The D-League as petri dish for weird basketball concepts.
9/23/2006 - Michigan 27-13 Wisconsin - 4-0 (1-0)
We lost this game last year. Almost this exact same game. Wisconsin struggled to move the ball in the air. We had a couple of unfortunate, potentially game-changing turnovers. We turned the ball over on a fourth and short. The score uncomfortably close at halftime.
Obviously, things went a little better this time. The difference: this game was over the instant Mario Manningham cruised under another deadly accurate 30-yard bomb from Chad Henne. It was 17-10 midway through the third quarter, and that game had ended. That assertion is patently ridiculous when made about a team that never met a fourth-quarter lead it couldn't blow, but it is also true. That game was over. Wisconsin would not move the ball anywhere near Michigan's endzone until it was far too late, and that's what I expected. Where did that come from? Where did the paranoid fear that dominated my psyche at halftime of the ND game when we led by twenty go? Somewhere. I don't know.
By the time Michigan officially put the game beyond reach with a short Rivas field goal, Wisconsin had under 150 yards in total offense, 12 of them on the ground. They had gone backwards in the second half. Irritating garbage-time passing against the second string propped up Wisconsin's final numbers and partially obscured the ridiculous dominance of Woodley, Branch, Crable, et al., but make no mistake: this was nearly as beat-down-errific as the Notre Dame game, except in this game Michigan won going away with a -2 in the turnover margin column* instead of a +4. Replay this game 100 times and the average margin of victory for Michigan is closer to 24 than 14.
And thus severe cognitive dissonance in the Michigan fanbase. Stung by the Year of Infinite Pain and previous Years of Unnecessary But Thankfully Finite Pain, there is a hestiancy to predict anything better than 10-2, to envision horrible losses to teams with no business on the same field as Michigan (I'm looking at you, Penn State), to prepare for the inevitable hammer blow to the chest courtesy a wacky punt formation or foolish confidence in a slim lead or the plain bloody-mindedness of the universe. We hesitate. We don't want to go through that again.
And yet... this team is not last year's team. The Henne-Manningham connection gives this offense a big play element it lacked last year and allows Henne to show off the laser-guided deep ball that won Braylon Edwards the Belitnikoff. Mike Hart is, like, playing. The defense has been nearly impregnable when it matters, giving up the odd touchdown here and there when someone blows an assignment but otherwise mercilessly crushing any and all resistance.
The terrifying reality is this is not a 9-3 team. It's not a 10-2 team. And while the harsh axioms of probability conspire against the possibility of an undefeated team, that still-dim chance grows stronger with every sack, every graceful Manningham touchdown, and every four yards Mike Hart creates out of nothing.
In 1997 we played Notre Dame, and I watched Michigan turn the ball over around midfield three times. We were trying to follow the horrible script Michigan fans know and loathe so well: late lead, late turnover, late loss. We tried it three times, but one stop became two became three and we wandered off the field, victors. Something changed in there. Faith spontaneously generated itself like maggots in meat. Self-protective cynicsm departed.
At some point on Saturday -- probably when Stocco was getting crushed or Hill was getting crushed or Manningham was gliding under touchdowns or Steve Breaston was dancing through Wisconsin coverage like he was a part of the Michael Jackson halftime show -- I gave up. You win, winged helmets. Lucy, I am ready to kick the football.
*(Strange final interception with game decided is omitted; turnover on downs included.)
I bet this one is less contentious, largely because there isn't a behemoth blog like BGS for UW fans -- no offense to the fine Badger blogs out there, but BGS gets traffic -- and thus only a small likelihood of PO-ed spillover.
I also bet this game is closer.
Wait... it's Friday? We have a game tomorrow? God, I hope the players got over this BEAT DOWN thing quicker than I did.
Run Offense vs. Wisconsin
Michigan had its hands full last year despite Wisconsin starting freshmen along the DL and having no one of real note on the defense other than DT Nick Hayden. Then Wisconsin killed Auburn's grinding, Kenny-Irons-led attack. And then most of those guys returned. Now? Well, Justin Ostrowski's out but Jason Chapman played most of last year and has been effective if not thrilling. Outside linebacker Jonathan Casillas has 3.5 TFL already and looks like an active playmaker.
Do not expect easy going. It'll be a hard slog for the Michigan run offense. If Wisconsin stacks the box like Notre Dame did, they will stop the run about as well (remember that Hart had a lot of yards but Michigan averaged but 2.9 YPC).
A couple points in Michigan's favor:
- There's no way a reasonable opponent can stack the line as much as ND did. Michigan got up by so much so early that it was correct in a game theory sense for Notre Dame to sell out on the run and for Michigan to run into it most of the time. When the score is close Wisconsin will have to hang back more because of that whole Manningham thing.
- Wisconsin defensive ends seem to come in pass-rushing or run-stuffing varieties. There's no Abiamiri equivalent.
- With Michigan in three-wide packages for much of the game Wisconsin will have to go to a dodgy nickel corner or tip their coverages.
Still: this looks like a game where Hart's line reads 28-96-1 TD. It won't be easy.
Key Matchup: Kraus & Bihl versus Hayden. Derek Landri caused a lot of problems versus Notre Dame with interior penetration, and Hayden is a better player.
Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin
Hey, I guess we do have one of these after all. It's Mario Manningham, and sometimes friends. Adrian Arrington is showing potential -- he had a great sideline catch against ND -- and Steve Breaston is still a YAC threat whenever he catches the ball, which is not as often as Michigan fans would like. Michigan's dirty little secret this year: Chad Henne has been really accurate. He hasn't thrown all that much and still has the occasional misread, but when he lets it go it's been on target much more often. A spate of dropped balls have kept his completion percentage low, but if you go beyond the numbers the difference is clear. 2005 Henne overthrows Manningham deep. 2006 Henne? Not so much.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin linebackers picked up four sacks and another half-dozen hurries against San Diego State. Bret Bielema's reputation for being a blitz donkey certainly seems justified and no doubt Michigan will see more of the same, as their defensive linemen have not proven they can get to the quarterback with regularity. Jamal Cooper might provide that edge-rush but may still be hampered by a shoulder injury. In the secondary, Wisconsin fans are excited about corner Jack Ikegwuonu, but he hasn't faced much competition yet. Behind him is little. Michigan should be able to get receivers open. Wisconsin hopes that when they do Henne is busy running for his life.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus Wisconsin blitzers. Michigan's first two drives versus ND were ended when Michigan blew blitz pickups. Later in the game, Michigan picked those blitzes up and the results: touchdown Manningham, touchdown Manningham, touchdown Manningham.
Run Defense Vs Wisconsin
Last year, Brian Calhoun shredded Michigan by bouncing almost every run outside into the open swaths of grass vacated by our incompetent outside linebacking. This year, Shawn Crable is playing like the Terminator, Prescott Burgess is catching touchdowns from Brady Quinn, and 240 pound Wisconsin tailback PJ Hill isn't likely to bounce anything anywhere. So last year does not seem particularly relevant.
What will be relevant: Michigan's first severe test against a team bound and determined to plow the ball ahead. For the first time this year DTs Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson, and Alan Branch will come under heavy fire. We only have scant evidence from the year to date that they'll hold up, as Michigan faced few conventional rushing plays in the first three games, but the early returns are good. Taylor and Johnson have already made more plays in the run game than Pat Massey did all last year; Branch has been outstanding against both the run and the pass. With Dave Harris proving himself an all-conference-level middle linebacker, yards up the middle will be hard to come by for Wisconsin. (Probably. There is that "not enough data" problem.)
Hill, like Ron Dayne, has merrily plowed over a series of frightened chipmunks masquerading as opponents coming into the Michigan game. He projects to meet the same fate as Dayne when he wanders into Michigan Stadium.
Key Matchup: DE Lamarr Woodley versus OT Joe Thomas. The battle of the titans will be most relevant in the ground game. Wisconsin will no doubt try to involve the best player on their team in as many plays as possible; if Woodley does not disrupt plays off left tackle Shawn Crable will end up on the wrong end of a lot of collisions with Hill.
Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin
Both Badger bloggers declared UW's fate in this department to be grisly, so who am I to disagree?
Stocco has been mediocre at best this year. Stripped of playmakers in the passing game, Wisconsin has struggled. Yes, you could have said the same thing about Michigan just one week ago, but remember how shocked everyone was? That shock will be tripled if Paul Hubbard gets loose for 140 yards and three touchdowns an an FBD.
Wisconsin's biggest loss in this department isn't Jonathan Orr or Brandon Williams, it's Calhoun. He (and Owen Daniels) also shredded Michigan aerially by taking a series of screens and dumpoffs for critical first downs. Both are gone, and Calhoun has been replaced by a lumbering 240 pound freshman. Hill does have six receptions this season but there's no way anyone his size can possibly live up to what Calhoun does: he just doesn't have the change of direction to make much after the catch. With Michigan's defensive line making deep balls chancy, expect the secondary to play aggressively and lock down UW recievers to a scanty few yards after the catch.
Key Matchup: Shawn Crable versus blitz pickup. Wisconsin's problems against Western Illinois have been documented in VEQ. If they have the same issues against Michigan, John Stocco is going to look like Brady Quinn.
I would like to point out that Garrett Rivas is 6/7 with one blocked field goal. And, yes, a blocked extra point, but it was good to get it out of the way against Notre Dame instead of a team that was a threat to come within 20 points of us. Wisconsin's Taylor Mehlhaff is similarly good but not great. He's 2/3 last year and was 14/20 a year ago.
Michigan figures to have an edge in the return game, as Steve Breaston is a proven threat. No one on Wisconsin has that sort of resume.
Key Matchup: Michigan versus hideous screwups. Oregon, Iowa, 2003.
Double-digit spreads don't get kittens. It's a rule.
Also: rain projected this weekend. Doesn't matter nearly as much on Field Turf but could lead to wackiness.
- PJ Hill gashes us up the middle.
- The run game continues to struggle.
- The run-run-throw-punt-ish playc
alling from Notre Dame reappears in a closer game.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Henne is protected.
- Wisconsin seems stuck in third and long.
- Zoltan starts realizing his space potential.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for But This Is A Respected Opponent, Right?; +1 for We Always Seem To Blow It; -1 for $#*!ing BEAT DOWN; -2 for You Want To Run? At The #1 Rush D?).
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Let's Not Blow It, Kids; +1 for We Lost To Them Last Year; +1 for Seriously: Don't Blow It.)
Loss will cause me to... no way, man. Don't even. That would be totally lame.
Win will cause me to... forcibly restrain myself until the MSU game before seriously thinking national championship thoughts.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Well... I looked at the 14-point spread at the beginning of the week and was like O RLY? But as I think more and more about the game I think Michigan will beat that spread. My main assumption: Hill finds it impossible to run because Michigan is up in his face all day and he can't ever get the head of steam that rumbling backs Keith Jackson would assuredly refer to as a "hoss" need to be effective. What I've seen out of Terrance Taylor so far this year has been impressive. Will Johnson had one of the most critical plays of the ND game when he was the main impetus for a 3rd and 1 stoning in the second quarter that helped the floodgates stay open. And those guys are the two question marks on the line.
Stocco's been hideous to date and I can't see him converting enough third downs against our DL to drive Wisconsin down the field, especially because he can't rely on his skill position players to make yards Wisconsin doesn't deserve. This might seriously piss off the fine Wisconsin fans who stumble across this blog, but I'd be surprised if UW scored a touchdown without a short field provided by a turnover or a long return.
Offensively, it will be a chore. Bielema, like English, has a reputation for aggressiveness and has historically had great defenses. (Last year's debacle stands out as the exception in a dozen-year career.) If they stack the line, Michigan will travel only in fits and starts. Hurling it deep to Manningham is a good idea but a high variance one that is highly susceptible to an off day.
Still, Michigan will score in the twenties. Hart is Hart and Wisconsin's corners are still young and dodgy.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- PJ Hill averages 2.5 YPC.
- Breaston scores.
- 24-6, Michigan.
Sorry: late. Firefox crash while typing = sad panda.
Further adventures in Badger: Apparently mopeds are a plague on UW's campus. Who knew? They're also a plague on the football team: second-string linebacker Elijah Hodge (Abdul's brother) was arrested for stealing one and will miss the Michigan game. Also, Bruce Ciskie has his Michigan O vs Wisconsin D preview up @ The Fanhouse.
Ok, ok: definitely the last bit of ND stuff. Probably. Josh Houchin, who helped out with the UFR clips in previous weeks, has an eight-minute highlight reel simply titled "Domination." (Warning for my mom: f-bomb dropped in the soundtrack. Don't blame me, I didn't choose the music.)
Meanwhile, Maize 'n' Brew took a PDA to the game and scribbled out a bunch of strangely compelling, vowel-free notes. Favorite sequence (Michigan leads 27-7 at this point):
Hrt 1 yrd lft. Hrt for 10.
Nd fans ftng among selves.
Some more running interspersed, then:
Hnne TD pass lft sd to manham!
Nd fns ht 1 anthr. argin ovr standing.
Meanwhile, Vijay is mad. Real mad. This is something to see. I get mad all the time. There are probably three or four articles a week I read and consciously decide "no, let this one go." So it's not really news when I get mad. I'm easy to piss off. Vijay, on the other hand, appears to be the nicest person in the Western Hemisphere, but even he flips out when ND fans universally start crabbing "The outcome of this game had nothing to do with the officating BUT" as if that one little sentence excuses all the paranoid ravings about...
NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH REFEREE INQUISITION! Our chief weapon is incompetence, incompetence and replay. Our two weapons are replay and incompetence. And ruthless inefficiency. Our THREE weapons are replay and incompetence and ruthless ineffiency. And an almost fanatical devotion to Lloyd Carr. Our FOUR... no. AMONGST our weapons... amongst our weaponry are such elements as replay...
I'll come in again.
Finally, BGS's preseason predictions are not quite as emasculating as my 2005 Purdue for Space Emperor campagin, but they are, um, interesting to review.
It is a Toomer: Amani Toomer profiled in the NYT(reg). He has been around a long time.
Hockey picked up a recruit for... 2009(!).Some detail @ WCH. Already committed to the NTDP for next year, so a player.
Etc.: Rocky Top Talk's Race to the National Championship is a lot more fun for Michigan fans than last year's edition.
We haven't had a good-old media idiot bashing session in a while, probably because Scoop Jackson is covering tennis, but ooooh we've got a good one this time. It's from Sports Talk Radio On Paper's Matt Hayes, who has no redeeming features and should end it now to prevent his family further embarassment.
On with the show:
We were so giddy and giggly at the mere thought of it all. No clear leader, no one team to chase -- pure pandemonium.
And Ohio State had to go and ruin it.
It took the Buckeyes all of three weeks to become the undisputed lead dog in a national title race that had looked deliciously crowded and convoluted. (As for our preseason pick, Notre Dame? Pfffffffft.)
Indeed. Way to make one stupid prediction that gets shot all to hell immediately, learn nothing, and immediately make another BOLD!!! prediction that's equally overblown and stupid. There are dogs smarter than this.
Also: prepare yourself for the lamest attempt at humor since... uh... not very long ago. These are sportswriters we're talking about, after all. But it's still mind-numbing.
We're a quarter of the way into the season, and there's one thing even more unexpected than a male voice on The View: No one is beating Ohio State. At least not in the regular season.
I hope earwigs eat your face.
"They have very few flaws," says Texas safety Michael Griffin.
What an awesome out of context quote that is not followed up on anywhere in the article. Pad that wordcount, pad pad.
Damn Buckeyes. Make that damn Big Ten. As September winds down and October brings key conference games, there is no more disappointing league. Forget about Michigan or anyone else in the Big Ten sideswiping this train. Not only is Ohio State clearly the elite of the league, the Buckeyes have one other key component to a championship run: a coach who knows how to win a big game.
Wait... what? Ok, I'll grant you that Northwestern, Indiana, and Illinois wouldn't come within shouting distance of OSU if they pooled their rosters, but good God, have you SEEN the ACC? The land where talent goes to die?
You don't care, do you? You just create this article in the pea-sized chamber your parents call "the reason we stopped with one child" and you call a "der... der... brain! cookie? brain!", then feebly attempt to justify it with... well, nothing at all.
This is a players game. But when the talent gap is minimal, when there is no real difference in speed and athleticism, you better have a guy in a headset who knows what he's doing.
Wait, why are you talking about Charlie Weis?
One of the most overlooked factors in the game today: When all things are equal -- and sometimes when they're not -- no one is a better big-game coach than Jim Tressel.
I think you and your media psychophant* buddies really meant "Charlie Weis" in that sentence.
*(It's like "sychophant" only creepier and more likely to root through your dumpster, looking for evidence you still love him.)
Pete Carroll looks like a genius with all that talent at Southern California. Mack Brown validated his elite status riding Superman Vince Young. Tressel? He won a national title with Craig Freakin' Krenzel.
...so now you're ascribing OSU's highwire 2002 national championship act entirely to the coaching prowess of Jim Tressel? What about a metric buttload of luck? Did Jim Tressel's eye lasers guide that pass into Jenkins' hands versus Purdue?
Also: is this maroon asserting that OSU is somehow devoid of talented players? That as soon as Buckeyes leave Columbus the NFL scoffs at them and then they go get jobs at Wendy's? LOOK AT ALL THESE ANGRY RHETORICAL QUESTIONS.
The guy can flat-out coach in big games -- in games that matter. In five-plus seasons in Columbus, he's 3-0 in BCS bowl games and 4-1 against bitter rival Michigan. One of those BCS wins (Miami, 2002) was against the most talented college football team in the past two decades.
Dude, that wasn't even the BEST ONE LOSS TEAM EVER, or didn't you watch ESPN's month-long tongue bathing of the 2006 Trojans? You smell like sin.
And now Tressel has superstar quarterback/Heisman Trophy front-runner Troy Smith. He has wideout Ted Ginn, the game's most exciting player. He has Gonzo and Beanie and Antonio Pittman and a "revamped" defense that 100-some other Division I teams would trade theirs for.
Blah blah blah many teams have good an interesting players this does not constitute proof but three weeks ago you would have written: "And now Weis has superstar quarterback/Heisman Trophy front-runner Brady Quinn. He has wideout Jeff Smardjzasdai, he has players and a defense he specifically told to be faster this year, boy howdy."
He also has -- after winning yet another big game two weeks ago at Texas -- an incredibly easy road to the national title game. The Big Ten schedule includes road tests at Iowa (did you watch the Iowa-Syracuse game?)
Did you? No, you didn't, because then you might have noticed that Iowa's backup quarterback threw four interceptions.
and, and . . . that's it. The Buckeyes get Penn State in Columbus on Saturday, don't play occasional thorn Wisconsin and finish up at home against Michigan.
And of course you leave out Drew Stanton and his rumored teammates, who just got done obliterating what looked like a pretty good Pitt team. Last year it took an epic, JLS-flipout-causing special teams meltdown for Ohio State to win that game... at home.
Also: Minnesota! Er... nevermind.
Don't even start, Blue Boy. For the Wolverines to win The Game, Lloyd Carr would have to outcoach Tressel. And that ain't happening.
(Of note: Hayes apparently saw Dienhart's weird, awful article in which he created some sort of avatar represeting the Michigan fanbase and liked it so much that he adopted it. Not only is this stupid and juvenile, it's not even original.)
Well, damn. Let's just cancel the thing until Tressel retires.
Projected Matt Hayes column one week ago: For the Wolverines to #$*!ing BEAT DOWN Notre Dame, Lloyd Carr would have to outcoach Charlie Weis. And that ain't happening.
"He's not a loud, look-at-me kind of coach," says Cincinnati coach Mark Dantonio, the Buckeyes' most recent victim, of Tressel. "What he has done there and what he can do kind of gets lost in that."
Until, that is, he ruins our party.
In conclusion, you are ugly.
Nice teeth, horseface!
1. Its only the third week of the season and we've already seen some highly ranked favorites drop out of national championship contention. Preseason favorite Cal dropped to #21 after a loss and a pair of underwhelming victories. Who's your pick as the next NC contender to take a fall?
Florida. Schedule is a death march: a one-loss Florida team that wins the SEC should be in the MNC game over an undefeated VT or WVU.
2. By that same token there are several schools hanging around without a loss that all of a sudden look like surprise contenders. There are also a few one loss teams with a legit shot at getting back into it. Looking at the rankings who's the team no one's talking about with the best shot at crashing the party?
No one's talking about now? Or at the beginning of the season? I had Louisville ranked above WVU at season's start and while the Mountaneers are getting mountains of hype Louisville has just as much of a shot at dodgy undefeated-ness come season's end.
Other than the Big East duo, the obvious answer is Virginia Tech. The ACC has quickly descended into a mass of garbage and VaTech's annual bear of a defense and special teams touchdown per game could be enough to skate through the regular season undefeated. But we've thought that about VaTech since... well, forever.
3. Every team has their quicksand away game. You know. That place you should win but somehow find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory or at least scare the &*%^ out of you every year. Did you know that over the last 21 years Kentucky wasn't won once in Knoxville? Where is your team's yearly sandtrap?
Ask me last week, and the answer is Notre Dame. Ask me this week: still Notre Dame. I done seen too many improbable things under the watchful eye of Michigan Defensive Touchdown Jesus to let one BEAT DOWN completely erase my fear of that baleful place.
4. Now that you've looked into the darkest place in your football soul, free Escalades aside, turn and look into your crystal ball. Conference play is either just starting or a single game in. Based on what you've seen so far, give the order of finish in your conference, and if you've got a Conference Championship game tell us who the winner will be. Independents must predict the remainder of their schedule. The results your predictions will be held against you at the end of the season.
ON TRACK FOR THE BIGGEST GAME EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVER
1. Michigan (WOO HOMER!)
2. Ohio State
STILL IN MY TOP TEN DESPITE AVAILABLE EVIDENCE
CREAMY SOFT MIDDLE OF CONFERENCE
4. Michigan State
6. Penn State
YOU LOST WHAT TO WHO?
5. In keeping with the spirit of Maize n Brew, name your beverage of choice on game days and why. It need not be alcoholic, as there are some of us who choose not to imbibe on game day. Further, it need not be limited to a single brand/type/category. If you enjoy drinking PBR and Kraft Turkey Gravy at the same time (which I have personally witnessed), please, elaborate. Finally, if you should feel so inclined, and this is not a requirement, add an anecdote involving said beverage choice.
I don't drink on gamedays. At least, not before the game. Whenever I've watched a sporting event in the throes of intoxciation the memories afterward are hazy and dulled, and I'm willing to take the chance of something awful happening (like, say, 2005) in exchange for a clear and lucid remembrance of anything Mario Manningham does.
BONUS SMQB question: What gridiron memory sears you so deeply, down to your appropriately-colored veins, that a simple acknowledgement, a "sorry" from the proper source - even if it didn't change the outcome - would lift a burden and cleanse a scarred corner of the soul? What injustice do you still carry, and want officially recognized?
I would like to see the timekeeper who gave Michigan State a second it did not have in 2001 shot.