Disjointed thoughts not guaranteed to last more than two days follow. May take these back after film review.
OMG Defense! I sat next to a fairly crabby Vandy fan who said the Commodores returned basically everyone on offense save Cutler and a wide receiver, so that was not a green offensive line we utterly obliterated. Aside from the trick play and a few first downs at the end of the game, Michigan gave up approximately 120 yards. Damn!
Most encouraging was that it was for the most part Michigan making plays. Woodley had three consecutive sacks (although one may have been ruled a run, I haven't looked at the box score yet). Crable was effective attacking the line; Taylor was good; Biggs was a revelation. In the secondary we were active and around the ball, attempting to make plays on the ball.
It was night and day. Herrmann really was that bad.
Jamison what? Didn't play a snap. Stood on the sidelines, in pads, the whole game. Violation of team rules? Sure didn't seem like an injury, and I sincerely doubt that he'd go from the announced starter to sitting on the bench all game without reason.
Crable! I'm still concerned about him against traditional power-running teams, but he's a really interesting and effective player against the spread. He has the ability to fend off offensive linemen who aren't drive blocking until he determines which side the play is going to, at which point his unique combination of frame and speed allow him to make a play. There was an instance of this last year against Northwestern and he made a couple of similar plays today, notably against a couple of the zone reads Vandy ran.
Er... offense. There can't be many complaints about the run game. 242 yards with good showings from Hart, Grady, and Minor, minus Grady's fumble. The much-rumored zone blocking was legit and seemed fairly effective. There was but one fullback shuffle.
But... yeah... the passing game. Some of the problems were fairly innocuous execution errors: Massey's drop on the wheel route (that was a fairly tough catch, but still) and Breaston's drop on that slant. But the only downfield pass we attempted all day was the pass to Manningham. Partially that's DeBord: his tight end fetish was on full display today. But part of that was a really disturbing lack of pass blocking. Henne was buried when Jake Long whiffed a block; Riley was iffy all day; blitzes from the outside were unblocked all day. Henne did very well to buy time and scramble for the occasional first down, but his accuracy left much to be desired.
Where were the slants, outs, and stop routes? Henne threw literally nothing over the middle of the field all day. Bleah.
Goddamn I love Mike Hart. That is all. Oh: and where were the screens? We attempted one old-fashioned running back screen, IIRC.
Speaking of screens: We can't run any wide receiver screens until game six. They aren't going to work.
Overall? The booing at the end of the first half was a little goofy too me, since we were crushing them everywhere but the scoreboard. I'm disappointed in the passing game, too, but there was a lot of good to take out of that. That was a dominant defensive performance and a hell of a running game, and since Lloyd Carr coaches like he has a dominant defense and a hell of a running game no matter what the facts on the ground are, that's important.
Oh, yeah: Zoltan!
I did this last year, too: thinking it was best to save the Michigan preview until the week before the season and erroneously believing that said preview as far more complete than it actually was, I find myself short on a Vanderbilt preview. I have little knowledge about the Commodores and nothing prepared. Since Vandy sans Cutler projects to be a walkover, I don't feel that bad about it.
Instead, a listing of things I'll be looking for as indicators of what the season holds.
Henne's accuracy. It's not a big deal if his downfield attempts are a bit off, but I dearly want to see his outs, slants, stops, and the like on the money.
Riley's pass blocking. I'll be watching the offensive line extensively but I probably won't be able to tell whether or not Bihl or Mitchell are performing adequately without the aid of tape. Everyone will know if Riley's whiffing regularly.
Manningham in command. No screaming from the sidelines, no missed routes, six catches and a touchdown. Or something like that.
Carson Butler. Manbearfreak.
Steve Breaston. A number of short catches he turns into six yards he shouldn't be able to, one ridiculous event, and no limping.
Run game. Obviously, but a run game that's nothing like Hart's 200 yard miracle against MSU, but one in which he's making first contact with tackles four, five, eight yards downfield. I'll be looking to see whether or not Obi Oluigbo can lock down the fullback spot and for any evidence of the rumored zone running.
The elimination of those run-on-run-off substitution patterns. Herrmann came up with these after one of those Purdue games when Tiller had fifteen guys in the huddle, then ran four off before the snap and stuck with it long after that had disappeared. It came to symbolize all the extra garbage Herrmann heaped on the players brains, which made bodies slow and fans grumpy. Hopefully they'll abandon this for well-defined substitution patterns.
Something other than obvious base-formation zone against three wides. Without question the most irritating thing about last year was Jamar Adams or Prescott Burgess hovering in the general area of a slot receiver before the snap on almost every play that featured three wides. Herrmann gave away the defensive call on that side of the field in every instance.
Varied coverage in the secondary. Pressing every play is about as smart as deep-zoning every play.
Tim Jamison. Obvs.
Chris Graham doing something. Anything.
Shawn Crable looking smart.
Cornerbacks other than Leon Hall. A potentially fatal weakness, but at least Michigan has four options. One should be adequate.
- Brian Kelly is *!ing crazy.
- Buckeyes Introduce Crimin-Os (cereal name shamelessly stolen from MNB)
- A lame excuse to put "The Run" on AOL.
- Bret Bielema Comes to You For Help.
Warren St. John has spent a lot of time staring at Ann Geddes calendars lately, if his latest endearingly creepy post is any indication:
The fact is, if you want baby to be the hit of the tailgate party -- and to perfectly compliment that grill and keg emblazoned with your team's logo -- you're pretty much obligated to get them a little mascot suit. But where to begin?
Um... at RJYH?
Mike D'Andrea is done. His knees say his career is over; Buckeye linebacker depth takes a small hit, though I don't know how much they were counting on him. The article makes it sound like this announcement was a mere formality.
I can't let you do that, Dave Wannstedt. OMG.
A startup venture, EndGame Technologies, has designed novel computer modeling software to assist National Football League coaches with critical play-calling decisions--the kind that often determine the outcome of the game. Should a team punt on fourth down--or go for it? Or attempt a two-point conversion after a touchdown?
The startup faces a minor issue: the NFL doesn't allow computational aids to be used during the game. And I can tell you what it's going to say, anyway: GO FOR IT, LLOYD.
Bennie Joppru caught a preseason touchdown last night. He's not dead yet.
Las Vegas screwed my system up something fierce. Since the World Series of Poker had nearly nine thousand entrants this year, play on the first couple days was scheduled to go to two or three AM Pacific time. It was 7AM in Michigan when I finally collapsed into bed after day one. I maintained that schedule during the downtime in an attempt to be as alert as possible for day two. When I got back, my sleep schedule was completely trashed.
I gradually recovered, but even in the best of times I'm something of a late riser. And by "something of" I mean "am completelly and shamefully". Eleven... noon... one. Thereabouts. (This is extremely irritating if I haven't prepared something for the blog the night before, as I am forced to scramble.) Sometimes the Man holding you down is useful, because he makes you get up at a respectable hour and prevents the minor bursts of shame that come from a weekday PM rising time.
A funny thing happened this week: I wake up, check the clock, and it says "9:02" or "9:27". No alarms. No early bedtimes. Just a mysterious sea change in my circadian rhythms apropos of apparently nothing. I was puzzled. But no longer: football, tomorrow. When I arise the clock will say "9:02" or "9:27," I will head out to the family tailgate and read way, way too much into Michigan's opener. Subconsciously I have prepared myself. Good job, subconscious.
EDSBS called yesterday "Football Christmas" and that's exactly right. These days Christmas Eve is mostly a reminder of lost childhood magic. I go to bed wishing that I could not go to bed, wishing that I was straining to hear reindeer hooves on the roof. Today I've got that old feeling, even though the threat of coal is far less abstract in this particular venture. But if you were a child who had suffered through a series of disappointing Christmases -- socks, socks, an apple, socks -- and one horrible one, one that put you off the idea of Christmas for months -- show us on this doll, Josh -- then you might really appreciate it when the skies opened up and hosannahs rained from the heavens as Christ personally descended and bestowed all five Dinobots upon you. And you might not think so badly of those past Christmases after all.
Go, extended metaphors! Go Blue.
Extremely helpful reader Jeremy took this moment of crabbing...
Hasn't someone stitched together the four catches from the end of the '04 MSU game and set it to the world's worst emo? Can we get on this? I would watch that in a loop if it was a TV show. Could I be more like Bill Simmons right now? Billy Zabka! Ian Ziering! Humiliating self at WSOP!
...and went above and beyond the call of duty. Behold:
Best ever! FOOTBALL!
Steve Breaston may have disappointed in many ways last year but this was not one of them. A sure way to constrict your throat at any time is to watch his critical return with under a minute left against PSU that set Michigan up near the 50 and enabled the Manningham magic to come. Breaston finished 8th in the country in kickoff returns and 18th in punt returns despite battling injuries and unblocked gunners all year. He is the real deal in this facet of the game, at the very least.
Michigan fans thought he was capable of much more had the coaching staff played punts for something other than fakes. Michigan's tendency to cover gunners like they were wide receivers and provide only a token punt rush removed much of the threat from Michigan's return game without assistance from the other team. Despite that, Breaston still excelled.
Rating: 4. Many are down on Garrett Rivas after some irritating, short misses in critical spots last year but he was 19 of 26 a year ago. 73.1% is light years from awful, though misses from 34 versus Minnesota, 27 against MSU and 25 against Nebraska show that he's not exactly Huston. Rivas will provide more of the same: reliable short-range kicking with sporadic, hair-pulling misses. There are worse fates.
Freshman kicker Bryan Wright will redshirt unless Rivas really struggles.
Houston, we are reading an unidentified
Senior punter Ross Ryan was ugly but effective a year ago, consistently kicking dying quails that made it 35 or 40 yards at maximum but were nearly unreturnable: only 17 of his 52 were run back and those for a paltry total of 85 yards. By contrast, Michigan had 423 punt return yards. His job has come under threat from redshirt freshman and space emperor Zoltan Mesko, who occasionally kicks balls into orbit but also occasionally shanks them for 15 yards. Carr has talked of a punting rotation. Presumably Zoltan would get punts from relatively deep in Michigan's territory where his leg can be used to full destructive effect while Ryan takes punts near midfield that he's less likely to bomb through the endzone.
Ryan's kickoffs almost always reached the endzone and many were touchbacks a year ago. The new, lower tee will reduce his touchback rate but he remains an excellent kickoff guy.
Special Teams in Summary
Should be a strength. Rivas is all right; the punting duo should be collectively above average; Breaston is kind of good at returning things. Rivas' iffy range -- 47, 48 and that's pushing it -- and tendency to miss two or three really stupid field goals to miss a season will irritate, but Michigan is in good shape here.
Vanderbilt is the opener. Without Jay Cutler the Commodores pose little threat.
CMU isn't playing Michigan State and will therefore lose. Pass-rushing demon Dan Bazuin will provide a stiff test for Michigan tackles and an indication of how prepared they are for...
@ Notre Dame, a small Catholic school of no importance in northern Indiana.
The Big Ten schedule opens up at home versus Wisconsin, who has no returning anything on offense aside from John Stocco. Their defense appears to be stiff against the run but still dodgy in the passing game. If Henne is on it should be a non-terrifying Michigan victory.
Michigan ends up @ Minnesota next, where Michigan's run defense will be thoroughly tested no matter how many running backs the Gophers lose in the meantime. The offense should not be nearly as tested, thought it would be nice if Rueben Riley blocked Steve Davis this year.
A pissed-off Drew Stanton, who is rumoured to have teammates, rolls into town next. Stanton is a major trap game for Michigan, as he should be able to score on anyone. Tense moments.
Michigan then must venture @ Penn State to face approximately 110,000 people who would drink Lloyd Carr's blood from a chalice made out of the skull of a Big Ten referee if given half a chance. If Penn State's offensive line comes together by this point in the year, this will be a knock-down, drag-out affair. Otherwise it will be Anthony Morelli eating grass.
Iowa frightens me.
Northwestern's Fun 'n' Run offense is next; unfortunately for the Wildcats their defense must accompany them.
Ball State and @ Indiana are also schools of no importance in Indiana, though Ball State did produce David Letterman.
@ Ohio State is The Game.
An Embarassing Prediction, No Doubt
What, with road games at ND, OSU, PSU, and dangerous games versus MSU and Iowa? December suicide. AKA: 7-5.
This happens if:
- Henne throws away a couple games.
- The OL stagnates.
- The outside linebackers remain static.
- The cornerback not named Hall gets nicknamed "toast" by the ND game.
- God wasn't joking around last year and really has a deep personal enmity for me.
I believe! 12-0. Hypothetically!
This happens if:
- Henne plays like he did over the last three or four games.
- Riley or whoever the right tackle is manages to perform adequately.
- One of Manningham or Breaston emerges as #1 in spirit.
- Jamison kicks it.
- Graham and Crable adequate it.
- A cornerback and a half are found.
Four of six should do it. Or Hart could just Vince Young us to an undefeated record.
To recap: everything should be better and I have totally reasonable reasons for thinking so. Everyone we liked except Avant, Stenavich, and about a third of Watson returns, plus we get our best two players back and healthy. Incremental improvement from many plus wild improvement from a few -- my bets are Manningham, Crable, and Jamar Adams -- should see Michigan re-assert itself. On the other hand, this team is flawed on the offensive line, at linebacker, and in corner depth.
...but you know and I know that the key to the season wears #7 and has a goofy haircut. If he plays like he did last year, we have a season similar to last year but slightly better. From 8-4 to 9-3. If he plays like he did at the tail end of last year, um, yeah. There's a chance.
Wins: Vandy, CMU, Ball State, @Indiana, Northwestern
Probable Wins: @ Minnesota, Drew Stanton, @ PSU, Wisconsin
Tossups: @ ND, @ OSU, Iowa
Split the difference: 10-2.