mesmerism! presidential assassinations! circuses on fire!
I am enjoying this beverage.
Into the limo, you sonofabitch, no arguments.
Hey, there's a beverage here!
Brian is shoved in and awkwardly takes a seat facing the rear. The door is slammed behind him.
Start talking and talk fast, you lousy bum!
We've been frantically trying to reach you, EBay.
Where are my goddamn wins, you bum?
Well… we, I don't…
They did not receive the wins, you nitwit! They did not receive the goddamn wins. OUR STREAK WAS IN YOUR HANDS.
This is our concern, EBay.
No, man… nothing is fucked here, just…
NOTHING IS FUCKED? THE GODDAMN PLANE HAS CRASHED INTO THE MOUNTAIN.
Come on, man, just give it some time. We'll get the wins, it'll just take some time.
I—the royal we, you know, the fan we—he'll get the wins, exactly as specified—look, I've got certain information. Certain things have come to light, and, uh, has it ever occurred to you that instead of running around blaming Rich that this whole thing might just be, not, you know just such a simple, but uh—you know?
What in God's holy name are you blathering about?
I'll tell you what I'm blathering about! I got information—new shit has come to light—and, shit, man… we started a walk-on at quarterback!
Well, sure, look at it! Ridiculously young offense, gives turnovers all over town, including to known Domers—and that's cool, that's cool—but I'm saying, he needs time, and of course they're going to say he doesn't need any because they gotta feed the monkey—I mean, hasn't that ever occurred to you? Sir?
No. No, Mr. EBays, that had not occurred to me.
Well, okay, you're not privy to all the new shit, so, uh, you know, that's what you read me for. Speaking of, would it be possible to get some comped Rose Bowl tickets? I'm just worried with the demand and all…
Brandt, give him the envelope.
Well, okay, if you've got them right here.
We received it this morning.
Since you have failed to achieve, even on the modest EBay that is your site, since you have stolen my wins, and since you have unrepentantly betrayed my trust…
[opens envelope, looks inside]
DEAR MICHIGAN FOOTBALL PROGRAM,
It is our deepest regret to inform you that you are not qualified to take on the third-place MAC team in Detroit. We are probably going with Wofford instead.
…I have no choice but to tell these EBay bums that they should do whatever is necessary to recover their bowl streak from you, Brian of EBay. And with Brandt as my witness, tell you this: any further harm visited on my program will be visited tenfold upon your head.
By God, sir, I will not abide another Motor City Bowl rejection letter.
INT. COFFEE SHOP
The EBay and Michael sit at the counter, both staring off into space, both absently stirring their coffee with little clinking noises.
You want a bowl? I can get you a bowl. There are ways, EBay, you don't want to know about it.
Do they involve eating two large pizzas every night?
11/1/2008 – Michigan 42, Purdue 48 – 2-7, 1-4 Big Ten
As you might have noticed from such posts as "Brian goes to Auburn-LSU," I have an Auburn friend in town. You also might have noticed that Auburn sucks exactly as much as Michigan does this season. In general, this is some small comfort to both of us.
However, this friendship has caused me to pay more attention to Auburn's fortunes, such as they are, and write things about Auburn's botched hiring of spread guru Tony Franklin, and this is where the uncomfortable comparisons start.
If you missed the story, a précis: Auburn fires offensive coordinator Al Borges in December last year, replacing him with Troy State OC Tony Franklin. Franklin's newly implemented "Spread Eagle" racks up 423 yards against Clemson in a Peach Bowl victory. Auburn had eight days to practice it. Clemson was the #6 defense in the country. Woo!
Expectations are high coming in to 2008, whereupon Auburn implodes spectacularly, has an internal hissy fit, and fires Franklin midseason. A couple weeks before the firing Tommy Tuberville starts saying things that make it clear he's not really on board with this spread noise; Smart Football notes that whatever Franklin is running at Auburn isn't the Tony Franklin System(tm).
Underperforming unit, head coach focused on the other side of the ball but with a tendency towards one particular system the coordinator does not run, midseason philosophy shift… it's hard to avoid the parallels between Auburn adopting a shotgun formation and then running tank-sized power back Ben Tate on ill-fated zone stretches and Michigan's bizarre decision to adopt a 3-3-5 stack that, as far as I know, Shafer has never run before. Michigan proceeded to give up 48 points and 559 yards to a 2-6 team starting its third-string quarterback. Said quarterback was a running back three weeks ago.
This is where fail picture goes.
We have two unpleasant choices here: Shafer elects to pull Will Johnson, one of his better starters, for a freshman Boubacar Cissoko and having the move backfire spectacularly, or Rich Rodriguez dictates that change from above. I prefer Door #1 because then the 3-3-5 against Purdue is just an idea that really didn't work, not a sign of internal strife. Internal strife is bad.
So now everyone's guns are trained on Scott Shafer, coordinator of the Worst Defense In Michigan History and designated scapegoat for all (well, half) of Michigan's ills. Arguments will rage between the Fire Him Now and the Probably Fire Him Next Year camps, and interwebs blood will be spilled and people will be virtually roasted alive and it's going to be very dramatic on the message boards and so forth and so on.
Already the inbox is filled with emails asking whether Shafer needs to go. My answer is "probably not," but just like the guy who was asking whether Stevie Brown is shaving points I can no longer say so for certain.
- Hey, at least MINOR RAGE was back in good effect; on one of his touchdowns he ran through a couple tacklers like a giant parade balloon version of Mike Hart. I don't think anyone was surprised when he left the game injured; the only surprise is he didn't have to have a limb amputated and actually returned.
- The other standout was Martavious Odoms, obviously, who was the king of variance on special teams: touchdown, ridiculous punt muff providing someone else a touchdown, etc. I'm pretty sure Purdue's kick coverage team was horrible, but any progress from the return units is welcome, and several times Michigan was one guy away from busting a touchdown.
- As the year progresses I am increasingly skeptical Threet is a long term solution. I don't know if the elbow injuries had anything to do with it, but he refused to keep the ball on the zone read despite Purdue selling out to stop the running back. (If you go back to the liveblog you will see several "keep the #*$@ing ball, Threet!" requests from yrs truly.)
His accuracy was also spotty, especially on screens and the like, and if that doesn't improve I don't see how he can maintain a long-term grip on the starting job. For his sake I hope the elbow injuries are a major drag on his performance; otherwise it's Forcier/Beaver time in 2009.
- They futzed around with the offensive line some but eventually went back to their normal starting configuration, I think. Molk definitely got back in there, and I believe Ferrara got booted. I'll check the film on UFR.
- Did Michigan really burn Justin Feagin's redshirt on some kick coverage? WTF?
Hello; if you're new to this madness check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post for details on what's going on below. Starting soon.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Purdue|
|WHEN||12:00 EST, November 1st, 2008|
|THE LINE||Purdue by 2*|
|TELEVISION||Big Ten Network|
Run Offense vs. Purdue
One thing seems near-certain:
Michigan will rush between 40 and 43 times. And this is the 92nd-ranked rushing defense nationally, so you'd think they'd pick up a bunch of yards doing so but that's what we thought last week and the big net was 84 yards, or just over 100 minus a number of Threet sacks. So… yeah. Excellent outing versus good Penn State defense; awful one against bad Michigan State defense yields what, exactly, against Purdue?
I just don't know, frankly. I think we'll see Michigan work on varying the snap count and that jump-the-snap advantage State had, which was a significant factor in their early dominance of Michigan's OL, will disappear. I also think the State game was the last straw as far as it goes for the competence of the offensive line: there ain't much of it, and it's not a unit that is going to light itself on fire and get better late in the year.
At running back, Sam McGuffie is out with a concussion so we'll see plenty of Minor and Grady; Michael Shaw should see some more time after a couple of initial successes were followed by a groin injury.
I expect something between the average of the numbers above and what happened against State: four or so yards per carry, a half-dozen or so runs that slash into the secondary and may go for touchdowns depending on how poor Purdue's safeties are, and a number of instances where someone eats a tackler in the backfield.
Key Matchup: McAvoy and Moosman on second-level blockers. Michigan State's linebackers killed these two guys, which meant that whenever Minor did get a crease he was met by dudes at the POA.
Pass Offense vs. Purdue
As per usual, opponents of potential relevancy (again, I've omitted Pryor because he threw only 14 times):
These numbers are one great performance against Oregon that may have been first real game jitters for Justin Roper and three other poor outings, with the Minnesota game an okay day. Purdue is #36 in sacks with 2.25 a game, so the numbers here might be a little pessimistic.
Michigan, meanwhile… you know the drill: questionable tackles, questionable receivers, questionable elbows, #112 in passer efficiency. =DEATH. Some of that is the time spent with Nick Sheridan under center; more of it is just a generalized incompetence. Last week saw some bonus poor play when the tackles combined to pick up a –11 in PROTECTION METRIC, though some of that was on the aforementioned snap-timing by the State defense, which will presumably be fixed come tomorrow.
So, yeah, this doesn't look like a good pass defense but at this point the issues with the passing game seem so far beyond reasonable that the quality of the opponent hardly matters. One thing to watch for: a lessening of the wheel route's importance and perhaps something that plays off of it; State had clearly scouted the hell out of that and Michigan had few alternatives late in the game.
Key Matchup: Threet versus his elbow, his general freshman-ness, and the like.
Run Defense vs. Purdue
Purdue's never been one for the ground game and this year is no exception: the Boilers rank 97th in rushing. However, they're actually averaging a better YPC than Michigan and languish near #100 because of a serious lack of carries.
Kory Sheets is your starter with the loss of Jaycen Taylor this summer, and he's done well with his somewhat limited opportunities, averaging 5.3 YPC on 151 carries. No one else is going to touch the ball unless Siller plays: Purdue's handed the ball to other tailbacks a total of 18 times.
These numbers are potentially distorted: Sheets had a 76-yard touchdown in the Northwestern game and an 80-yarder against Oregon; his down-to-down in those games was much like it was in the other games you see above.
Michigan is coming off a game in which Javon Ringer got 2-4 yards every down except one, on which he got 64. Given Purdue's results to date and Michigan's, I think we'll see something similar Saturday: lots of carries snuffed out by the DL for little or nothing and a few where the line gets creased and Sheets gets into the secondary. These will be extremely important in the overall scheme of things. As you can see, Sheets has speed. If he rips off a long touchdown that's seven points Purdue was highly unlikely to acquire in any other fashion.
Key Matchup: Safeties versus TACKLING.
Pass Defense vs. Purdue
An enormous wildcard that rests on Curtis Painter's partially separated throwing shoulder. If there was ever a time to cut Michigan into little ribbons with a dink passing game, this was it: the linebackers can't cover and little slants get visited by the touchdown fairy.
Except, uh… Painter got pulled for his backup a few weeks ago, and there's an obvious reason why: he has six touchdowns this year and ten interceptions. Heck, he's only completing 56% of his passes, which is some sort of unholy sin for a senior quarterback at Purdue. And though you can't measure Purdue YPA like it's anyone else's YPA because of the dinking and dunking thing, Painter's YPA is under 6. WTF.
The receivers and offensive line must play a part in this. I mentioned in the Purdue preview—woo I actually did a preview!—that the receiving corps looked incredibly dire once you got past Greg Orton. They've all got a bunch of catches now but none is averaging much per catch. The line, meanwhile, has Purdue down at 73rd in sacks allowed, which is a really high number for the Boiler quick-strike passing game.
Even so, Purdue must have Painter play to win. His backup is out for the year with a shoulder injury and the third string guy, Justin Siller, had been moved to running back this year. Against Minnesota he was 10-17 for 73 yards and an interception; Purdue netted just 109 passing yards. If he's in, Purdue basically has to run 75-80% of the time.
Key Matchup: Safeties versus TACKLING. Obvs.
From last week, the futility of these previews in two sentences:
One advantage for State: Brett Swenson is 15 of 16 on the year. Don't expect a lot of misses from him.
Oy. Anyway, on with this week. Michigan's special teams took a small step forward a week ago with a couple good kickoff returns and a blocked field goal with no commensurate disaster on their part. They still hover towards the "yuck" end of the scale with the obvious exception of Zoltan the Inconceivable: Michigan has returned to #1 in net punting. The major awfulness is the punt returns: Michigan is 111th.
Purdue, on the other hand, has been thoroughly wretched in all phases of special teams. They're 110th in net punting—on average every time the two teams exchange punts you can expect Michigan to pick up 11 yards!—74th in (irrelevant) punt returns, and 55th on kick returns. Kicker Chris Summers started the year five of ten and got yanked for Carson Wiggs, who is five of eight in his limited time so far. Adding injury to insult, Wiggs strained his groin a couple weeks ago and has limited range:
"Right now I'm not 100 percent," he said. "It still gets sore and real tight real easy, so I'm still trying to take it easy on the field goals, with nothing over 40, 45 yards."
Key Matchup: Michigan punt returners fielding Purdue's short punts. We've seen a lot of balls bounce in front of Mathews this year; he needs to come up a bit and make sure he fields the ball, otherwise the punting advantage is likely to disappear.
- Anyone other than Steven Threet takes a snap at quarterback.
- Michigan has no new wrinkles to the offense.
- Painter looks healthy.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Justin Siller is the starting quarterback for the Boilers.
- Minor Rage returns with a rageful ragy vengance.
- There's a lot of punting, and Odoms is returning them.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; –1 for They Might Start A Nick Sheridan Equivalent, –1 for And Even If They Don't Senior Heroman Has a 6-10 TD-INT ratio, +1 for And They're Favored!, +1 for I See Missed Tackles In My Sleep.)
Desperate need to win level: 3 out of 10. (Baseline 5; –1 for I Am Henri, The Otter of Ennui, –1 for There's Not Even The Vague Hope Of A Bowl Game, +1 for Lord I Just Want One Or Two More UFRs That Make Me Not Want To Jump Out A Window, –1 for .)
Loss will cause me to... throw massive "we're the worst team in the Big Ten" party.
Win will cause me to... throw massive "we're not the worst team in the Big Ten" party.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
If Painter doesn't play or does so in a Henne-vs-OSU-last-year fashion, in which he is crippled but playing anyway, I don't see how Purdue can possibly score more than 10 points without serious assistance from Michigan's offense and special teams, and if this degenerates into a punting battle Zoltan has a huge advantage over Not Zoltan on the other team. In that scenario, I foresee an uncomfortable but ultimately solid Michigan victory of 10 points or so.
If Painter does play and is healthy I think Purdue wins because they'll take away the Michigan DL, dice up those Michigan linebackers, and one of the safeties or cornerbacks will screw up at some point, providing the Boilers a free touchdown that will stand as the difference at the end of the game.
So… yeah. Given that Tiller said Siller would see a significant number of snaps Saturday no matter what, I lean towards scenario #1: Painter is not going to be okay to play. But I'm splitting the difference below.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Cissoko sees a lot of time spotting Trent and as a third corner.
- Minor cracks 125.
- Michigan, 16-13.
Look, hi, you know me. Relentless Michigan realist/optimist that sort of called a 4-8 bottom to this year but also predicted 8-4 when it came down to it? Well, yeah. I have what I think is pretty bad news for 2009.
This is my probable count of senior starters in next year's lineup: five, one of whom might be in the NFL and one of whom is Stevie Brown.
No, seriously. There is significant buzz that 1) Ricky Barnum will displace an interior lineman (and given the way this year has played out that interior lineman will definitely by Tim McAvoy) and 2) Perry Dorrestein is currently hurt and that's the only reason he hasn't taken over at left tackle. So, yeah, then your starting lineup looks like:
- Seniors: David Moosman, Greg Mathews, Brandon Minor
- Juniors: Steve Schilling, Perry Dorrestein
- Sophomores: Martavious Odoms, Darryl Stonum, Kevin Koger, David Molk, Steven Threet
- Freshmen: Ricky Barnum.
- Seniors: Stevie Brown, Brandon Graham(?)
- Juniors: Jonas Mouton, Obi Ezeh, Donovan Warren, Ryan Van Bergen, Renaldo Sagesse
- Sophomores: JB Fitzgerald, Boubacar Cissoko, Mike Martin, Mike Williams
And that is the most veteran lineup I can assemble assuming the above changes on the OL. If Graham heads to the NFL you're looking at younger; if Threet gets beat out you're looking at younger; if Sagesse gets beat out you're looking at younger. A healthy return for Cory Zirbel would make the team older, but a couple weeks ago Rodriguez said his career might be over due to the injury he picked up.
It is reasonable to expect a significant step forward next year; it is not reasonable to expect the team to be actually good. The hole Michigan is in will take until 2010, or maybe even 2011, to dig out of entirely.
I'm tentatively hoping for that 8-4 I predicted this year and will be satisfied with 7-5, though we're a long way out for anything definitive. And that's assuming Michigan fills out the rest of its nonconference schedule, which currently stands at WMU and ND, with two tomato cans.