From Portage Northern.
10/21/2006 - Michigan 20-6 Iowa - 8-0 (4-0)
These pictures of battered and confused quarterbacks groggily pondering what their names are and how this whole "standing up" business is supposed to go are coming fast and furious these days. The latest features a Hawkeye in the crosshairs and has a pleasing religious aspect:
Sorry, Steve Tate, but praying to Mecca isn't going to help you. Allah is busy telling CJ Spiller to go to Clemson (good call, Allah) and pulling Charlie Weis' ass out of the fire. You, like all the others, are at the mercy of large, impossibly fast men with evil intent.
Five sacks and some hilarious anger when a fourth-quarter quarterback scramble doubles your opponent's rushing yards, Michigan has hurdled its last reasonable obstacle in the runup to Football Armageddon. After Notre Dame there was still a five-game minefield of potential upsets. Each week we remained steadfastly fixated on the upcoming opponent, refusing to believe we would ever reach this point seemingly decades in the future, but it's here: an opportunity to rest the wounded, tune up, and come out flat a couple weeks in a row.
Oh, there will be "flat," I promise you that. Next week against Northwestern there will be a comedy of errors large and small that panic everyone. I feel it even now: as soon as Mike Hart cut upfield to make it 20-6, the nervous tension that had slowly worked its way into my spine disappeared and I sat, pondering the road to this point and the end on November 18th. There were a bunch of disturbing things in this game; we'll talk about those later. All I can think right now is: win, you bastards. Win.
Bothersome things about the offense:
- Henne's internal clock went off several times. That's fine. If your first couple reads aren't open it's time to start wondering about pressure. But instead of coming down to a checkdown, which is usually Hart, Henne starts scrambling ineffectively. Against PSU he found a couple receivers, but against Iowa there was a lot of getting tracked down by linebackers or DL when another moment or two scanning the field could have yielded a completion.
- Alex Mitchell was not so good. At all.
- The struggles in the first half with the run game were against seven guys in the box. We loaded one side of the line and zoned out there; every time we did Iowa slanted heavily towards the strong side.
- I hope Good Zoltan shows up against OSU. Against PSU, he was terrible. Against Iowa, great. Go figure.
- Why is no one talking about the ridiculously bad spot? No, not that ridiculously bad spot, the one on Michigan's second drive where Steve Breaston caught the ball right at the sticks and was marked two yards shy.
- No review on the second and goal Arrington incompletion? Personally, I think he was in on third down but it was close enough that whichever way it was called on the field was going to stand.
- The fumble call encapsulated everything right and wrong with replay: they got a critical call correct, but it took an army of incompetent monkeys and ten minutes to do it.
- Five sacks against a slippery quarterback like Tate is reassuring going into the OSU game, especially with Jamison and Crable -- our two fastest pass rushers -- stepping up big time. We are doing a better job of getting out on rollouts, too. One major advantage we have that OSU's opponents to date haven't is a second player coming when the quarterback avoids the first.
- Butler still makes a ton of mental mistakes but has the look of a future star.
- Internet rumors were generally right: Arrington did have a legal issue, though it wasn't one that got him suspended. Massey was out. The Hart one was never credible, IMO.
Look: I know with the BCS standings coming out and so forth and suchlike that it's the time of year cranky people who don't know an algorithm from their ass (Attention Dennis Dodd: an "algorithm" is the one you don't write your columns with) to go "blah blah blah computers blah blah hate blah blah Injustice In One Particular Poll blah blah prune juice blah where's my adult diaper." It is traditional column fodder for the lazy, an opportunity to get some easy whacks in on a much-loathed institution. It's like a Miami brawl that comes only once a year.
But I know computers. I whisper in their ear and get them to whinny out poll results every week. I feed them sugar cubes and they make graphs for me. I have a vague idea of the difficulty in measuring teams when given all the nuances my pretty little head can handle and can't imagine trying to sort things out if all I was given was a set of wins and losses. And I say this to you, crabby BCS-bashers of the world: the seemingly nonsensical arrangements of numbers that purport to be polls from Sagarin or Massey or Colley and his matrix are not the fault of computers. Computers are good people.
Who is at fault then? As any good Bloom County fan knows: this is... THE MEDIA'S FAULT!
And so it is. Back in the old days when the BCS formula was a hilariously overwrought thing that included two human polls, computer polls, strength of schedule, quality victories, a loss column, and everything short of an "artistic merit" score for the uniforms*, the computers were allowed to take margin of victory into account. This caused no end of bitching. Coaches whose teams ended up on the wrong side of late touchdowns complained that opponents would run up the score despite the fact that computer margin of victory was capped at 21. Sensing a good opportunity to rattle off 600 research-free words, columnists everywhere leapt on the bandwagon. Think of the children. Kill MOV. Nonsensically, this was done, and the yearly columns pointing out the various OUTRAGES perpetrated by the computers got a little more ammunition as the rankings got a little less reasonable.
This is, of course, completely mad. The BCS found itself faced with a problem: the computers could not distinguish meaningful scores from cosmetic points scored after the game was decided. The powers that be decided that the solution to this problem was to take information away from the computers instead of providing enough information to judge which scores had an effect on the game. Now we have the half-measure of relying on crippled computer rankings that aren't allowed to take even the simplest facts about a game into account. This is bound to lead to ludicrous results. Could you rank the top 25 if you had no idea that Clemson waxed Georgia Tech and ND scraped by? Or that Tennessee stomped Cal? I can't make sense of my weekly BlogPoll ballot and I know not only the final scores of all the game but how accurately they reflect the flow of the game. If I were given only a sheet of wins and losses, my ballots would be as inane as Sagarin, et al.
I must reluctantly agree with the general opinion of computer rankings as a communist plot designed to undermine college football. As they stand they are useless and should be excised. But put the blame in the right place: with the people who decided to give computers the bare minimum amount of information. There is another way. Feed them as much information as they can handle. Let them take into account scoring margin, the time at which the scores occurred, and how they came about. Give them reams of historical data and let them judge what attributes a winning team has and let them project the past into the future without having to resort to the logo on the helmet.
Then when they rank six different I-AA teams over Miami you can take them seriously and bet on Duke to cover. And lo, it will be good.
*(though the secret inclusion of such might help explain that whole Nebraska-over-Oregon thing.)
Well... this has been a rumor festival the past few days. I have no inside information on this whatsoever, but will provide my best guess as to what's going on:
- Hart is dinged but it's not serious. If possible they'll reduce his workload tomorrow.
Adrian Arrington is probably suspended.
- There's a tiny chance Massey might be dinged, too, but I'm pretty sure that's just a wrong reading of a particular tea-leaf.
Again I would like to emphasize with big pointy teeth that this is just me reading tea leaves on the various Michigan message boards, and not an assertion that I have solid information. This voracity is unverified with gusto. As such, I don't want to speculate on the details... and unless you've got solid information it would be best if commenters followed the same policy.
Anyway: open thread, let's go blue, etc.
Update: FWIW, Arrington is supposed to have practiced today. I dunno. I withdraw speculation but don't want to say anything definitive either way.
Update II: Iowa's Albert Young should start, but Mitch King is questionable and Kenny Iwebema is out.
So... yeah: I received a tip from a friend that while taping the Big Ten Ticket program that airs on Channel 7, Bo Schembechler had some sort of a medical scare. There was a stretcher involved, though whether he left under his own power or not wasn't clear. According to a tiny AP article it doesn't sound too serious:
"He had some problems at the set, and he's going to the doctor now," Michigan spokesman Bruce Madej said. "But before he went to the doctor, he did his show."
Just FYI. If he did his show it's unlikely to be serious.
Run Offense vs. Iowa
Iowa's been vulnerable to bounceouts and misdirection for most of the year. Antonio Pittman made a living bouncing outside of the tackles in their game versus Ohio State; the Iowa linebackers just weren't able to -- say it with me -- keep contain. That'll be less of an issue against a Michigan run game that has exactly zero misdirection, but when you give up 158 yards to Indiana the problems go deeper than outside contain. To wit:
- The replacements for Hodge and Greenway have come nowhere near to living up to their predecessors. This is not surprising, surely. But the dropoff in athleticism from last year to this year has been drastic.
- The defensive line, banged up and undersized, has not compensated. No Roth or Babineaux has stepped forth. Iwebema and King have been pretty good but mostly against weak competition. With King injury-hampered, the rest of the line has been a bunch of Masseys.
Though Mike Hart managed to crack 100 yards, Michigan struggled versus the excellent Penn State front seven. If your defensive tackles can penetrate past the sometimes-shaky interior of the line and your linebackers can get off blocks and flow to the ball, you can catch Mike Hart in the backfield more often than not. He'll escape and get three yards anyway, but you'll slow down the Michigan ground game. Iowa has none of these things and though they'll play tough, I expect Hart to have a significantly easier day than he did versus Penn State and glide past 100 yards easily if he gets enough carries to do so.
Key Matchup: Hart versus Klikenborg, Humpel, et al. There should be lanes available and linebackers either out of position or overpursuing. Sharp, correct cuts should yield big chunks of yards.
Pass Offense vs. Iowa
Mario Manningham will sit out this game, but as Mark Hasty says:
It wouldn't matter if Michigan put Mario Batali at wideout. It wouldn't matter if they put Mario Lanza at wideout. It wouldn't matter if they put Bo Schembechler in a Mario The Plumber costume at wideout, as long as all of these well-known Marios ran about five yards and hooked in. They would always be open, and there wouldn't be a white jersey between them and the first-down marker.
So... yeah. My preseason trepidation about the Hawkeye cornerbacks, one of whom is from Nebraska if you know what I mean, has been just about the only thing I got right about the 2006 Hawkeyes. Anyone's who's seen Indiana's winning touchdown from last week no doubt wondered something like "shouldn't there be a guy within ten yards of their best receiver?"
Well, wonderers, the answer to your question is "yes." But that's what happens when Iowa corners try to do something other than panic and run backwards after the snap. The cushion they cede is required to prevent bombs from being dropped on their heads. With their safeties banged up and sack leader Mitch King unlikely to play, Iowa is not in a position to do much else other than lay back and hope to tackle.
Like last week, this should provide opportunities for Steve Breaston to turn moderate gains into big ones. The dodgy athleticism of the Iowa linebackers should get Carson Butler open downfield. Adrian Arrington, coming into his own, should be the recipient of a Michigan touchdown or two. Uh... advantage Wolverines.
Key Matchup: I could say Riley vs. Iwebema and that would be vaguely right. But the line's been doing a bangup job in protection and the deeper truth is that Iowa's defense isn't in a position to stop Michigan's passing offense unless it stops itself. We do that: Henne throws errantly or Breaston drops one or Riley remembers he's a revolving door. So: Michigan versus Unforced Errors. Sorry, Hawkeyes.
Run Defense vs. Iowa
Albert Young says he'll play but no one thinks he's 100%. Expect a heavy does of tiny scatback Damien Sims, who's not a bad runner in his own right and is a different sort of back than Michigan has faced to date. Our pounding run defense has shut down PJ Hill, Tony Hunt, and Jehuu Caulcrick but has yet to really face the Calhoun or Ringer type of back that gashed us so badly a year ago. There is the potential for some of those irritating bounce-out runs if Crable and Burgess are not responsible.
One thing that is unlikely to repeat: Young's slashing performance from a year ago where he found the oft-cavernous gaps in the Michigan defensive line and ruthlessly exploited them to the point that Chris Graham was lifted in favor of Johnny Thompson in the second half. That relied heavily upon single-blocking Pat Massey and whoever wasn't Lamarr Woodley (who only played two snaps in that game, remember) and crushing our hesitant linebackers. There's no one on this line you can single-block in the run game and expect consistent success against. Young, if healthy, might rip off a couple nice 8-10 yard runs, but by in large it's going to be MOTS from the run defense.
Key Matchup: Crable and Burgess vs. Sims. An interesting test of our linebackers' responsibility and a preview of what we might expect versus Ohio State.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
Drew Tate's senior year is not going as planned. Devoid of playmakers at wide receiver and struggling through a series of injuries, he's been more bad than good. Por ejemplo: the first interception he threw against Ohio State was a very un-Dude moment. Tate waited way too long, allowing the Buckeye safety to make an easy break on the ball and Kirk Herbstreit to launch into a veritable instructional seminar on how not to throw down the middle. That's Drew Tate? He's but 44th in passing efficiency despite playing but one team with a defensive heartbeat (Ohio State), and from what I've seen he's just not the methodical surgeon who dissected Michigan's candyfloss zone last year. Like Stanton, he seems to have regressed because of injury and depressed talent elsewhere on his offense.
Things in the wide receiver corps were grim at the start of the year, then senior Calvin Davis blew out his ACL and Detroit freshman Dominique Douglas suffered a sprain. Iowa's reduced to Herb Grigsby and redshirt freshman Troy Stross, a far cry from the Hinkel-Solomon combination that drove the Iowa offense last year. And have I mentioned that left tackle Dace Richardson, a hyped recruit but still only a sophomore, is dinged and questionable for this week's game?
Meanwhile, the Michigan defensive line has just finished knocking out two Penn State quarterbacks after sacking them seven times. That performance is unlikely to be repeated against the mobile Tate and what should be an Iowa game plan heavily reliant on rollouts and three-step drops to protect Tate's battered ribs but the mere threat of it combined with the questionable-at-best Iowa wideouts will combine to make the deep ball all but impossible for the Hawkeyes. With Michigan free to encroach upon the line of scrimmage, long drives will be hard to come by.
Key Matchup: Dace Richardson or his frightened replacement versus Woodley. If Woodley's going to win the Heisman he needs a couple sacks.
Iowa has one of the country's premiere kickers in Kyle Schlicter -- though he inexplicably went 0 for 2 in Iowa's 3-point loss to Indiana (ouch) -- but the punt game has been atrocious. Iowa is 88th in the country, averaging only a 34 net, largely because Andy Fenstermaker is only getting 35 yards per kick. Don't expect much out of Breaston in this game.
Key Matchup: Michigan kickoff return coverage versus screwing up. It was bad at the start, good for a while, then started the PSU game with a return past midfield. Bad coverage! Bad!
Double digit spread at home == no kitten.
- Trey Str
oss turns out to be the next Inexplicably Great White Iowa Receiver.
- Tate looks like his old self.
- All the injury stuff was a smokescreen.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Hart zips through their defense like he's totally healthy.
- Breaston catches and runs and stuff.
- We get more pit bull from the DL.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for You Lost To Indiana?, -1 for Half Your Team Is Screaming "It's Just A Flesh Wound", -1 for Cornerback From Nebraska, +1 for Tate Could Be Good And Stuff, +1 for It Would Be Just Like God To Make Us Lose This Game).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... concoct elaborate scenarios that land us in the championship game anyway after season-ending win @ OSU. Also: cry.
Win will cause me to... start month long, desperate search for reasonably-priced OSU tickets.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: This is really weird for me. Normally I figure any Michigan win over Kirk Ferentz will be a close, tough game (or a weird fluky thing with five Iowa turnovers or two Michigan blocked punts), but I can't really get my proper level of worry up when our opponent has only looked good against Purdue and just lost to Indiana. I have other reasons, too: their injury list looks like Michigan's from last year. They're down two wide receivers for this game and may be missing their best DL. Albert Young, Drew Tate, and Marcus Paschal are all banged up. Maybe at full strength with Good Tate at the helm this is a dangerous team... but they aren't and so they aren't.
We should run them over and hit a few deep balls a la every game that wasn't PSU. I still think Tate can hurt us with his mobility and ability to turn broken plays into big gains -- that "moxie" stuff -- but without the wide receivers or a healthy Young they aren't going to score all that much.
I hate doing this because I have a lot of respect for the Iowa program, but this game isn't going to be close.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Breaston touchdown. I have to be right about this eventually.
- Hart does turn out to have some sort of minor ding and we see a lot of Grady and Minor.
- 31-13, Michigan.
Someone get this man a medal. SI's Mark Beech on the Michigan defensive line:
Morelli was beset from every side: from the front by brobdingnagian defensive tackle Alan Branch, who collapsed the pocket on almost every pass play; and from the sides and rear by defensive ends LaMarr Woodley and Rondell Biggs, who had two sacks apiece.
Outstanding deployment of "brobdingnagian," Mr. Beech, though I find it more appropriate to describe giant tight ends in the Spaeth/Chandler mold who have their enormous size emphasized when they traipse through bewildered lilliputian secondaries, often dragging as many as six defenders into the endzone.
For the record:The initial sketches of Michigan Stadium's renovations kick ass except for the goofy Ms, but those are no big deal:
I love the resemblance to the IM building and Yost. I love the brick exterior that replaces the current cheap metal look. Thumbs up.
Pickin' On The Big Ten is something I should link weekly but sometimes overlook. Not this week, especially with Mark Hasty an avowed (though close to disavowed after last week) Hawkeye fan. I think he's overreacting a bit:
the only real question is, "Should I clean the basement during this game, or flip over to PBS to watch that white guy with the afro who paints 'happy little trees'?"
His projected final score of Michigan 34, Iowa 0 is... uh... well, they did lose to Indiana so his feelings are understandable. But not within the bounds of reason.
Pics plz. I mean, really, what is the point of an article on the Crable/Burgess mohwawks without a picture?
I was going to steal this, but Dave beat me to it: if you remove all of Michigan's sack yardage and let everyone else keep theirs, we're still fourth in the country in rushing defense. Goddamn.
Michigan-OSU @ 3:30. The rumor that ABC might move the Michigan-OSU game to 8 PM has been dispelled by an assistant commissioner of the Big Ten.
I guess I could get behind that. Puff on Arrington has this finishing quote from his mom:
Now that he's on the field, Arrington has something to prove in his No. 16 jersey.
"His goal this year was to prove himself in that number," Norma Arrington said. "He wants people to say, `I don't remember that much about the quarterback (John Navarre) who wore it. We remember that Arrington guy.'
"That's his goal."
I could go for having the entire 2001 Ohio State game ruthlessly excised from my memory like a blue-haired Kate Winslet, but, but unless he can erase the memory of the world's least likely 58-yard touchdown reception/buffalo stampede Adrian is going to end up short of that goal.
Etc.: Stadium & Main has your MSM linkfest for Iowa; PSU is phasing out "Zombie Nation" not because it's an abomination against college football but rather because they're going to break Beaver Stadium (Via Black Shoe Diaries); Student manager disses Bo accidentally.