"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."
If you follow me on Twitter (@varsityblue), you probably got most of the info yesterday, but for those who don't, or who want it in a convenient format, here are the notes from yesterday's postgame press conference.
- The drama of the week heading into the game brought the team together as a family more than they already had been.
- Rodriguez told Tate that he didn't need to do too much himself. He's surrounded by athletes on the team, just get them the ball and let them make the plays.
- Tate's never gotten nervous for a game - "and I don't think I ever will."
- Tate has no Denard jealousy - in fact, playing two QBs substantially makes the Michigan team much harder for opponents to defend.
- Tate wasn't impressed by Denard's touchdown run - "I've seen him do it so many times in practice... it's typical for him to do that."
- Tate was surprised by the offense's big plays. He thought the offense would move it down the field - not get it all in one play.
- The first game against D-1 athletes didn't faze Denard. He's practiced against the guys on his own team, and knew what to expect
- Denard's athleticism makes it much harder for the opposing teams to prepare. There's even the potential to get both QBs on the field at the same time for some crazy stuff (see: Denard lined up at slot in second drive).
- Denard said college is a lot different from high school. On top of actual gameplay, the crowd was really loud.
- There's velcro on the inside of Denard's shoes to keep them on despite the lack of laces.
- As far as the QB competition, Robinson isn't too worried about who starts. He came here to compete for playing time at quarterback, and he'll continue to compete for playing time at quarterback.
- The coaches try to put a lot of pressure on the kids in practice, so that they won't get overwhelmed in games. (Hmm, sounds a bit like one Glenn Schembechler).
- There were a couple execution errors offensively, as well as too many penalties. Once those get worked out, hopefully the offensive will be able to move more consistently.
- The biggest key for Michigan's coaches in preparing for the season was to eliminate negative-yardage plays and turnovers. They did that for the most part, and they'll try to work on the penalties (which they aren't happy with, either).
- Rodriguez is still concerned with defensive depth. However, the defense looked pretty good in the first half.
- Rodriguez thanked the fans for supporting the team. In true Michigan coach fashion, he dropped the word "tremendous" about 5 times. As far as fans chanting his name, "They can say my name, but really, they're cheering for Michigan."
- Brandon Minor looked OK in warmups. He hopes Brandon can play next week, and he's confident that Junior Hemingway and Boubacar Cissoko will also be fine for next week. (Notes: From the sounds of it, Minor could have gone if the team really needed him. I think he was held out mostly as a precaution. If Cissoko isn't healthy for next week, God Help Us against Notre Dame).
- Craig Roh has a lot of talent, and should really contribute to the team this year.
- All 3 quarterbacks will continue to play (Note: I would say it's pretty clear who 1a, 1b, and 2 are at this point, though).
- The coaches knew Junior Hemingway could be this good. He showed it last year, but then got hurt and couldn't play most of the year.
- It was tough giving up the shutout in the fourth quarter. It would have sent a big statement in week 1.
- The team's been hungry all off-season to erase the bad taste from last year. The drama of the past week didn't change that, it only amplified it.
- Obi has seen Denard making crazy runs in practice, and it's good to see him do it against actual opposition. "It's not just me" that Denard can make look foolish.
- Notre Dame has a good QB and good offensive threats. Though most of the focus in practice to this point has been on Western, they'll jump straight into Notre Dame prep. The coaches will have a good gameplan against the Irish.
- It feels good to be healthy. It almost feels weird, like he's starting over again. It feels good to be out there with the team.
- It feels good to start the year putting the team's best foot forward.
- The offense is much better this year, because everyone is on the same page, and everyone knows what to do now.
- Hemingway himself says he could have played in the second half if needed. Sitting in the second frame was precautionary, and he'll be fine to go against Notre Dame.
Alright. We are going to try this despite not organizing it well at all.
Jared is the only guy around but CIL now allows you to add moderators on the fly. If you'd like to help out, and help will be needed, type it in the box below. Approximate dispersion of people:
- PBP guy/scoreboard updater
- News item guy
- 2-3 comment moderator guys
I'll be at the game, but I wish you luck. For people new to this thing check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Western Michigan|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mi|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, September 5th 2009|
|THE LINE||Michigan -13|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
Run Offense vs. Western
If Michigan wants to win football games this year, especially starting a freshman quarterback, they are going to have to run the ball well. As detailed extensively here and at Varsity Blue, they went from a horrible running team at the beginning of last year to an average-to-good one after the Penn State game. Returning every contributor from the offensive line with another year in the offensive system and the weight training program can only help.
The Broncos weren't particularly adept at stopping the run last year, ranking 62nd in the nation despite facing buzzsaw offenses like Idaho (#74 in rushing), Tennessee Tech (#95 - in Division 1-AA), Temple (#109), Ohio (#79), Buffalo (#75), Central Michigan (#72(!)), and Rice (#62). The Broncos did also face a couple top-30 teams, and some that were vaguely around the 50th percentile. Still, they gave up some serious rushing yardage to some bad teams. Michigan should have the talent advantage over every single one of those moribund teams and everyone the Broncos played against last year except Illinois (who the Broncos took down) and Nebraska. I say "should" because of last year.
That brings us to the horror show that is Western's front seven. The top two defensive ends and the 2nd and 3rd defensive tackles are gone. Cody Cielenski—all 274 pounds of him—is the only returning starter. That much turnover on a line that wasn't very good last year, could spell trouble for the Broncos' ability to defend the run.
The linebackers aren't quite as inexperienced, with 5th-year senior Austin Pritchard returning. He was second on the team in tackles last year, and was named first-team all-MAC. He'll be joined by Mitch Zajac and Justin Braska. Braska is a classic linebacker, while Zajac is the new-model converted-safety-type who can play in space, and will likely be a bigger hindrance to a spread team like the Wolverines.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Interior Offensive Linemen v. The Second Level. With an inexperienced defensive line facing Michigan's now-seasoned OL, the Wolverines in the trenches should be able to execute their initial double-teams and move up to the second level. If their athleticism is such that they can get blocks on linebackers and even secondary players, it could be Big Play City for the Michigan offense. Otherwise, it could be a grind-it-out kind of day, which might not be the best-case scenario for Michigan with Brandon Minor dinged up.
Still, Carlos Brown and Co. should be able to move the ball on the ground with, no matter what.
Pass Offense vs. Western
If Western's run defense was pretty bad last year, their pass defense was downright terrible. Facing the same motley crew of offenses, they finished #102 in the nation in pass defense. 9They were a more respectable #62 in pass efficiency defense.) That indicates they were in lots of shootouts last year (a couple) and games in which the opponent was trying to mount a comeback (a couple more).
The Bronco defense soared to those heights despite two players selected in the NFL Draft in Louis Delmas (2nd Round to the Lions, still technically in the NFL) and EJ Biggers (7th Round to the Buccaneers). I think it's safe to say that you can't expect WMU to replace two NFL-caliber players at one position group. Ohio State they are not. The lone returning starter is strong safety Mario Armstrong.
For Michigan's part, they're trying to erase the memory of a horrible passing game last year (#108 in the country). It's not like we'll be sending out a juggernaut against the Broncos' depleted corps. However, their must must must be an upgrade at quarterback, if only because there was no place to go but up. Tate Forcier will hopefully justify his reputation as a robo-QB, and all will be well as Junior Hemingway, Greg Mathews, and Martavious Odoms can stride from one end of the field to the other with ease.
Key Matchup: Michigan Freshman/Sheridan QBs v. Their Inherent Freshman/Sheridan Qualities. Western's secondary isn't going to be all that good. Their defensive line will only be able to provide a little bit of pressure. The main thing that can stop the Wolverine offense here is shooting itself in the foot. First-game jitters for the freshmen may lead to a little bit of that, and we all know what Sheridan can (or more accurately, can't) do.
The runner up in this category was Michigan Receivers v. The Dropsies. There have been some reports of mild problems in this category, and there are few things more frustrating than a wide open receiver droping a pass.
Run Defense vs. Western
Western has had a prolific offense in the Bill Cubit era, but they haven't been doing most of that work on the ground. They were 28th in total offense last year despite finishing #96 in rushing. Their lack of rushing yardage, however, wasn't always for lack of trying. They tried with little success to pound the ball against Nebraska and Illinois. It will be interesting to see if that extreme pass skew holds up this year; Western has experienced running backs and offensive linemen and a green receiving corps.
Michigan's defense, on the other hand, is a wildcard. Hell, we aren't even positive what the schemes are going to be. Brandon Graham and Mike Martin are the anchors of the DL, and Ryan Van Bergen should be decent unless he has leverage problems with his height. The Western offensive line is pretty big, however, and they could wear out Michigan's DL, especially with the lack of depth Michigan has. Oft-MGoMaligned Obi Ezeh could be vulnerable in space. Brandon West and Aaron Winchester are the type of little darters (Winchester much more so) that have given him trouble in the past of the variety "Ezeh totally overruns the play (-1)."
Contain and discipline will be key.
Key Matchup: Michigan's Defense v. Getting Off The Field. As long as the Wolverines' defensive line doesn't have to play too many snaps, especially consecutively, they should be pretty good. This was a huge issue last year, when they'd force a third and long, and then allow the offense to convert.
Pass Defense vs. Western
This is the segment of the review were Legitimate Fear strikes Michigan fans. Tim Hiller has been prolific in his career to date and is one of Mel Kiper's top five senior quarterbacks. (Don't take that to the bank: Curtis Painter was Kiper's #1 at this time last year.)
There are some reasons for optimism here;
- Hiller is coming off offseason ACL surgery and is not necessarily in peak physical form.
- Western lost most of its receiving corps. Gone are 3 of last year's top 4 options. Juan Nunez returns as the team's best deep threat, but he's one of the very few guys left. Freshman Ansel Ponder should be a top target for Western, with good hands and enough speed to possibly get deep. The Broncos do have a number of tight ends that they may use as well.
Michigan's secondary, however, is about as inexperienced as the Bronco receivers. They won't be tested as much as you'd think, because most of Western's passes are caught within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. That does mean Michigan's linebackers, notorious for their inability to defend the pass, will have to make plays. This will be an early test for Michigan's revamped, speedier linebacker corps and their underneath coverage.
Key Matchup: Brandons Graham and Herron v. Western's Tackles. If Tim Hiller has time to throw the ball, he will find an open play and make a play. That's what 5th-year seniors do, especially those who are coming off all-conference season last year. Michigan needs to make sure they don't allow Hiller that time to make passes.
Both Western's kicker (John Potter) and punter (Ben Armer) return. Potter didn't kick enough field goals and extra points to register any higher than 16th in scoring from last year's MAC ledger. He was decent in his freshman year, and should improve as a sophomore.
The punting game was not so kind to the Broncos last year. They were 97th in the nation in net punting, with Armer barely eclipsing the 40yds/punt mark. If Michigan's returners can hold onto the damn ball, there should be some pretty good opportunities to get serious field position.
For Michigan's part, there is Space Punter and the Unknown. Olesnavage has never kicked a field goal or extra point, and his first real contribution to the team may have to come in crunch time. There is the slight relief that he beat out a scholarship guy in Brendan Gibbons, but I guess Jason Gingell had beaten out Bryan Wright before The Horror, as well.
Key Matchup: Olesnavage v. Angry Michigan-Hating Upset-Minded God. The past two years, Michigan has suffered humiliating upsets because of key missed field goals. If Michigan starts giving away points in special teams, we might be headed for an unfortunate repeat.
Hey, you know what didn't work out last year? Lack of cats.
- The linebackers and secondary look inept in covering the short passing game.
- Either Michigan freshman QB gets hurt, leaving Sheridan as the only viable backup option.
- The offensive line's reported improvement isn't really really obvious.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan can get to Hiller over and over again.
- Tate Forcier looks as good against the Broncos as he did against backups in the spring game.
- Michigan linebackers are sniffing out the screens.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 (Baseline 5; –1 for You Have No Men Larger Than Minor On D, Let Alone Linemen, –1 for Still Have Pretty Decent MAC record, +1 for Sheridan Shall Be Sighted, –1 for But Not Much, +1 for Oh Lord Some Safety Is Going To Head Asplode Me.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +5 for Duh.)
Loss will cause me to... Relive the depths of 2008, probably hear all week about how RichRod is sooo fired.
Win will cause me to... Breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a year of potentially-competent football.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
This game looks to have the makings of an offensive shootout unless GERG Robinson is a miracle worker. Both defenses are expected to be subpar, Western's offense is good, and Michigan's offense is an unknown trending towards good. One team will probably put up decent numbers in order to win.
Offensive shootouts, of course, are typically decided by a couple key plays on defense. Be it a moment of general freshmanity for Forcier or Robinson, or a big sack by Brandon Graham to change field position, one mistake by either offense could decide this one. Considering Michigan's better overall talent level, it should be the Wolverines coming through with a big play.
Offensively, Michigan is still an unknown, mostly because of projected improvement at some positions (offensive line) and youth at another (quarterback). If Brandon Minor was fully healthy, I'd feel much better about this one, as we could probably RAGE down their throats all day. Even if he plays, though, he might be limited. That means a more diverse offense is probably necessary to find any success. That, in turn, means trusting unproven quarterbacks, which generally scares the hell out of me.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Michigan executes a running play longer than 58 yards, their long last year. (It was Threet's gallop against Wisconsin.)
- Tate frustrates the hell out of fans at least once, but excites them more times than that.
- Hiller gets sacked at least three times.
- Michigan, 31-21. [Editor's note: put me down for 34-20.]
[Aaaaand we're out.]
Part thirteen of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009, quarterbacks, tailbacks, receivers, offensive line, secondary, linebackers, defensive line, special teams, offensive overview and predictions, defensive overview and predictions, and putting it on the record.
Note: Western preview upcoming with considerable assist from Tim. ETA about one hour, and then we're out.
[Update: Song is "A Better Son/Daughter" by Rilo Kiley. Album.]
A. Watch it. (If you watched it, go to D. Otherwise, go to B.)
B. I told you to watch it. This is not optional. (If you watched it, go to D. Otherwise go to C.)
C. I hate you so much. You don't win the World Series and are eaten by a dinosaur.
D. It's pretty weird being a Michigan fan right now. Winningest program, relatively recent national title, six-of-seven losing streak against Blood Rival, 40 year bowl streak just broken, some guy who tells USA Today he "grew up in a holler," by which he means a dirt road, and "is the same guy [he's] always been" in charge of the whole broken enterprise. I don't think any of us expected to ever be here.
I told Paul I wanted a hype video along the lines that you saw above—unless of course you are currently inside the digestive track of a dinosaur, in which case what sort of wifi do you have?—and he was skeptical. "I've never put highlights to a waltz," he said. I told the girlfriend I told Paul I wanted a hype video along the lines above and she was incredulous. "But it's desperate and sad," she said. I was kind of like yeah… and? And then also I was kind of like "in desperation there's that shred of hope; people who are down and not desperate are resigned. I could be ignorant or desperate." Actually I didn't say that, I said something along the lines of "hi, I'm a Michigan fan, nice to meet you."
E. By this point, I think Rich Rodriguez and the fan collective understand each other pretty good. Maybe we wanted people to conform to our idea of a "Michigan Man," but it turns out things just move towards an asymptote from opposite directions. Here we are on opposite sides of an unbridgeable gap, so close we can reach out our hands and touch.
I said earlier this week in The Story that last year was hard and apathetic. It's still hard, but goddammit I want Michigan to win.
G. I need a nap and a drink.
Part twelve of the all-singing all-dancing season preview. Previously: The Story, 2009, quarterbacks, tailbacks, receivers, offensive line, secondary, linebackers, defensive line, special teams, offensive overview and predictions, defensive overview and predictions.
Note: video from last year is lightboxed; previous years will take you off the page.
The theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|Year||Margin||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|2007||0.15 (41st)||14||15||2.46(33rd)||14||13||2.17 (67th)|
|2008||-.83 (104th)||9||11||2.42(33rd)||12||18||1.83 (57th)|
I should have stopped here in last year's preview…
I expect this to be solidly negative this year what with the n00b quarterbacks and the line and the no Mike Hart,
…but I kept going:
but Scott Shafer’s GOT what plants CRAVE so it could be around even again. Don’t think it will have a major impact.
…oh well. Michigan got crushed in this metric last year and this is a major reason for optimism this year, as has been discussed ad nauseum. If people
HOLD ON TO THE GODDAMN BALL
Michigan should again approach neutral (but probably not reach it: freshmen at QB and all). This should be enough for a one or two game improvement by itself.
Position Switch Starters
Theory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
- Steve Schilling moves from tackle to guard and will start.
- Ryan Van Bergen sort of moves from DE to DT and will start.
- Brandon Herron moves from LB to sort of DE and will start.
- Stevie Brown moves from S to sort of LB and will start.
- Troy Woolfolk moves from CB to S and will start.
Though the italicized section above notes that minor moves aren't too damning and all of these fit the category save for Stevie Brown's, IME, that is a lot of guys at positions that are at least somewhat unfamiliar. Schilling's move is probably not a big deal—probably a net positive, actually—but er… that's suboptimal on D there.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Even if Tate gets injured and Sheridan is thrust into the starting lineup on a semi-permanent basis it's tough to see Michigan losing to Indiana, Delaware State, or Eastern Michigan. Western… well, Tate's healthy and it's a stretch to say he'll be out for that game. Also there is Denard. And you can throw in Purdue, too, as a game that Michigan should win. Plus seven other games. These cases aren't meant to encompass the entire spectrum of possibility, so 5-7 should be the realistic bottom.
Let's set aside the super fairy tale where Tate Forcier is Drew Tate as a sophomore, no one gets injured on the defense, and the safeties are a vast improvement over last year. But since this is the best case area: Michigan has five games they should win handily, and a slate of seven opponents who will all be slight favorites. If Tate is functional, Denard is good for one ninja move a game, and the run offense maxes out, Michigan will be in all of those games; I can see them picking off four at maximum. 9-3 is the ceiling.
I believe(!) in the Rodriguez leap.
The only issue is that even if Rodriguez makes a leap similar to that turned in by his 2002 West Virginia team—probably the most comparable since they were coming from so far back—Michigan will only improve to 68th in total offense. They would, hypothetically, get to 42nd in scoring offense if they turned in a 42% jump in points. And unlike Rodriguez's previous stops, his new quarterback is totally inexperienced instead of just mostly inexperienced or Shaun King.
So even if I believe in The Leap, the projections I threw out earlier are a variety of Super Leap Rodriguez hasn't experienced before. The main way I can justify that is by citing Forcier/Robinsons presumed VORP because that RP is a horrible amalgam of Threet and Sheridan. Also, it's a lot easier to go from wretched to okay than okay to pretty good. That, and the turnovers, is where the projections of the Super Leap come from. I'm sticking with 'em. Michigan offense: erratic trending towards sort of good if you squint. Book it.
The defense, well… it's a lot like the offense last year, not to terrify you into a catatonic state. What I mean by that is it relies heavily on a few players to be upright, healthy, and very good lest the whole thing dissolve into chaos. Last year those players were Stephen Threet, various tailbacks, the offensive line, and maybe Junior Hemingway, all of whom were laid up for significant portions of the season (or, in the case of the offensive line, saw significant portions of them laid up for the season). If a similar plague befalls Michigan, the bottom will drop out of the defense again. Probably not to the extent that the offense bottomed out last year—horrible defenses always seem to be coupled with totally incompetent teams (or hyper-pace passing spreads)—but a repeat of last year is possible if Graham or Warren or a variety of others go down. The unit hangs by a thread and could be a pleasant surprise or a fiasco. Splitting the difference, let's shoot for "meh."
|9/5||Western Michigan||Probable win|
|9/19||Eastern Michigan||Must win|
|10/17||Delaware State||Must win|
|10/3||@ Michigan State||Tossup|
|10/10||@ Iowa||Probable loss|
|10/24||Penn State||Probable loss|
|11/21||Ohio State||Probable loss|
Note that the "tossups" above lean to the opponent slightly except maybe for Michigan State and Wisconsin. Michigan should be large favorites in the five games in the jinx-preventing "must win"—no auto-wins here—and probable win categories. The lines in games Michigan will be the underdog in figure to be considerably smaller. If it's 3-4 points, Michigan's still got a 40% chance of winning by the numbers.
So… yeah. If Michigan is an 80% favorite in those five games and a 40% dog in the other seven on average their win expectation is 6.8. That's a simplification since they'll be a bigger favorite in some games and a bigger dog in others, but overall it seems accurate to me. I'd love to find some reason to defy the prevailing consensus for many reasons, amongst them the twin desires to be interesting and avoid the Motor City Bowl, but I can't. Michigan should win the five games against chumps and pick off two or maybe three of their other seven opponents. 7-5 is the chalky pick. FWIW, I think I've talked myself into the idea that 8-4 is a more likely outcome than 6-6.