tech||59-20 Monroe||41-10 Wyoming||64-7 UTEP|
|3||Florida||23-13 Tennessee||41-7 Kentucky||56-6 Troy||62-3 Charleston|
|4||Virginia Tech||31-7 Miami||16-15 Nebraska||34-26 Duke||52-10 Marshall||24-34 Alabama|
|5||Cincinnati||47-15 Rutgers||28-18 Oregon State||28-20 Fresno State||37-13 Miami OH||70-3 SEMO|
|6||Boise State||19-8 Oregon||51-34 Fresno||49-14 BGSU||48-0 Miami OH||34-16 UC Davis|
|7||LSU||20-13 Georgia||31-23 Washington||30-26 Miss State||23-9 Vandy||31-3 UL Lafayette|
|8||Iowa||21-10 PSU||27-17 Arizona||35-3 Iowa State||24-21 Arkansas St||17-16 N Iowa|
|12||TCU||14-10 Clemson||30-14 UVA||39-14 SMU||56-21 Texas State|
|9||USC||30-3 California||18-15 Ohio State||56-3 SJSU||27-6 Wazzou||13-16 Washington|
|10||Miami (FL)||21-20 Oklahoma||34-17 Ga Tech||38-34 Florida State||7-31 Virginia Tech|
|11||Ohio State||30-0 Illinois||33-14 Indiana||38-0 Toledo||31-27 Navy||15-18 USC|
|13||Penn State||35-17 Illinois||28-7 Syracuse||31-6 Temple||31-7 Akron||10-21 Iowa|
|15||Houston||45-35 Oklahoma St||29-28 Texas Tech||55-7 NW St||41-58 UTEP|
|14||Auburn||41-30 West Virginia||26-22 Tennessee||49-24 Miss State||37-13 La Tech||54-30 Ball State|
|16||Oregon||42-3 Cal||31-24 Utah||52-6 Wash St||38-36 Purdue||8-19 Boise|
|17||Oklahoma State||24-10 Georgia||41-24 Rice||56-6 Grambling||35-45 Houston|
|18||BYU||14-13 Oklahoma||42-23 Colorado St||35-17 Utah State||54-3 Tulane||28-54 Florida St|
|19||Georgia Tech||24-7 No Carolina||42-31 Miss St||30-27 Clemson||37-17 Jax State||17-33 Miami FL|
|20||Missouri||37-9 Illinois||31-21 Nevada||27-20 BGSU||52-12 Furman|
|21||Georgia||41-37 So Carolina||20-17 Ariz State||52-41 Arkansas||10-24 Oklahoma St||13-20 LSU|
|22||Notre Dame||35-0 Nevada||37-30 Washington||33-30 Michigan St||24-21 Purdue||34-38 Michigan|
|23||South Carolina||16-10 Mississippi||7-3 NC State||38-16 FAU||SC State||37-41 Georgia|
|24||Kansas||35-28 So Miss||44-16 Duke||34-7 UTEP||49-3 Northern Co|
|25||Wisconsin||38-30 Mich State||31-28 Minnesota||34-31 OT Fresno||28-20 NIU||44-14 Wofford|
|Oklahoma||45-0 Tulsa||64-0 Idaho State||13-14 BYU||20-21 Miami (FL)|
|Cal||35-21 Minnesota||52-13 Maryland||59-7 E Washington||3-42 Oregon||3-30 USC|
|Michigan||38-34 Notre Dame||31-7 W Michigan||36-33 Indiana||45-17 E Michigan||20-26 Michigan St|
|UCLA||19-15 Tennessee||23-9 Kansas State||33-14 San Diego St||16-24 Stanford|
|Ole Miss||23-7 Vanderbilt||45-14 Memphis||52-6 SE Louisiana||10-16 So Carolina|
|Nebraska||55-0 UL Lafayette||49-3 Florida Atl||38-9 Ark St||15-16 VT|
|South Florida||17-7 Florida State||34-20 Syracuse||35-13 WKU||40-7 Wofford||59-0 Charleston S|
10/3/2009 – Michigan 20, Michigan State 26 (OT) - 4-1, 1-1 Big Ten
Tate Forcier had gotten away with three or four balls just like the one he chucked in the direction of a very, very covered Martavious Odoms on Michigan's final offensive play. In the first half, Koger bailed him out on a prayer of a deep ball that became Michigan's initial first down and led to a field goal. And Forcier had caused heart attacks twice on Michigan final drive. On the first play he "found" Hemingway conveniently located a foot behind a Spartan safety for a nine yard gain. On the play before the epic coverage bust that got Roy Roundtree open for the tying touchdown, he tossed a flapping duck into a cast of thousands. In retrospect—but only in retrospect—it was obvious that Michigan would die by the sword that brung them.
A third consecutive Forcier miracle would have been too much too compute. And this one would have offended the football gods for more reasons than "third consecutive game-ending drive to win or tie by freshman quarterback." In Michigan's comebacks against Notre Dame and Indiana you could point to factors hidden from the generic yardage statistics most people use to measure a team's worth: special teams and red-zone defense converted Michigan's yardage deficits into wins. This was not so much the case on Saturday.
Looking at the box score reveals an afternoon of vast offensive ineptitude. The only reason Michigan fans faced the prospect of a ninety-one-yard march in a driving rainstorm with three minutes and no timeouts with anything other that resignation is a testament to how quickly Forcier has grabbed hold of hearts and minds in Ann Arbor. I mean, look at this thing (Michigan is the first, ugly column):
TOTAL NET YARDS 251 417 Total Plays 60 78 Average Gain Per Play 4.2 5.3 NET YARDS RUSHING 28 197 Rushes 28 49 Average Per Rush 1.0 4.0 NET YARDS PASSING 223 220 Completions-Attempts 17-32 20-29 Yards Per Pass Play 7.0 7.6 Times Sacked 3 2 Yards Lost to Sacks 33 12 Had Intercepted 1 2
Before Forcier's last-drive wizardry, Michigan had one excellent catch and run from Stonum, the aforementioned prayer to Koger, and 47 other yards total. (Michigan picked up 12 in overtime.) There was no indication anywhere that Michigan should be in the game, and they wouldn't have been but for the brilliant swashbuckling we've come to expect in five short games with Tate Forcier. Michigan's sword is a scimitar held between the teeth as it swings on an unexplained rope into a ballroom. Sometimes they biff the landing and end up with a faceful of scimitar and cheeks in need of serious stitches.
This is the kind of thing that sees the inbox fill up with questions about whether Michigan should have gone for two. More on that later (quick answer: yes but not when you think). The important bit for this section is: that's Boise State thinking, and this was a game in which it was appropriate. Michigan richly deserved a loss to the point where fans were proposing taking a less than 50-50 shot at winning there and then, hoping to get one play right to steal a win and get out of town.
Michigan got outplayed. They showed how far they've got to go before they are back to being block-M Michigan, and yes it sucks that it happened at all and a bit worse that it happened against the yappiest team in No Accomplishments Land. It was going to happen at some point, and will probably happen again. The yardage margins are compelling at this point: Michigan's gotten by on smoke and swashbuckling so far, a team born to play a recurring role in Life on the Margins as long as they continue digging out from the talent and preparation crater that led to 3-9 and have a guy at quarterback that refuses to go down easy.
- Pregame predictions here mostly bore fruit: Michigan State had a surprisingly tough day on the ground and an obviously easy one in the air when Michigan wasn't getting lots amounts of pressure (all three MSU turnovers were a direct result of that). Michigan's passing game was also good when people weren't dropping balls. But there were two huge exceptions: I didn't mention "oh by the way Kirk Cousins will run for 10 YPC"—in fact, I dissed his ability to make thing happen when he moved out of the pocket—and I didn't see State crushing Michigan's ground game for the second straight year. The first one can be explained by flukes and poor linebackers… the second… uh? That's one of the things you just don't know about until you go over the tape in minute detail, but I don't get it.
- One possible explanation: Steve Sharik thinks Dantonio "gets the rivalry" to the point of manic obsession: "After watching MSU's D for their first 4 games and then today, it seems obvious that they spent almost all off-season and much of fall camp working on defending Michigan. I don't know how else to explain how a so-so run defense, horrendous secondary and meh pass rush turned into the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens that suddenly." Michigan might be wise to have a package of stuff designed to combat this in the future; it was equally obvious last year that disproportionate amounts of effort had gone into preparing for Michigan. Congratulations, Spartans: you're 2-3.
- It'll be interesting to see what happens against Iowa. Michigan gashes them, or even gets a decent day, and it's clear that State's mania is at another level and that Michigan's run game is okay for the rest of the year. Michigan gets shut down and it looks like Molk's injury is more devastating than anyone projected, the offensive line was getting by against teams short of talent, and things will rest more heavily on Forcier.
- Defense was very strange. Outside of what might be the longest drive in the history of both programs (in terms of total yardage covered) it held Michigan State to 10 points in regulation and something like 250 yards. But, right: ceded 130 yard touchdown drive on which they had a 2nd and 25 and other instances of huge long yardage situations. That touchdown drive also made for a crazy first half in which Michigan got three drives. Still, the defensive line crushed State's conventional running game. State running backs averaged well under three yards a carry. That seems like progress even against a run game as weak as State's.
- Not progress: linebackers. Jonas Mouton was almost wholly responsible for letting Kirk Cousins (who is KIRK COUSINS) outside of him for a 41(!) yard gain, and Ezeh and Mouton were the guys who let Cousins get from the eight to the one on third and goal, allowing State to punch it in on fourth down. We have to live with this all year.
- Rodriguez said he didn't call for a fake on the ill-fated fake, and I assumed at the time that Zoltan was given the rollout punt/go for it option he picked up a couple first downs with last year. It was really, really not there, though, and he should have immediately punted it.
- I hated the run-up to that. Would rather see Brandon Minor on some sort of power set than Forcier doing that off tackle thing, and it was fourth and an inch, and I would probably go for it there. QB sneak it, man.
- Robinson's madden inability to adjust to the bubble screens was, uh, maddening. I'm at a loss to see how Michigan can't even throw it anymore but Michigan State can just line up in a twins set and have it open time after time. What happened to the defense we saw against Minnesota last year when Morgan Trent actually arrived before the ball on one?
GOING FOR TWO
Special mini-mailbag on this piece of PhD level game theory coaching moves:
Hi Brian,Obviously we shouldn't have dropped back 12 yards to gain six inches or punted it away on successive 4ths and 1s, but the Romer go-for-it on fourth down angle has been pretty well covered. So my game theory comment is this: when you are down 14 and score a TD, you should go for two! 44% of 2pt conversions in last year's Big Ten were successful, so...Possible outcomes:44%: Make 2pt conv (44%), you win25%: Miss 2pt conv (56%), then make 2 pt conv (44%), overtime31%: Miss 2pt conv twice, you loseSo you can see you come out ahead, and you come out ahead with any conversion rate of at least 37%. (Not to mention the intangibles of tiring the defense for another snap or two, plus the fact that going for the throat would have to fire up the team.)Might have made the difference Saturday. Thoughts?Daniel Novinson
This didn't occur to me at the time, but: yes, Michigan should have gone for two after the Stonum touchdown. The scenario laid out above has occurred to a number other folk. They have proceeded to go into unnecessarily vast detail about it in various quasi-academic publications dedicated to the proposition that no decision in football should go unquestioned. Daniel above has it in its simplest form: when you're down two touchdowns late and you get one of them you should go for two and take a shot at winning in regulation early when you have another touchdown to make up for potential failures.
Should Michigan have gone for two on their final drive after having kicked on the Stonum TD? I don't think so. The rain was pounding at that point and Forcier was as gassed as I've ever seen a Michigan quarterback. The chances of success there are poorer than usual, I think. I mean, this happened two plays before:
Another podcast. In case you just cannot get enough of listening to me talk, I was on the FanSided Friday Tailgate podcast. Starts off with a considerable amount of meta talk before moving on to the State game and some other general college football picks.
HYPE VIDEO. The rest of the internet has gone crazy for this UAF hype video and it's obvious why:
EXPLODING POLAR BEAR DOOM. Michigan plays Fairbanks next weekend. Further evidence that university administrators hate life:
Hockey open w/ Polar Bear from Fairbanks, Alaska for the UAF Nanooks AKA "The Alaska Nanooks". This is the intended directors cut with the original music choice, rejected by the UAF people for being "too 80's" as if there is such a thing.
Yes, Paul will be directed to insert an exploding polar bear into next year's hype video. Or wolverine. Whatever. Maybe both. We'll give the wolverine a lacrosse stick.
Maybe we should actually explode all non-blog polls. First Stewart Mandel note: he picks Michigan State, 3.5-point favorites, as his "upset special" this week. Maybe this is why his straight up prediction record this year is 20-20.
Second: AAAARGGGGH. Here's Mandel on the possibility that Boise State might end up in the national championship game:
Should they keep winning late into the season and start knocking on the title-game doorstep, we'll witness something else: significant outcry from those who feel the Broncos are undeserving.
However, there's very little precedent for voters suddenly downgrading a team without cause. And contrary to what you might believe, the BCS computers aren't likely to cause the Broncos' undoing. For one thing, they only account for one-third of the overall standings, not to mention an unblemished record goes a long way in the computers' eyes. Last season, both Utah and Boise State actually finished the regular season ranked higher by the computers than the voters. The Broncos may get docked a couple of "style points" should they endure an undue scare against a San Jose State or Idaho, but realistically, the only way they could fail to make up three spots in 10 weeks is if the voters start vaulting other, more "deserving" teams above them following a big win or two.
Argh! Boise has done exactly one thing to warrant the #5 spot they're in this year: beat Oregon. At the end of the year they will have done exactly one thing to warrant whatever spot they finish in: beat Oregon. The scare quotes around "deserving" are amongst the most idiotic in the history of the rhetorical device. They prioritize the uninformed opinions of writers and people who don't even watch Boise play over things that happen on the field. Boise has no right to the national championship game and if they make it there it will be a travesty that will further convince everyone else to never schedule anyone in the nonconference. Braves and Birds has more on this travesty.
Mandel's the same guy who used to vote WVU up high specifically because he thought the 'Eers had an easy schedule, and now he's justifying the placement of Boise high up as if that's some sort of birthright. This man had an AP ballot. ARGH!
This is not going in the hype video. Rumeal Robinson is in some legal trouble of a horrifying variety:
Helen Ford has been known in the Cambridge community as a woman with a big heart and open arms for numerous foster children. But she never expected that one of her adopted sons, former NBA basketball player Rumeal Robinson, would play a part in evicting her from the place she called home for more than 30 years.
Robinson was arrested by the FBI for bank fraud, bank bribery, wire fraud, and a lot of other nasty stuff. Sounds like things went sour for him after his… NBA career. Insert typical middle-aged white sportswriter 600 words about how the young folk can't keep their money on their mind. I'm at a loss; the NBA should just hire someone to show up at every player's house every two months to slap them and scream "FIRE YOUR ENTOURAGE AND GET A SAVINGS ACCOUNT." Probably Charles Oakley if the NBA would like their guy to remain alive.
Side note: the picture of this woman painted in the comments is vastly different than the one painted by the article, with multiple commenters offering up various serious-seeming stories about her Not Being Very Nice. Not that that would excuse anything that's been alleged here, obviously.
Spot on. We had a photoshop of Mark Dantonio as Rodney Dangerfield, and I feel another coming on in the event of a Michigan win on Saturday:
#22 Michigan at Michigan State
Holly: Rich Rodriguez IS White Goodman IN Dodgeball. Say, did you know Sparty’s chestplate contains actual kevlar? Nice moves, although it won’t save them. RichRod is a smug, entitled bastard, but shoo-law does he have a lot of projectiles in his smug, entitled arsenal. Sometimes the lovable losers win, and sometimes they get their front teeth broken at the gym. (And sometimes the losers ain’t all that lovable. Dantonio, you never call.)
Orson: Michigan State IS Khan IN Star Trek 2: Wrath of Khan. Khan had to have a “XX Years XXX Days XX Hours” clock in his bunker on Ceti Alpha V. You know this to be true, just as you know we could have just as easily cast Dantonio as the flower pot falling from the sky in Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, the reincarnated object killed again and again by Arthur Dent’s unending carelessness. Khan, though, has the right ring in terms of attitude. Michigan State is all effort and survival, but ultimately the lack of experience in three-dimensional combat that Rich Rodriguez’s offense has will doom the Spartans (though like the Enterprise in the film, Michigan will suffer significant damage due to lack of shields.)
I think those are W predictions for M, FWIW, which is nothing. As Orson says, THIS MEANS BET ON THE OTHER TEAM UNLESS THAT TEAM IS COLORADO.
Get to campus get to campus get to campus. The first indication that the 2010 hockey recruiting class is as dirty as previous suggested is a Hockey News list of the top 50 prospects for the 2010 NHL draft that features three Wolverines in first-round spots:
|11||Jon Merrill||6'3||205||D||U.S. Under-18||Feb-92||Ryan Suter|
|15||Jack Campbell||6'1||171||G||U.S. Under-18||Jan-92||Rick DiPietro|
|23||Luke Moffatt||6'0||190||RW||U.S. Under-18||Jun-92|
In addition, D-man Mac Bennett has already gone in the second round of this year's draft.
Note: had more planned for today but illness intervened and saw me sleep for 12 hours yesterday. So we'll see how it goes the rest of the day. Will be slightly light, unfortunately. Right: no respect, I tell you. Via Kevin Rozek.
|WHAT||#20 Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Spartan Stadium, East Lansing, MI|
|WHEN||12:00 EST, October 3rd, 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan State –3.5|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on BTN|
|WEATHER||50s, 60% chance of rain|
Run Offense vs. State
The strength of Michigan's team goes up against the relative strength of the Michigan State defense. Numbers from games against I-A competition:
That's shinier than Michigan's defense has done so far. ND went for 154 yards on 30 carries against Michigan. But Michigan's rush offense sits at #8 nationally even after a comical parade of botched snaps and odd rules (intentional grounding counts as a sack in the stats and comes off your rushing totals) saw Indiana "hold" Michigan to 149 yards that were more like 220.
Still, Michigan's only gone up against one defense that should be of the approximate caliber of Michigan State and it was ND. Against ND, Michigan acquired 199 yards on 36 carries, 5.5 per attempt.
Will Michigan be able to replicate this? Points in favor:
State is scrambling on the DL. Four-star C recruit Blake Treadwell, a coaches' kid, got moved to DL and is set to lose his redshirt in this game:
"When it's time to play, it's time to play ... If he's ready to play and he can help us, coach Dantonio and coach Treadwell feel good about it," Narduzzi continued.
Spectacularly named Kevin Pickelman is "banged up"; starter Jerel Worthy is a redshirt freshman and kind of tubby, so he's prone to tire. Meanwhile, the Free Press was reporting that Dion Sims might be moved to DE for this game (wha?), but the reliable paper in Detroit says that's not the case:
"I don't know anything about that," Gill said. "Don't even search for that. He's a tight end in our offense and that's what he plays."
Non-Jones linebackers appear to be horrible. It's too bad the MSUFR folks just got up and running because then it would give some context to these numbers from the UW game:
Jebus in a handbasket going to church on Tuesday. This speaks of metric fail to me, and Dr. Detroit:
First, the scoring system is inconsistent. I gave points to Misch and Decker that I did not give to Jones, so the numbers are too positive. Second, the scoring system I setup is pretty much guaranteed to have LBs be in the negative. Every time a LB gets blocked, I scored that as a negative. Gordon and Misch got blocked a lot. This could be intentional. They eat up the blockers and Jones is then able to make a play. It would be really stupid for it to be intentional though. Misch did have a play where he avoided a blocker and made a tackle which leads me to believe they are not trying to engage blockers. Misch looks like he needs more experience and practice at avoiding blockers.
It's apparent that the MSU coaches are trying to replace Misch with true freshman and hyped recruit Chris Norman, but he's just not ready. the other OLB is Eric Gordon, who Dr. Detroit describes as a block magnet. If Michigan can get to Jones, the safeties are going to have to make a lot of tackles.
Michigan State will adjust to this year's big gasher to date. Our beloved zone counter dive was defended by Indiana and Michigan saw a steep decline in bighuge running plays. Only three Michigan rushes broke ten yards. Defending this like so…
…naturally opens up other things; Michigan will have to adapt and throw something out that's not a proven winner. I'm betting they will, but it remains to be seen whether that's going to be as much of a winner. My bet? An effective variant of the "Cut it up Tate" play where the H-back peels off and kicks out the contain LB, opening up copious room for Tate or, better, Denard.
David Molk is gone. From the snap issues to the presence of a non-starter in the lineup to the wholesale realignment of 3/5ths of the line, that's damaging. David Moosman got a few sweet blocks against Indiana but this Worthy guy is a bigger dude and may be tougher to handle. Or he may just get tired easily and not have the agility to keep up.
All told? Michigan will get its yards on the ground against a DT rotation that's thin and prone to tire and a linebacking corps that Michigan might not actually trade for. Rodriguez should prove his gashing bonafides.
Key Matchup: Schilling and Huyge against Jones. Getting Jones to the ground is how Michigan turns five yards into 50.
Pass Offense vs. State
Our pissed off play annotator has revealed something: even against spread personnel Michigan State generally sticks with a 4-3 package, using WLB Eric Gordon as a slot defender. This is in contrast to Michigan's other A-level opponent to date. Notre Dame stuck a safety directly over the slot and took away perimeter screens. If Michigan State stays in the same package they've been in so far, the slots should find themselves considerably more involved in the game plan.
Unfortunately for Michigan, Martavious Odoms is not Mike Floyd, but as we saw against Eastern this year and several times the year before, if you leave base personnel on the field and shade your linebackers halfway between the box and the slot (the "gray area," according to Rodriguez), Michigan will go to the slot guys with regularity.
There's the catch, though: last year Michigan State obviously spent a lot of time on the Michigan game and snuffed out Odoms' wheel routes with coverage packages that took it away. Threet had to come off it or throw horrible interceptions into it. I made the mistake of assuming Notre Dame would stick with two-wide packages against M and I'd like to not repeat that mistake. In the Wisconsin game, State did go to a nickel package on some passing downs. But to do that they lift a DL:
Michigan State had exactly zero plays with anything other than 3 LBs on the field. MSU defensively is either in a 4-3 Stack with the LBs 5 yards off the LOS, or they are blitzing. If I can pick it up that easy, so can everyone else. MSU will go to a nickel coverage. … MSU takes out a defensive tackle and adds a defensive back. Then sends a linebacker on a blitz.
Lifting Jon Misch, a former walk-on with all of ten tackles on the year battling for his job with a true freshman, is not exactly going to kill your defense. But so it goes.
Unless Michigan State shows something it hasn't so far, nickel packages will be 3-3-5s on obvious passing downs and Michigan will be up against the standard 4-3 against a spread, something that gave us all hives last year. And its giving MSU hives this year:
This is simply a bad defensive scheme and there is no excuse for continuing in this fashion.
Compounding matters was a vast lack of pressure on UW QB Scott Tolzien last week. He didn't get sacked and was hurried maybe a couple times in the process of going 15 for 20 for four touchdowns. This goes against MSU's previous marker, when they got better pressure on ND than Michigan did, sacking Clausen twice. Even then, MSU fans seemed discontent with the DL:
- Unfortunately it seems our defense will be an issue all season. The lack of pressure from the front 4 will continue to be an issue in the run and passing game. Add in that with the disappointing play of the secondary to date and we’ll struggle against good offenses.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan's had serious pass protection issues at right tackle, though.
As far as the rest of the offense goes, Tate Forcier remains a scarily-accurate rollout machine who occasionally does something idiotic because he's a true freshman, and the receivers remain largely pedestrian non-deep threats. Given the tendency of the MSU linebackers to suck up against the run and the absolute field day UW tight ends had against Michigan State, this might be the game in which Kevin Koger goes nuts; also, if Michigan State isn't prepared for the Carlos Brown wheel route and tries to defend it with Misch or Gordon, Brown's streak of plays that go more than 50 yards might continue. Protection, protection is the key.
Key Matchup: Perry Dorrestein versus Trevor Anderson or Other Michigan State DE. If Michigan can get some lawyaz blocked, there is the potential for much fun toying with the State secondary. This is questionable.
Run Defense vs. State
These are all sacks-removed, which significantly colors them. 5.1 YPC drops to 4, FWIW, if you include Wisconsin's two sacks. That's the whole point of removing sacks, but adjust your TV sets to take that into account. These numbers are obviously not great, especially when they've come against a collection of rush defenses as motley as the crew above. Though the total numbers don't show it yet because of wildly uneven schedules, whenever opponents have gone up against good rushing attacks they've crumbled. Arizona, a BCS team about on par with MSU this year, put up 246 yards against Central. Michigan hit Notre Dame up for 190 yards. And despite playing NIU, Fresno State, and Wofford along with MSU, Wisconsin is 73rd in rush defense. Fresno went for 179 yards on 39 carries, NIU 129 on 32, and Wofford(!) had 214 yards, though that was on 55 carries. The Woffordians must run some sort of crazy triple option because more guys got carries(10) than Wofford had passing attempts(7).
So MSU's run problems are real and the Wisconsin game improvement is at least partially an artifact of coming up against a seriously dodgy run defense. The other part is the steady fall of Caulton Ray down the depth chart in favor of Win-at-all-Costs Winston and freshman Larry Caper. Winston is either a smaller version of Brandon Minor or Jehuu Caulcrick with more burst. He runs through arm tackles, trucks people, and has good speed for his size but has zero wiggle. He runs in a straight line until tackled. This is probably good for Michigan's defense, which has been good about cutting off primary running lanes of late and terrible at controlling unexpected cutbacks. Caper isn't that different from Winston but has more jump; he popped outside Wisconsin linebackers a couple times and might actually be a better fit when it comes to attacking Michigan's defense. I'd be more worried about him, though as a freshman it's hard to give him a zillion carries when you're a passing team and his blitz pickups are, I assume, shaky.
In the Wisconsin game, State was running a lot of zone plays. This was odd to me after UFRing a couple of State games in which power off tackle plays were almost the only run play in the arsenal. Maybe it fits better with State's primary backs, as Winston is not a guy who goes anywhere except down if you make him bounce it outside, but as a one-cut mooseback he was decently effective against Wisconsin. The problem for MSU is that their linemen are mostly tubby guys recruited to blow people off the ball and MSU basically never got the nice playside DT reach blocks that are a staple of Michigan's stretch game. M linebackers should be wary of the cutback behind the center, where MSU did most of its erratic damage against Wisconsin.
One thing to note is that the Michigan State offensive line has been seriously banged up and is torn between getting starters back and putting what looks like a starting five on the field and dragging a true freshman on the field:
Henry Conway, a freshman tackle, made the team dress list for the Sept. 19 trip to Notre Dame, but has yet to play a snap this season. …Injuries to the line and the unit's difficulty to establish a consistent running game might create opportunities for Conway.
Starting left guard Joel Foreman didn't play against the Badgers because of an ankle injury. Tackle J'Michael Deane injured his leg earlier this season and also didn't play. Joel Nitchman, a starting center, moved to guard at Wisconsin, while John Stipek once again played center to help fill a void.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has been pretty damn uninspiring itself, allowing an 85-yard touchdown to Indiana and turning Armando Allen into a massive threat. In the first four weeks of the season, Michigan has decided it's going to slant like hell, leave the linebackers back, and watch them screw up a lot. The slanting was a problem that got fixed; the linebackers are still a work in progress They have begun to screw up less often these days, but seeing a Caper bounceout like a couple that happened against Wisconsin is extremely easy. Winston might have a couple runs that crease the line; most of the time he's just going to run up into a bunch of dudes and go not very far.
Key Matchup: Caper versus Mouton/Brown on bounceouts. I think the problem with the State run game is a mismatch between the line's talents and those of the backs, and that Michigan's slanting, undersized, athletic line will be well suited to crush the zone plays Winston does well in. So then you've got the athletic guy versus linebackers dodgy at contain. I think this is where MSU gets any runs longer than ten yards.
Pass Defense vs. State
Yerrrrgh. For the record, Michigan State is not really the top passing offense in the Big Ten. Almost half of their passing yards against Wisconsin game in pure garbage time when Nichol came in with 5 minutes left in the game and Wisconsin up three touchdowns. Without that they fall all the way from 320 yards a game to 276 and are now the… uh… #2 passing team in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern. Hamburgers.
This almost can't go well. State has three excellent receivers, two of whom have the size and speed to get deep. Mark Dell showed an outstanding ability to adjust to deep throws against Wisconsin and caught a picture-perfect 20-yard-fade from Cousins for State's first touchdown. And BJ Cunningham had a spectacular touchdown reception of his own. Dion Sims and a vast array of other TEs—seriously MSU has like 4 or 5—look like field-stretching seam threats. And when Kirk Cousins isn't inexplicably throwing the ball directly to an opponent (he did this again versus Wisconsin) he's zinging darts. Sometimes the darts are thrown way too high and hard; sometimes they are deposited into the receiver's facemask.
There's just one hope, and it's the usual when your team can't cover a dead donkey: pressure. I do think there's some chance Michigan gets to the quarterback consistently. My stream of consciousness notes on the UW game have several instances of same:
no agility... roh? PI first down.
wisconsin gets to cousins, he throws terrible int. lots of UW pass rush so far.
max pro on third and thirteen still gets pressure, flushing cousins, sidearm dart (DO, 1) to dell on sideline for first(!). ooh went oob first.
zig route thrown behind with pressure. maybe not so good with pressure?
horrible lack of pickup on four man rush causes short hitch 3 yards
There was also an instance where Cousins scrambled out of the pocket and could have run for ten or so yards but instead attempted to rifle the ball and it went way out of the endzone. He is a pocket guy not comfortable on the move and if Michigan gets to him he will not respond well. My prescription for this game is TAH-NOO-TAH; I will cringe at any three man rush. If you're worried about screens spy with a DT.
Note: Roh? I mean it. Wisconsin had a true freshman OLB they were sending on edge rushes who was just going right around the MSU RT; his lack of agility was apparent. On passing downs where Roh can just unleash the eyebrows, he can get to Cousins.
Key Matchup: Pounding rain? If not that, yes, again, Brandon Graham versus the life that hates him very very much.
The special teams were huge for Michigan against Indiana but this figures to be an even matchup. Stone me for this heresy, but the punting battle should be about even. While Zoltan the Inconceivable has punted Michigan into the top ten in net punting with a 42.2 net average, Michigan State's guy is just a yard behind. Michigan should be more likely to get a decent return, FWIW: half of State's punt have been returned for almost nine yards each; fewer than a quarter of Michigan's have come back and opponents are average under six yards a return.
Michigan State has an edge at kicker, where Brett Swenson is excellent. Jason Olesnavage has been pretty good so far, going 3/4 on the year with a couple outside 40 yards, but missed a chip shot in the Notre Dame game.
Michigan combats that edge with an edge in kick returns, where they're 22nd to MSU's 52nd. Darryl Stonum has consistently been bringing kicks out to the 30 or 40 with the odd return that ends up on the opponent's side of midfield or in the endzone.
Key Matchup: It's rainy. HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL.
Glenn Winston cat is Glenn Winston cat.
- Trevor Anderson is zipping past Dorrestein when Michigan tries to throw out of the pocket.
- Tate's throwing arm explodes.
- Michigan is not getting to the quarterback.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- It rains like a mofo.
- Graham and Roh give Cousins no time to throw.
- Hello, Keith Nichol!
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for First Road Game For Many, +1 for Kirk Cousins vs CissokoFloyd, –1 Forcier vs DavisClark And That's Just One Last Name, +1 for Their Receivers Are More Likely To Make Sucky Secondaries Pay, –1 for They've Got More Chaos, –1 for Pucker, Pucker, Pucker, +1 for Weather Could Do Anything).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for Would Be Totally Understandable To Lose This One, +1 for But Really, Really Annoying, +1 for Would Make Dantonio's Offseason Bluster Laughable Psych-Out Stuff, Man, +1 for Not Winning Would Make For A Week Of Columns Praising a 2-3 Team So Dumb I Might Have An Aneurysm.)
Loss will cause me to... promise to myself I'll avoid columns of legendary stupidity this week, and then break that promise.
Win will cause me to... can you frame a post-game press conference? Someone let me know.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
There are too many wild cards—first road game, weather, Forcier's shoulder—in this game to have much faith in the prediction below, but, you know, strictures and conventions.
I'm really bothered by the line shift. Michigan was favored by one early in the week and is now a 3.5 point dog. Getting over 3 is kind of a big deal. What is it that the books see that's not apparent here? It is clear that Michigan and State are far closer than your average 4-0 and 1-3 teams, and the smart money isn't dumb enough to fall for Michigan State's offensive explosion against Wisconsin second-stringers, right?
I am disquieted, because I don't think State's schedule has been that much tougher than Michigan's relative to their performance. I-AA vs Eastern is basically meaningless. ND is the same except for home/road, and Western and Central may not be equal but one was a 24 point win and the other a loss in which MSU got outgained badly. And though Indiana at home is way easier than Wisconsin on the road, this Wisconsin team scraped by NIU and went to double overtime against a non-good edition of Fresno State, and oh by the way Michigan beat Indiana and MSU was basically blown out by Wisconsin until garbage time hijinks brought it closer.
The impressiveness of these games, IME: Push, push, M, M. So why the line swing? The only news during the week of relevance was the continued insistence that Tate Forcier would be totally fine. I don't get it, and I don't think it's meaningless, and that makes me nervous.
But I don't get it so let me forge ahead: I think Michigan's rushing defense is much better equipped to handle a Glenn Winston than a bouncy outside back and I believe the slanting issues against Notre Dame have been fixed, which means MSU's to-date moribund ground game shouldn't be much better than it's been so far. Cousins will tear Michigan apart but that line should crack enough to allow a sack or three and Michigan will get its share of stops.
On the other side of the ball, it all comes down to pass protection. I think they'll get their yards on the ground to the tune of at least 5 YPC and will do well enough in the passing game.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Brandon Graham never sacks anyone again.
- Minor and Brown about split the carries, with one going over 100 and the other coming close.
- Michigan pulls something out of the bag of tricks.
- Forcier does not get nervous.
- Michigan, 31-27.