I did not make this headline up
Game column coming.
There's been a lot of debate in the aftermath of the Wisconsin game about whether or not Rodriguez made the right call after Johnny Thompson's interception return touchdown put Michigan up 20-19 with about ten minutes left.
The answer: absolutely, and it's not close. Let's break it down into three scenarios:
YOU GET TWO. Okay, you're up three, which means a field goal ties the game instead of winning it.
YOU GET ONE. Field goal means you lose. If you score another touchdown you have a likely-impregnable two score lead.
YOU GET ZERO. Field goal means you lose; if you score another touchdown Wisconsin can tie the game by scoring their own touchdown and going for two.
You can cancel a lot of stuff out because there are only two realistic scenarios in which the go-for-two situation is relevant: one UW field goal or a touchdown for each team and a Wisconsin two-point conversion. In all other cases outside of bizarroland, the decision doesn't matter.
At the time Rodriguez was trying to decide whether or not to go, Michigan had about 180 yards of total offense. Virtually all of that came on two inexplicable long touchdown drives; on Michigan's other ten drives they collected one first down and 31 total yards.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, had been gifted five first-half turnovers and largely squandered them. They had 248 yards of offense on 14 drives. They were averaging 18 yards every time they got the ball, and only had the points they did due to Michigan's largesse and a huge number of opportunities.
This was not exactly that 54-51 Northwestern game, where you were virtually guaranteed to see the opponent skate down the field and punch the ball in. This was a defensive slugfest between two teams heavily biased to the run, and it would take a highly unusual event like Dual Threet loping 60 yards with the Wisconsin secondary in tow to make the difference between one and zero even moderately relevant.
This is in fact what happened, but since Rich Rodriguez isn't the Kwisatz Haderach he didn't know what the future held in store and did the obvious thing: attempt to keep a field goal from beating you. Protesting that "you don't know what's going to happen" is weak sauce when you've got a pretty good idea that scenario A is far less likely than scenario B.
Anyone who disagrees is more than welcome to email me with invitations to high-stakes poker games.
I have no idea why this is happening in IE7:
Does anyone out there know? It disappears after you click around a bit. Please email me if you do; I've been looking at it forever and can't figure it out.
My suggestion to anyone getting this: click on a diary entry and then click back. I think that might work.
Update: a couple readers sent in fixes; I think this issue should be dead now.
If you're unfamiliar with the situation on these please check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post; action should get started around 3 PM.
Run Offense vs. Wisconsin
It took all of three games for the M-Den to start selling Sam McGuffie jerseys, and the off week has allowed Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw to get healthy. Could… maybe… good happen?
Against Notre Dame, Michigan alternated gashing runs with stuffed plays that were often mental errors on the part of various blockers. Notre Dame then ran out and ceded 200-some yards to Javon Ringer, but 63 of those were on a long carry late when Notre Dame was playing aggressively in the faint hope of getting the ball back on a three-and-out. Before that they had contained Ringer pretty well. They might not be completely atrocious on defense.
Wisconsin, however, is an entirely different ball of wax. This clip from the recently-posted Wisconsin scouting report is worrisome:
#91 [DT Jason Chapman] and #92 [DE Matt Shaughnessy] are their best players on defense. They are extremely quick off the ball and were very good at disrupting Fresno's zone running play. 91 is DT and just blew by people several times. He was also offsides two or three times, so I think we will get some easy 5 yard gains here and there. But Molk has got to be quick end get off the ball with power this week. This guy cannot spend the afternoon in Michigan's backfield or we will not be able to run the ball.
Michigan spent much of the ND game effectively doubling whichever DT was lined up to the playside, getting enough depth on their push to wash out pursuing linebackers. With Chapman appearing to be more of a penetrating, risk-taker sort there could be an enormous amount of variance in the effectiveness of run plays: when he loses his gamble he could run himself right out of the play or end up pancaked downfield; when he wins McGuffie is going to have to deal with a guy in his face far too often. Bruce Ciskie, meanwhile, is extremely concerned about Wisconsin's linebackers and their angles of pursuit. There appears to be some chance Michigan's run game functions decently.
However, I'm not super enthusiastic about that chance. In 2006—the year that Michigan's zone left was at maximum effectiveness—Wisconsin slashed into the Michigan backfield time and again and it was only the ineffable brilliance of Mike Hart that prevented a dozen TFLs. That was the same defensive philosophy and even some of the same players—Chapman and Shaughnessy have been around forever—Michigan will face tomorrow. Here's the UFR from that year:
Michigan spent around half of its first downs running into eight guys and another chunk running into seven from a three-wide set, which is functionally equivalent. Fully 20(!) of Michigan's 26 plays on first down were runs*, which is a big flashing sign that says "BAD OLD DAYS" to me. A big reason that Hart's YPC average to date is somewhat disappointing is his frequent deployment into obvious rush defenses. He's still doing his thing, but a combination of bad blocking and predictable playcalling means he's dodging tacklers at or before the line of scrimmage instead of three yards downfield.
The end result was a lot of plays where Hart turned something that should have been zero yards into four.
Can McGuffie do that? I don't know. I think he's much less likely to burrow forward for positive yards in bad situations and that Michigan will be facing a lot of long-yardage situations if he's dodging guys before he gets to the LOS.
This will be an interesting test for all sorts of Michigan-affiliated players: McGuffie and Shaw and various linemen going up against a tough Big Ten defense and Rodriguez and Magee, given a bye week with which to implement some counters, traps, and other plays that hope to play off of Wisconsin's tendency to aggression.
Key Matchup: I'm a broken record here, but: the interior line against Wisconsin's DTs. Michigan won this battle handily against Notre Dame and now takes up a more formidable foe.
Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin
Steven Threet's radical maturation into an honest to God quarterback gives Michigan hope for the future and a fighting chance going into Big Ten season. He's a freshman, though, and the rest of the year figures to be something of a roller-coaster.
Against Notre Dame, Darryl Stonum, Greg Mathews, and Martavious Odoms were the main options. Odoms got open consistently on wheel routes; Mathews dug out a number of tough balls and almost hauled in a spectacular touchdown; Stonum was the beneficiary of some attention paid to Odoms. All three seem like potential playmakers, and then there's the somewhat injured Junior Hemingway. There appears to be a lot of available talent in the WR corps if Threet can maintain his level of performance.
As far as Wisconsin goes: Michigan fans will be familiar with Detroiter Allen Langford, who's been decided average in his career to date. He is a senior with multiple years of starting under his belt, though, and will probably be at least all right. His bookend is not Jack Ikegwuonu by some other guy named Mario Goins. I don't think anyone really knows much about him yet, including Wisconsin.
Wisconsin year to date:
That's one okay performance, one great one, and one kinda-dodgy one. I think there's more raw ability in the Michigan skill players than there is in the Wisconsin secondary and if they run the right routes and Threet gets them the ball they can have some success. Wisconsin's pass rush hasn't been great and Michigan's pass blocking has been surprisingly good.
Also: with Wisconsin sticking to base sets most of the time, there should be some opportunity for Martavious Odoms to get loose on the perimeter.
Key Matchup: Odoms versus linebackers. Michigan has to make Wisconsin pay if they're going to stick in their base sets.
Run Defense vs. Wisconsin
Two weeks ago I wrote this in the Notre Dame preview:
The run defense is not as good as you might think it is, as the avalanche of sacks the team has unleashed distorts those numbers considerably. Miami’s lead back averaged 3.7 yards a carry and Utah’s main two guys combined for 94 yards on 21 carries, 4.5 per. That’s slightly harsh because both teams occasionally used their quarterbacks as runners and got stuffed doing it, but the point stands: this is not the country’s fourth-best rushing defense.
It's not like Michigan's rushing defense was a disaster against ND, but it wasn't exactly inspiring; Michigan performed on a par with SDSU and considerably worse than Michigan State. Time and again Johnny Thompson lost his battle with the fullback.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin is Wisconsin, the ultimate beef machine. Their linemen: large. Their tailbacks: large. Their fullback: large and actually named "Rentmeester." Their intent: to run straight. Their success so far:
Hey… that doesn't seem so imposing, especially when you consider there are no sacks in those numbers. Okay, so they smoked Akron but we're talking about Akron here, and if Michigan holds Wisconsin to 150-some yards on the ground they probably aren't racking up a million billion points against Warren and Trent and company. Well. Maybe they aren't.
I just don't see it, though. Notre Dame is not good at the smashmouth thing and did all right. Wisconsin is and projects to do better than all right. I'd be happy if Michigan turned in numbers comparable with Fresno State above.
Key Matchup: Ezeh and Thompson against the fullback. I bet Wisconsin follows the same tack Notre Dame does, doubling the hell out of the DTs and relying on the LBs to mess it up.
Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin
Allen Evridge tore it up against Marshall, completing 17 of 26 for a whopping 308 yards—11.8 YPA(!). Against Akron he was mostly a spectator (ten attempts) and against Fresno State he was thoroughly meh: 12 of 24 for 143 yards.
Of course, a hefty chunk of whatever struggles Evridge is having are due to the absence of all-universe tight end Travis Beckum. Beckum should be ready to terrorize Michigan linebackers on Saturday. In his absence Wisconsin's leading receiver is the other tight end (Garrett Graham), and their second-leading receiver is the other other tight end (Lance Kendricks), which kind of wraps up Wisconsin's offensive philosophy in a neat little bow.
The outside wideouts are Kyle Jefferson, a slow-ish guy but a rangy leaper dangerous on downfield jump balls, and little speedster David Gilreath. They have a total of eleven catches between them so far. No offense to either of those guys, but I don't think either is much of a worry.
Michigan's pass defense has been pretty good outside of the pair of HOLY GOD WHAT ARE YOU DOING errors the safeties turn in every game. Against Miami, Michigan got away with it. Against Utah and Notre Dame, not so much. Morgan Trent isn't great but he's solid. Donovan Warren is verging on avoid-at-all-costs territory, IMO.
The pass rush got shut out against Notre Dame largely because of some crazy max-protect sets and a big lead that allowed Notre Dame to forgo risk for the rest of the game; before that Michigan's defensive line had been murdering guys. They'll probably get back to that against Wisconsin's relatively lumbering line.
The big concern here is play action that fools the linebackers or safeties (or the linebackers and safeties) and gets tight ends wide open over the middle or one of the outside guys open deep. This should be a major advantage for Michigan if Wisconsin ends up in a long-yardage situation.
Key Matchup: Ezeh and Thompson and Mouton versus the tight end and the other tight end and the other other tight end, especially on play action. Also Brown. I expect a lot of robber zones from Michigan in an attempt to close down the inevitable gaps that will open up between the linebackers, who I guarantee will get sucked up on play action, and the safeties. This is tight end playground.
Wisconsin's kicker is pretty good, 4/5 on the year with his miss coming from beyond 50 yards.
Meanwhile, KC Lopata has been pretty good so far and Zoltan the Inconceivable has been excellent. Michigan's punting has been a huge net positive. Returns have been complete disaster; expect a rotation of punt and kick returners until they find someone who can run forward with the ball.
Key Matchup: Michigan returners versus HOLY GOD JUST CATCH THE BALL.
- Chapman slashes up into McGuffie right from the start.
- We don't see some improvement from the linebackers when they take on Wisconsin's fullbacks.
- Evil Threet returns.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan busts out aggression-killing misdirection early and often.
- Success with Odoms forces Wisconsin to go to a nickel.
- Michigan feels it can play really aggressive with the safeties and gets away with it.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for We Are Unprepared To Stop The Beef Machine, +1 for This Is Probably A Much Better Team Than We've Faced So Far, –1 for But We've Got A Quarterback!, +1 for But What Are The Chances He Doesn't Screw Up?, +1 for I Hate These Matchups ).
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for The California Raisin Bowl Is Slipping Away, +1 for 1-3 Would Not Be Particularly Fun, –1 for But 2-2 Wouldn't Be That Much Funner, +1 for If We Win We Can Woo Rose Bowl Hope For Like A Week)
Loss will cause me to... cancel those hotel reservations in downtown Detroit.
Win will cause me to... woooooo Rose Bowl baby!
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I don't think this is a good matchup for Michigan after watching Johnny Thompson get smoked by ND's fullback time and again. Wisconsin will have some success on the ground, suck up Michigan defenders, and then hit a long ball or three to Beckum or one of the outside guys; the rest of their yards they'll grind out on the ground. They'll probably get to the mid-to-high twenties.
Michigan, meanwhile, will probably get a reality check after the offense looked shockingly effective against Notre Dame. This is the kind of team that can make Michigan's patchwork offensive line look patchwork, and while I expect the offense won't revert to the ugly ways of the first couple games neither will it move up and down the field as smoothly as it did versus ND. A big play or two, one or two effective drives, and
This game isn't completely out of the question for Michigan as long as what we saw two weeks ago wasn't a mirage, but I think they have get one more big break than Wisconsin to win.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Threet throws at least one ugly interception.
- The defensive line returns to its rampant ways in the pass rush.
- Wisconsin, 24-17.
Bumped from the diaries for extreme usefulness. -ed
I've watched the first three quarters of the Wisco Fresno game, and the first half of the Marshall game. Here are my thoughts.Wisconsin's Defense:
- They base out of a 4-3. As long as a tight end is in the game, they will stay in this front. Against Fresno, they brought a safety down and played cover 1 behind it. I think they were in cover 1. Its hard to read coverages watching TV footage. They did not blitz fresno very often, only on 2nd and long or 3rd and long. They would usually put #2 over the tight end if the tight end was in the slot. Against Marshall, they kept both safeties back and played out of a 2 shell. They appeared to be running a soft two, where the corners get depth with the #1 receiver until their flat is threatened. I think they were also running this when Fresno would go 5 wide.
- On third and long they will run a 3 man front and blitz. Only once during the 5 quarters I watched did they not blitz out of this front. They like to bring #11 on the outside. If they other linebackers blitz out of this front, they generally go through B gap. They blitzed Marshall more than Fresno. Marshall was more of a passing offense so this makes sense.
- #91 and #92 are their best players on defense. They are extremely quick off the ball and were very good at disrupting Fresno's zone running play. 91 is DT and just blew by people several times. He was also offsides two or three times, so I think we will get some easy 5 yard gains here and there. But Molk has got to be quick end get off the ball with power this week. This guy cannot spend the afternoon in Michigan's backfield or we will not be able to run the ball. #92 is the same way. They get up field in a hurry, and one way to negate this are screen passes. Both Marshall and Fresno got a couple big gains on well executed screens. I don’t know if Michigan has run it very much this year, but running the inside trap should put #91 on his back and hopefully result in some good runs.
- I think they will play us more like they played Fresno, so Carson Butler on #2 should be a huge mismatch. He is not that good in man to man coverage. Fresno’s tight end is not the athlete Carson Butler is, but consistently got open against that guy. If Butler is going to break out in a game this year, it has got to be against #2 in man to man coverage.
- Their corners seem to be ok in man coverage, but not great. Again, its hard to tell on TV film. I think we will see a lot of man coverage, because we have not consistently beat man coverage. If we see this, we need to make them pay for it. We have to throw the fade accurately and run better routes. They are physical corners, and Michigan’s receivers must be physical as well. I don’t think our receivers have been good enough in this area. They have been redirected on some of their vertical routes, and they have to be better. If we start hitting on the fades and comebacks, our other routes will open. The safeties are also ok players. #12 gets to the ball quickly. When they bring a safety down, I think it was #21 who they brought most of the time. They also like to blitz him in their three man front when he is playing man over #2.
- Bubble screens could be difficult to run this week. They mostly play with a man over every receiver, so by alignment we will be at a disadvantage for this play. However, if we are successful running the zone/counter/trap, they may have to bring the man over #2 or #3 to the inside, opening up the bubble screens. The three step passing game should be there this week too, especially if they are in man. The three step slant is one of the hardest throws to defend man to man, especially if the corners think the #1 receiver is a vertical threat.
- The linebackers are good players. They are not incredibly athletic, but they play disciplined and are good tacklers. However, if Michigan can take care of #91 and #92 and get to the second level, we can run on these guys. They are susceptible to misdirection. They bit on a reverse in the Fresno game, and usually bit pretty hard on the bootlegs.
- There isn’t as much to say here. This is an I-formation offense that is looking to drive you off the ball. They like to keep two tight ends in the game most of the time. With the athletic tight ends they have, they can run or throw out of these formations. Beckum especially is a threat lining up in the slot or outside. They are also decent blockers, but we have to get by these guys when they are blocking on run plays.
- Their favorite formation is a tight end other either side with twins to the wide side of the field. They can run the belly to either side or throw out of this formation. They also like to put both tight ends on the same side with a fullback in the backfield. They will pull the center and play side tackle out between the tight ends and run the fullback through the hole as a lead blocker. They run this a lot and have success with it. They also motion the wing tight end to the other side. They run to the motion and run the counter away from it. Sometimes, they pull the motioned tight end back to the play side and run a trap. Any pulling lineman will take you to the play side. When lineman work off double teams and get to the second level, they go after the outside linebackers, and leave the Mike for the lead blocking full back. When they pull, it looks like they are looking for the first man to show.
- Their passing game is based around their tight ends. They will run them on deep outs, down the seam, and down the sideline. They also like to run crossing routes with these guys. They look for these guys first. Their wideouts do not seem like much of a threat. #7 is a big tall guy but can get pushed around. #3 and #85 are smaller quicker guys, but did not get much separation against Fresno db’s. They will run some bubble screens out of twins and trips if the defense is way off the line of scrimmage. Everidge is a typical Wisconsin qb. His arm strength and accuracy or just ok, and he can make a few plays with his legs. We need to hit him early and often. I think this is possible. Marshall got some pressure on him early, and Fresno was able to get some as well. We need a big day from Jamison and Graham on passing downs, and I think we will blitz a lot on these downs as well.
- As a defense, we have to stop the run game. This is not going to be easy to do all day. However, I think we can do it. Our DT, have to stand up the double teams, and not allow the Oline to release to the lb’s. When our lb’s take on a lineman or a lead blocker, they cannot let them get into their bodies. They either have to take them head on, extend their arms, and shed the block, or take them on with their correct shoulder and make the play with their free shoulder. Even if this is just forcing the play back to the middle, it has to be done. Our lb’s have got to deliver hits this week. Putting their heads down and lunging will result in big gains for P.J. Hill. He will run through arm tackles, and if we try to hit him high, he will get 5 yards after contact. He is a big guy, but he runs pretty upright. We have to hit him low, wrap up, and drive him back. I think we have the athletes at lb to make these plays, but until now they have been lunging. Hopefully, they have been working on this for two weeks and execute better on Saturday.
- We have to hit the tight ends as they come off the line of scrimmage. We do not have a linebacker that matches up well with Beckum. Maybe Mouton can stay with him, but if he catches a ball, does Mouton bring him down immediately? The other TE, Graham, is not as physical as Beckum. We can knock this guy down right off the line of scrimmage and take him out of the game completely. We need to hit Beckum too on every single play. When these tight ends try to release off the line, we need to put them on their backs. You can hit a guy in college until the ball is in the air, and we have to beat these guys up. Warren and Trent should have no problem locking up their wideouts.
- I expect to see Michigan run some cover 4 in this game where the safeties are buzzing their feet at the snap and reading the play. The corners are man outside, and if the safeties read run they come up in run support. If they read pass, they have deep half. From what gsimmons has posted about the defense, this coverage is now in Michigan’s arsenal. Whatever coverages they run, I expect to see safeties coming down in run support.
- One last thing, they run a play action where they fake a zone stretch play and bootleg, dragging the tight end from the original play side. They hit it for big chunks of yards against Fresno. However, they ran the play action 3 or 4 times in the games I watched, but only handed off once. If you see the zone stretch, it is most likely a play action. Again, we have to hit both tight ends on this play and cannot let them release cleanly.
Well that’s what I have for this week. I definitely think we can move the ball against their D, but we have to execute the fade route better. We also have to be able to run the bread n’ butter zone read play with 3 or 4 wide receiver sets. Defensively, our lb’s have to improve significantly at taking on lead blocks and delivering a hit on tackles. We need to hit Everidge early and often, and we have to keep the TE’s from getting a clean release off the LOS. I really believe this is a winnable game. We definitely have the weapons on offense to hurt them in secondary. Our Oline needs to execute, and we absolutely cannot turn the ball over.