When he was doing his summer interview series, Six Zero asked how I became a Michigan fan. My answer (short version):
…when I was 11, I was invited to spend a long weekend with my cousin, then an engineering student in Ann Arbor. We had the best pancakes I ever tasted at this place just west of the Nickels Arcade, then went to watch Desmond Howard singlehandedly demolish Indiana. After the game we bought a used copy of Alice in Wonderland from that book dude on State St., then warmed up over hot cider at the Brown Jug. After, I splayed out on a sleeping bag next to the couch in his apartment watching his two female roommates walk around naked. And I was like "This is it; I wanna go to Michigan."
That cousin is still in Ann Arbor. His wife, who must be one of the 90 kindest people in the world, is a pediatrician and huge Michigan fan who spent the morning preparing her house for an invasion of some 25 family members, aged 14 to 70, all of whom were to have parking, tickets, and passes either to the new box, or at least the Crisler bathrooms. Their two kids, girl 11, and boy 9, had helped Mom by taping a large paper banner across the kitchen door that read "Hello Cousins! M Club Welcomes You!"
Adorable children have a way of appearing when Brian's about to hurl profanities, so I marched to Michigan's last home game of 2010 with an army of them. It does help with the profanity –- the worst thing I did at a game full of perfect exclamatory moments was to face the sky after the batted interception and yell "I thought you hated Wisconsin!"
The 14-year-old loved that one. He also loved his first view of MGoBlog, which I had him pull up at half-time on his smart phone (yes, 14-year-olds come with smart phones now). When Denard whooped a guy about to kill him then sauntered into the end-zone, 14-year-old was the one telling me the record had been broken.
The serendipitous presence of a kid is great for writers trying to capture something too profound to be believable from a cynical adult. Sometime MGoCommenter Glen Masons Hot Wife has a little tradition now of (kind of dickishly) telling me I can't write as well as Brian (or Johnny of RBUAS) after these posts. Don't think I don't know I can't (triple-negative!) use a rhetorical moppet with the aplomb of Cook; I wish I could. To be fair, Brian said he wishes he could moppet like DFW.
My actual recollection of childhood was that by the time I cared about sports I wasn't that innocent anymore. My world-test wasn't necessarily "is this awesome?" but "is this cool?" with the latter being something I didn't actually get to determine. I thought Desmond Howard was awesome, but I was almost as happy again when I learned that Desmond Howard fandom was really cool.
Much of my adult life has been about trying to recapture that which is genuine and awesome (I would argue that David Foster Wallace's magnum opus Infinite Jest, is about this too) after years of pursuing cool. The cynic who blamed God when a 6'0 quarterback kept having his passes batted right to defenders became so because when we're being honest, watching Michigan get crushed by Wisconsin just hurts.
What makes it easier is knowing things will get better. For me, Greg Robinson will probably be gone, and hopefully the 3rd time will be the charm (if it's not, well…), and other than the few guys who walked with their parents under the banner this afternoon, almost all of the starters will be back next year.
Those kids: Greg Banks, James Rogers, Steve Schilling, Adam Patterson, Renaldo Sagesse, Jonas Mouton, Obi Ezeh, et al., moppets themselves when I was in school, stayed when most of their classmates bailed. Some were redshirting for '06, but their first day of eligibility was The Horror. A coach whom they might never have signed up for changed the program to something that's about trying harder, and they did it. They lost to Wisconsin today, and all those other times, not because of effort but because they simply weren't as good as Mark Messner, Charles Woodson, Steve Hutchinson, Alan Branch, Glen Steele, Jarrett Irons and Larry Foote. They never grew cynical because there was always another chance, an opportunity for something awesome to happen.
The injuries sustained today – Roh, Rodgers, Stonum, Smith – may make it impossible, but there's still a chance for awesome. That's why playing for Michigan is different than for every other school, because no matter how the season goes, that chance for awesome is always going to be right there at the end of it. For the seniors, it's the last one. For my 14-year-old cousin, there will be so many more that one loss to Wisconsin is nothing next to years of Denard Robinson and whatever amazing things are ahead.
But here's this kid who's 14 years old, knows what "Ndamukong" means, pulls up rushing stats on SportsTap more than I do, and he doesn't remember Chris Perry because he was fucking SEVEN the last time we beat Ohio State. I don't expect the 2010 Michigan team to play defense like '97, because they're not that good, the same way that this column will never be written as well as the Brian's post-game the next day, and that post-game won't be as good as DFW's tennis coverage was, and DFW's genius was not that of the bard.
For him, for the moppets who made the banner, for the seniors, for the fans, for the coach, for the team, to go into Columbus this year and beat Ohio State, well, that would just be awesome.
Much Ado About Nothing
The Grid of Expectation:
|Wisconsin Preview||The Mathlete||PAN-fried||Wis, 38-37|
|Post Week 11: Yardage Analysis and Predictions + Score Predictor||tpilews||Weighted YPG||M, 42-38|
|Week #11 National Statistics and Predictions for Wisconsin||Enjoy Life||Sagarin, Fremeau||Wis, 41-30 (FEI) or W-4.5|
|Preview: Wisconsin 2010||Brian||fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms||Wis, 34-27||
The Taming of the Overgrown Shrew
In the last week of the normal Big Ten season the Diarists had to dig deep (get it?) to get up for a visit from the 10-1 Badgers. First, the Shred Dude, and his remake of Shakespeare's section title-referenced play: 10 Things I Hate About The F-ing Badgers.
Whats that shit on your face?
2. James Kamoku- You son of a bitch! You think you can put your god damn hands on Steve Breaston and get away with it? DO YOU!? This amateur during a 2006 UM vs UW punt return decided to try and rip Steve's ankle off. It was caught on TV. Karma is a bitch since last I saw you played for some fake football team called the "Wolf Pac". Guess what happened to this dirt ball for his bush league act? NOTHING!
Other things Shredder hates: suffocatingly boring, anti-points white-guy basketball, green giants, band camp, dirty campgrounds, letter people, candy canes, trucks, and the cast of That '70s Show except Red. Also: guys who switch positions mid-Paint:
Meanwhile, Coach Schiano visualized a motivational post-Wisconsin speech by Rich Rod. Denard, Kelvin Grady, et al. respond in a telling reminiscent of the random heroism of football.
Alls Well That Ends Well
The funny thing about accomplishing something in sleety driving rain: you are miserable when you're in it, but afterwards you just love talking about it. True to form, the MGoStatisticians took to the spreadsheets to test all sorts of wild theories that indirectly might maybe possibly suggest we beat Wisconsin and Ohio State:
Hypothosis: The Defense is Approaching Average, by matt D.
Observations: Michigan is kind of but not quite comparable to Penn State, which is an average defense:
3 & Out %
Conclusion: You can judge for yourself. Matt says the defense is put in bad situations. Irish brings the sanity:
75th in rush defense and tackles for loss
86th in pass efficiency defense
91st in sacks
93rd in scoring defense
100th in total defense
103rd in turnover margin
114th in pass defense
Hypothesis: 'Tis better to play at home, by The Mathlete.
Observations: Teams seem to perform better against expectations when at home. And whoa last year:
Conclusion: Over these years Michigan is on the low end of home field advantage, in the Big Ten above only the polite and purpled few of Evanston, and Illinois, but it's still worth almost 2 points a game in PAN. Poor Notre Dame is worse at home than on the road.
Hypothesis: Michigan makes a difference, by TennBlue.
Observations: If you normalize our schizophrenic team (SCORE! INTERCEPTION! FUMBLE! SCORE! SCORE! MISS FG! SCORE! INTERCEPTION!) our opponents look a little different than the final score may indicate.
M's affect on Total D Rank
M's affect on Total O rank
|Connecticut||-10||1||W, Good O, OK D|
|Notre Dame||-10||19||W, Good O, Terrible D|
|Bowling Green||-17||0||W, Awesome O, OK D|
|Indiana||-11||14||W, Good O, Terrible D|
|Michigan State||-1||16||L, OK O, Terrible D|
|Iowa||-10||-2||L, Good O, OK D|
|Penn State||-8||4||L, Good O, Bad D|
|Illinois||-20||14||W, Awesome O, Terrible D|
|Purdue||-4||-2||W, OK O, OK D|
Conclusion: Yeah, it kind of does. We underrated Penn State a bit, and maybe overrated Michigan State.
Hypothesis: Michigan is so good we can turn it over and suck at special teams and still win at football, by Enjoy Life
Observations: With a turnover margin of minus-7, a bad return team, a worse coverage team, and no chance of making a field goal, Michigan is amazingly unscathed.
HOLD ON TO THE GOD DAMN BALL AND THROW THE GOD DAMN BALL TO OUR RECEIVERS!!
Also it seems the reason we can get away with this is that our offense is so radically good, and our defense is so generally bad unless we're facing an offense that's radically bad, that what's a few more radicals thrown into the mix.
Hypothesis: All you need to know you can learn from Revenge Movies, by bronxblue
Hypothesis: Michigan could win another Big Ten game this year, by the Mathlete
Observations: We beat Purdue, and the PAN before the Wisconsin game said we were at 46% to finish at the 7-5 we expected, and the rest…well, nowhere to go but up, right?
Conclusion: Three excellent diaries this week again. Dylan can write songs, Gretzky can play hockey, Mathlete can write diaries.
Conclusion: The Mathlete is your Diarist of the Week.
As You Like It (Etc.)
Yes, another Moving Picture Pages of Chris, by Danger of Dangerous Logic. That one's the earlier throwing of rock. He has another from Friday night in which even more rock is thrown. Somewhere, DeBord is coaching in a city that doesn't have internet and thus missing this opportunity to nod in solemn approval.
For those (like me) who have to look more than once to comprehend what "Michigan+4" means, Blazefire and his bolded subconscious multiple personality* put on a little clinic to explain what the line actually means:
The line is not a means of picking a winner of a game, nor is it intended to do so.
The line is a form of handicap, suggesting that under given circumstances, adjusting the final score by X points (subtracting for the team expected to win or adding for the team expected to lose) would create a tie score. It is an attempt to put the teams "on par" with each other.
The line is a betting tool, and is not intended to predict the score of the game.
Betting with or against the line is an agreement or disagreement with Vegas, not a belief or disbelief in one of the teams.
* How many people on this blog have bolded subconscious multiple personality disorder anyhow?
You try watching the last decade of Michigan football and staying sane, putz.
Finally, oriental andrew's Opponent Press Conferences returned this week to interview "that big meathead … and his meaty Badgers."
That's enough of weeks past and Big Ten seasons concluded. It's Ohio State week.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit.
The game's afoot: follow that spirit t'ward dark Ohio
Cry "hail" for Michigan! For Rod! And Saint Bo!
"Craig Roh, Mike Martin, Darryl Stonum, the list goes on. It's just one of those crazy years." He's never had this many key guys out with injury, but the backups need to step up in big spots. This team is too inexperienced to handle that.
Roh - "some kind of concussive type of symptoms." Probably the same for Vincent Smith, though RR hasn't had a chance to talk to the trainers yet.
"Didn't play well, didn't tackle well, didn't catch the ball well." You can't win games doing that against a good team.
The first half was disappointing, because they didn't make the most of their limited possessions. Potential touchdown overthrown, etc. Weren't able to get rhythm with limited possessions in the first half. In the second half, they needed one of those onside kicks in order to keep momentum.
"If everybody stays healthy, they will get a little bit better, I think" during the season, but expecting leaps and bounds of improvement from guys won't come until bowl or spring practices.
"As frustrating as it is for all the fans - which I understand their frustration - it's just as frustrating for us coaches, too" because they can't help guys age overnight.
Wisconsin's efficient offense is a combination of factors, Tolzien is good at executing the offense, makes the plays that are there. "They had some guys wide open on some middle dig routes, and I gotta see what happened with that. That was probably the most disappointing part."
Knew they needed to develop a rhythm early in the second half. Needed one big stop or one successful onside to capture momentum.
"I didn't want to screw up and make a major mistake" at the end of the first half, so he didn't want to stop clock. He wouldn't do it differently if he had the chance. "If we had not gotten the ball first in the second half, I probably would have used the clock a little bit and went on from there."
Bad tackling - "The hard part is, to work on it during the season, how do you do live tackling?" Don't want guys to get hurt - can't afford more injuries. Another reason is "sometimes you miss tackles because you're just not strong enough yet."
"They're older bigger, experienced physical teams" that have run over Michigan. He'd be more disappointed if Michigan had comparable age and experience. Not trying to make an excuse, it's reality. The young guys will be better next year because of their playing time this year. "We've gotta get those guys to that level as quickly as we can." Numbers are better now on D, but the guys are young.
They weren't thinking about the QB rushing record for Denard. He was close to breaking loose a couple times in the first half. "He just wants to win, so this day's disappointing. But we've got the big one next week."
Tate's playing time at the end was because they want to keep him in the loop, wanted to give him a few game reps on plays they think he can execute well.
Field goals: "That's been ongoing. Seth had clearly kicked better all week in practice." Never seen him miss one from the middle of the field in the past month. Gibbons's extra points weren't great, anyway.
"It's a challenge anyway, your'e playing a great team at their place. But it's Ohio State-Michigan, it's not going to be hard to get the guys fired up to prepare for it."
No injury at the end of the game, just a coaches' decision.
On the offense's poor production in the first half - "Guess we came out kind of flat. We came out real flat." Not sure why that happened.
"Got too anxious" on the overthrow to Stonum. He was excited to make a big play.
When they went on a run in the third quarter, they just played like they'd been practicing all along. "Basically we just got it together."
Everybody who plays Michigan is going to fight. Wisconsin was one of those teams. "Everybody came in here to fight us, and they fought us, too. We fought back."
On his good day running: "I felt good today, my offensive line was blocking good, and God was with me." The record - "It don't mean nothing to me right now. I mean, we're ready to play Ohio State, you know."
JJ Watt "He's a great defensive end, and hats off to him."
The team has a chance to redeem themselves in the last game and the bowl game.
Hats off to Wisconsin for slowing Michigan down first half. Low possessions because they were controlling the clock with the run.
After half there were some changes. "We just gotta go out there and play Michigan football."
Drops were due to a lack of focus. "As wide receivers you gotta catch them balls." Receivers' job is to catch the ball, so they have to.
"We were in position, we fought with 'em. But we've just gotta make those tackles."
His injury was a shoulder stinger, just needed a couple plays off.
On his interception - "Of course we're thinking about scoring" to start a comeback - there wasn't enough time to finish it.
They knew Wisconsin was going to come out and run "we fought back with them, just gotta come out and make some tackles, that's all."
Senior day fluff. But somtimes fluff is okay:
Please don't do this. People of the internet: UFR numbers are dangerous things when taken too seriously, and while I think they're on track most of the time—or I wouldn't do it—the place where they're shakiest is in the secondary, where players rarely get on screen unless they've screwed up. So if you're making a case for James Rogers as Michigan's best defensive back it makes me wince when UFR totals get brought out. MNB Dave doesn't go hog wild with it or anything but just to re-iterate, please take all numbers in the secondary with a grain of salt. I can't see the guys back there most of the time. I do the numbers because they're better than nothing at describing what happened but the why and how are not included.
As an aside, I actually kind of agree with Dave that Rogers has been Michigan's best corner by a nose since his wide receiver allergy hasn't been ruthlessly exploited by McFarve. That's the Michigan secondary in a nutshell.
Is this for real or for roster? A followup on ideal cornerback height finds that All Conference guys in the Big Ten have been 5'11", or at least listed at 5'11", far more often than any other height. Does this mean Michigan is recruiting guys too short to be big time corners? I'm doubtful. The table of filthy lies also known as Michigan's roster displays the scholarship cornerbacks like so:
|5||Courtney Avery||CB||5-11||174||FR||Mansfield, Ohio (Lexington)|
|12||J.T. Floyd||CB||6-0||183||RS SO||Greenville, S.C. (J.L. Mann)|
|18||James Rogers||CB||6-1||188||SR||Madison Heights, Mich. (Lamphere)|
|22||Terrence Talbott||CB||5-11||179||FR||Huber Heights, Ohio (Wayne)|
|24||Cullen Christian||CB||6-0||188||FR||Verona, Pa. (Penn Hills)|
|29||Troy Woolfolk||CB||6-0||195||SR||Sugar Land, Texas (Dulles)|
Avery is listed at 5'9" by ESPN, and Scout with Rivals giving him 5'10". He is not 5'11". Scout's number is from a combine. Talbott is listed at an exacting 5'9.5" at Scout, also a combine number. If you're 5'9" on a college roster you're truly tiny, because they let you wear sensible heels when they put these things together.
When almost half the All Conference guys are one exact height that says short guys get fibbed up to 5'11", I'm guessing.
In the year 2013 Stupid people at Oklahoma newspapers. Our kicker situation could be worse. Doc Sat links a post at the most-loathed Oklahoman, which auto-plays inane banter between Jenni Carlson, the author of the terrible cheap shot that spurred the "I'm a man" rant from Jeff Gundy, and perpetually hungover Barry Trammel. So that's not so good. But after you shudder, hit pause, and think seriously about noscript, you find this out about the Oklahoma roster:
Bob Stoops has granted scholarships to four kickers, with a fifth promised to yet another kicker.
I can hear the jokes now. How many scholarships does it take to screw in a field goal?
But it's true. Jimmy Stevens, Patrick O'Hara, Tress Way and Bryce Easley have scholarships, and Michael Hunnicutt has been promised one next year. None of the five are seniors.
There's an element of typical middle-aged white sportswriter misrepresentation in here since Tress Way is the punter and a very good one, but dude Oklahoma's going to have four kickers on scholarship next year… aww goddammit. I just fact-checked this dip. (Don't click any of these links unless you like inane banter.) Stevens is the starting kicker. O'Hara is a walk-on. Easley is a walk-on. Hunnicutt is not an incoming recruit but another walk-on. It's understood that if a walk-on gets a scholarship one year that's not guaranteed to continue unless the kid establishes himself a starter or major contributor. Oklahoma's going to have maybe two kickers on scholarship next year. BFD. The lesson, as always, is ignore Barry Tramel.
This was going to have something to do with Michigan's kicker situation, I promise, but then it degenerated.
Well, that could have gone worse. The basketball team moved the competition level up slightly yesterday and still made easy work of Bowling Green, winning by 19 and giving up just 29.6 eFG. This is not terribly exciting because last year BG was 14-16 in the MAC and checked in #206 in the Kenpom ratings. A final warmup against Gardner Webb (awful) is followed by tests against Syracuse and some other team in Michigan's preseason tournament.
Etc.: Troy Woolfolk explains the origin of "T-Woolf" in the Daily. I'll translate to internet: "Tloy Woorfork explains the origin of 'T-Woorf' in the Daily." T-Woorf sounds like a Klingon who raps in Dutch. Another Michigan Man podcast, this one previewing Wisconsin. Ricky Stanzi's pro-America stance takes a "darker, Nixonian turn." Soony Saad fluff and a reminder that there's an NCAA tournament game against hated UCF on Sunday.
Other stuff: Lights have been installed. Mathlete preview gives Wisconsin a one point edge. The Wolverine Blog interviews Bucky's Fifth Quarter. Other People's Pressers returns. MZone's know your foe.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Wisconsin|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||Noon Eastern, November 20th 2010|
|THE LINE||Wisconsin -4|
|TELEVISION||National on ESPN|
|WEATHER||Mostly sunny, mid 40s
10% chance of rain
Run Offense vs. Wisconsin
This preview chalks up the bleah results for Michigan against Purdue as an artifact of the weather and Michigan's confidence in their lead resulting in grand swathes of rock-rock-rock playcalling against eight man fronts. And even considering that Michigan is still the #9 rush offense, averaging 5.9 YPC. (They've fallen from that club of teams averaging over 6 but so did Oregon, leaving just Nebraska, Auburn, and Nevada.) The usual goes here about how it's awesome and so forth and so on.
A couple things might swing Michigan's performance Saturday to the good or bad: Taylor Lewan's availability—he was listed as "questionable" on the injury report—and the situation at tailback. Michael Shaw has spent most of the year hobbled and is also questionable with a concussion, but Vincent Smith has been more effective the past two weeks than he was early in the year. Fitzgerald Toussaint also saw a few snaps as he returns from a shoulder injury. Smith figures to get the bulk of the running back carries, and since no tailback has really distinguished himself the Shaw injury won't be a big deal.
Lewan's absence would be more problematic. Michigan would likely bring in Mark Huyge, who's started most games this year due to Lewan's youth and Perry Dorrestein's back. He's all right, but a clear step down from Lewan in all areas except taking penalties.
Wisconsin's run defense is its usual self, 25th nationally. They're giving up 3.8 YPC. Relevant game-by-game numbers:
(Indiana was omitted; the Hoosiers actually did pretty well—167 yards on 34 carries—but that game was all garbage time.)
That's… actually way more encouraging than I thought it would be. Wisconsin has given up at least 4.7 YPC to every I-A opponent and the closest thing to a spread 'n shred on the list—Purdue—has the best performance of any Big Ten team. The Boilers were within seven points of Wisconsin halfway through the fourth quarter, so those are real numbers for an injury-shattered offense. It appears the overall statistics conceal a run defense that can be had. This may be a reason the spread seems relatively small (and has plunged from –7 at open to –4-ish now) to most observers.
Pass Offense vs. Wisconsin
Even if we throw last week's whatever that was in the bin of muddy, wet games past and reduce its importance we're left with an increasingly wobbly, turnover-prone passing game. After starting the year insanely accurate Denard Robinson's come back to earth and departed the top ten in passer efficiency—he's down to #14. Large chunks of that were built on play action that opponents are figuring out. Not so much QB Lead Oh Noes, which remains effective whenever deployed, but Michigan's standard stretch-to-pass play action has seen opponents shoot defensive ends into the quarterback's face before the pulling guard can adjust. Denard's mobility has mitigated the problem but when you're asking your quarterback to make plays like this…
…it might be time to switch it up.
At receiver, Junior Hemingway is emerging into the primary outside threat. To date he's show surprising escapability after the catch. His hands aren't great but he can high-point deep balls if they're thrown in his vicinity. Roy Roundtree remains the #1 guy, all things considered.
The Badgers have good yardage numbers—26th—but like the rush defense a deeper look finds a team that's just okay. They're 51st in efficiency; last week the knocked Ben Chappell out of the game and the week before that they participated in their own Sean Robinson experience, but relevant opponents do exist:
That's… weird. Highly variable with the best performance against Pryor, who was in arm punt mode, and… uh… the worst against a Minnesota team that averaged over twenty yards a completion but completed fewer than half its passes. Stanzi, Threet, and Cousins all did essentially the same thing—it looks like this, too, is a Wisconsin secondary that can be had. JJ Watt is a great defensive end and a complicating factor but Wisconsin is only average at collecting sacks and Michigan is still in the top ten at avoiding them even after Ryan Kerrigan destroyed all comers.
Key Matchup: Hitting Wisconsin for big plays on rushing downs. To keep offensive efficiency in the realm it will have to be to keep pace with Tolzien, Michigan's going to need a cheap, long touchdown or two and of late those have come in the passing game.
Run Defense vs. Wisconsin
@ right: Wisconsin tailback James White. Probably.
Badger fatback John Clay is officially out this weekend, leaving Wisconsin bereft. In Clay's absence the backups only have 197 carries for 1227 yards this year. Wait. Goddammit.
Michigan will get a heavy dose of freshman James White, who missed the Purdue game and was limited against Iowa but seemed just fine last week with 144 yards on 19 carries. A lot of his production is against the who-dat section of the schedule but he also tacked on 99 yards (on ten carries) against MSU and 75 (on 17) against OSU. He's decidedly not a fatback at 5'10", 198, and while Ray Vinopal thanks John Clay's ankle profusely now Michigan has to deal with more speed and shiftiness.
Badger third-stringer Montee Ball hadn't done much against actual teams until the last two weeks when he put up 127 on Purdue and 167 on Indiana. Numbers put up on Indiana should be ignored but Purdue has Ryan Kerrigan and an average-ish run defense. One slightly encouraging thing for Michigan: last year Clay went ham on Michigan while Ball averaged 3.9 YPC.
Wisconsin is also down their starting center; they'll deploy senior Bill Nagy in place of Peter Konz. This, like the Clay issue, isn't likely to make much difference. Wisconsin's rushing offense is the same grinding thing it's always been. I won't bother with a full stat breakout but White and Clay averaged 4.7 YPC on 38 carries against Ohio State and 6.6 on 27 against MSU; Ball and Clay combined for 5.1 on 33 carries against Iowa. Those are the top three rushing defenses in the Big Ten that aren't Wisconsin or Penn State, who the Badgers don't play.
Michigan is not any of those defenses. They've flopped around from 4-3 to 3-4 to 3-3-5, swapped starters at five positions voluntarily and had to do so at three more because of injury, and gotten gashed by running attacks pro-style and spread. The one lingering hope for Michigan is that a combination featuring a full speed Mike Martin and Kenny Demens has not seen the field and it's possible Michigan held Martin out of last week's Purdue game just so he'd be healthy for the stretch run. If that's true and Martin returns to his defense-wrecking form of the first half of the season, Michigan might be able to make that backup center relevant and Demens could be free to scrape to whatever hole the Badgers go after.
If that's not the case—and after this long with a gimpy ankle it's unlikely Martin is fully healthy until the bowl game—expect a heavy dose of power plays, a lot of pulling guards, and a lot of runs that don't get stopped at the line and see everyone fall forward for four to eight yards.
Key Matchup: Martin versus his Ankles. Most important player on the defense in the game he's needed most. Saving that, Adam Patterson versus Please Don't Get Crushed Five Yards Backwards.
Pass Defense vs. Wisconsin
Photo not specifically chosen to make Tolzien look stupid in revenge for projected Michigan-looks-stupid passing tomorrow, but not complaining about it either.
If this is anything like last year's bombing you can just replace this section with a long string of expletives with "Tolzien!" interspersed at appropriate intervals. Scott Tolzien averaged 10 YPA, mostly on breathtakingly wide open passes across the middle, and things were sad.
This year he's done virtually the same thing to every opponent on the schedule. Small children and pregnant women who enjoy modeling the future should look away:
Yeesh. Aside from one terrible game against Michigan State, Tolzien has been robotically efficient. He hardly ever throws, but when he does it is complete and goes for a lot of yards. This is an artifact of having a running game with over 2100 yards to its name without requiring the assistance of the quarterback. This is the usual array of guys in single coverage getting open 20 yards downfield as the opponent's cover three tries to limit the damage and get them in a third down by stuffing the run; big chunks given up in the passing game are just part of life against Wisconsin.
Michigan… well… yeah. Not much pressure, not much coverage, lots of eight man drops and play-action bites, freshman everywhere, night terrors, etc.
Key Matchup: God, seriously? If the defenses on this schedule couldn't hold Tolzien to something less than around 8 YPA the key matchup is you versus the locked drawer with the gun in it. HA HA HA HA JUST KIDDING.
Um… so… key matchup. Let's go with Ezeh/Mouton/Demens/Gordon against play action. Last year Tolzien got to stand in the pocket and zip 20-yard routes right down the middle of the field with maddening consistency. We've seen Michigan get burned on this stuff from time to time this year—second and 22 for the Illini, anyone?—and this will be the a real test for Demens and Vinopal.
The usual when it comes to the kickers: massive field goal advantage, approximate draw with the punters with a slight edge to Hagerup since he's still carrying around a series of poor efforts from early in the season when he was wide-eyed and shanktastic. Wisconsin has a big advantage in returns, but their #28 ranking in punts is based on just 17 attempts, less than two per game. So whatever, that's five to ten yards for Wisconsin.
Kickoff returns are far more frequent and relevant. Where Michigan's happy just to get it back to the 20 they're regularly giving up returns to the 35 or worse. Wisconsin's not great at returns themselves but the numbers here are very silly, based solely on return yardage and not where you actually start your drive. Michigan figures to give up between five and ten yards of field position on every kickoff for and against.
Wisconsin's kicker is 13 of 17 on the year. Michigan's blah blah blah.
Key Matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Lewan is out, exposing Mark Huyge to JJ Watt for extended periods of time.
- Scott Tolzien completes every pass he throws.
- Denard's interception trend kills another scoring drive.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Purdue's spread 'n shred success presages similar for Michigan and what seems like a statistically overrated run defense.
- Mike Martin's back and healthy.
- Tolzien comes down with the yips in the state of Michigan or something.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 7 (Baseline 5; +1 for Oh God The Tolziening, +1 for One Loss Top Ten Team Versus Thoroughly Mediocre One, –1 for But Dude The Run Defense Can Be Had, –1 for Missed Extra Points Are A Girl's Best Friend, –1 for 5.1 YPC To Purdue Two Weeks Ago? Yes Please, +1 for Any Run Defensed For Less That Five Yards Is A Win, +1 for And I Don't Think Martin Is Full Go, And Ditto Lewan, +1 for Hurray Turnover Implosion Always)
Desperate need to win level: 8 (Baseline 5; +1 for Rich Rodriguez Job Reclamation Project, +1 for Locking In Genuinely Decent Season Given Everything, Exceeding Expectations, Getting Everyone To STFU About Rich Rodriguez, +1 for Seriously, The Getting Everyone To STFU Bit Cannot Be Overstated, +1 for STFU Already, –1 for This Is Not Really A Game Michigan Should Win, –1 for Expectations Basically Achieved, +1 for But Man It Would Be Nice)
Loss will cause me to... repeat "I expected 7-5" to myself a thousand times.
Win will cause me to... spin very fast in a circle with both middle fingers extended, hoping that the centripetal force can carry my gesture to haterz worldwide.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
You could make the case that Wisconsin is a hideously overrated team that scraped by Arizona State and Iowa because of missed extra points and was so thoroughly clunked by Michigan State they lost that game solidly despite being +3 in turnover margin and they've got like one win over anyone half-decent, that being Iowa… if they hadn't beaten Ohio State by 13. This throws a wrench in the plans a bit.
I do think the Vegas guys are on-point, as they usually are, because hidden in Wisconsin's rushing defense stats is a secretly mediocre unit. Hidden in the passing stats is a secretly mediocre unit. Michigan should move the ball at least as well as they did against Iowa and Michigan State, which is "quite well, thank you, now if you would please take this foot-ball before we do anything as dishonorable as score." Turnovers will tell the tale; if Michigan goes in at halftime with 230 yards and 14 points they're likely to have blown it already. I think they're likely to blow it.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Wisconsin leaves at least one deep safety back and the Michigan ground game ramps back up to its dirty levels past.
- Hypothetical third and longs for M go very, very poorly if Lewan does not play.
- Tolzien completes 75% of his passes.
- Wisconsin, 34-27.
OUT (0% PLAY)
Ferrara, John Knee
Jones, Mike Leg
Jones, Teric Knee
Odoms, Martavious Foot
Van Slyke, Jared Clavicle
Williams, Mike Head
Woolfolk, Troy Ankle
QUESTIONABLE (50% PLAY)
Lewan, Taylor Head
Shaw, Mike Head
PROBABLE (75% PLAY)
Martin, Mike Ankle
Mouton, Jonas Chest
No surprises, on the heels of the news from yesterday that Lewan may have been concussed against Purdue. Martin and Mouton are likely to grit it out if they're needed.