A new commit for Michigan means we're hitting the front page. Action since last rankings:
3-14-09 Michigan gains commitment from Antonio Kinard.
10-4-10 Indiana gains commitment from Cody Latimer.
10-6-10 Wisconsin gains commitment from Denzel Doe.
10-8-10 Michigan gains commitment from Demetrius Hart. Iowa gains commitment from Melvin Spears.
10-9-10 Wisconsin gain commitment from Tyler Marz.
If you see any errors in the individual tables, please let me know. I'm tempted to move Indiana down a bit, but their averages per commit are about even with (or only very slightly behind) the teams nipping at their heels, and they have more commits.
|Big Ten+ Recruiting Class Rankings|
|Rank||School||# Commits||Rivals Avg||Scout Avg||ESPN Avg|
Rivals rankings are on the "RR" scale, which is on a scale from about 5 to about 6.1. Unrated prospects are given a 5.1 rating, on par with the worst of any Big Ten commit last year. Scout is on the 5-star system (unranked players earn star), and ESPN uses grades out of 100 (unranked is 40 or 45).
|#1 Ohio State - 17 Commits|
No change for the Buckeyes.
|#2 Notre Dame - 20 Commits|
|George Atkinson III||S||CA||5.8||4||79|
With their higher commit numbers, Notre Dame is actually pretty close to passing Ohio State, though a deflated ranking on Scout (which hasn't rated kickers) keeps them well behind on the average at that site.
|#3 Nebraska - 13 Commits|
No change for Nebraska.
|#4 Michigan State - 16 Commits|
Nothing new for MSU.
|#5 Michigan - 11 Commits|
Yay! Michigan picks up Dee Hart finally. The MSU loss might slow down anything else from happening soon, though. I've also added Antonio Kinard, as U Recruit reports he'll join the team this winter.
|#6 Indiana - 22 Commits|
Rivals is far higher on the Hoosiers' new commit Cody Latimer than are the other two services.
|#7 Iowa - 15 Commits|
|#8 Northwestern - 13 Commits|
No change for Northwestern.
|#9 Minnesota - 15 Commits|
No changes for the LOLphers.
|#10 Wisconsin - 13 Commits|
Two new pickups for the Badgers, though neither is highly-rated.
|#11 Penn State - 4 Commits|
They have to get some commits sooner or later, right?
|#12 Illinois - 16 Commits|
Nothing new. The sites still aren't in agreement over whether Hayden Daniels is committed.
|#13 Purdue - 7 Commits|
No change for Purdue.
Tae Odoms may have a broken foot. "I don't know what's up with Mike" Martin. James Rogers cramped severely. [I saw Rogers leaving the stadium, and he seemed to be walking fine, for what it's worth].
"I don't look at margin of defeat. I'm just disapointed we didn't play better. Our guys played hard, but we didn't play well." Too many mistakes to win against a good team. A little off in both the pass and run game on offense. Dropped passes, missed protections. "I don't want to say it wasn't our best effort, but it certainly wasn't our best technique-wise and the things we needed to do."
Need to make big plays to counter the opponents' big plays "None of those things occurred today." Can't diagnose what went wrong on the big plays until watching film. "We didn't tackle well." Maybe accountable to going after the ball a bit too much.
Ineffectiveness in the red zone made a difference. Denard needs to "live for another play" or take off and run instead of making bad passes which can turn into turnovers.
Denard not as sharp as he has been. He's still young, but he's competitive and going through the film they'll see what happened. "This is just his sixth game. I'm told everybody all along that he's a first-year starter." Denard wasbhesitant at times, but there weren't a lot of creases. "We had some more things planned."
Guys were close to making some plays, but didn't close the gap on defense.
On MSU containing Denard: "They just played well, got off blocks. And we didn't play as well I don't think."
Low kick led to the blocked field goal - there wasn't penetration up front that caused it.
Punting with 6 minutes left was the wrong decision. RR was trying to get the players' attention and change the call. He wouldn't punt it again in the same situation.
Iowa has had an open week to get ready, and Michigan has a big game against them next week.
Mood in the locker room was what you'd expect from losing the game.
MSU had a couple blitzes, stunts. That wasn't the main issue on offense though, Michigan just made a couple bad reads. "We made bad mistakes, and we've gotta capitalize on a few things." Made bad reads, bad plays, some mistakes.
MSU didn't try to take Denard specifically out of the offense: "Not really. We've got weapons everywhere. I'm not the only weapon on offense." Denard hesitated a lot, which prevented him making the long runs. "Just bad reads, bad reads."
Rivalry games are always exciting, maybe Denard played a little too excited. Got too excited on the bad throw to Hemingway.
MSU is fast - "they're a Big Ten team." MSU more physical? "It's just like the rest of those games." Dirty play at all? "It's Michigan State vs. Michigan. That's all I've got to say."
Greg Jones wasn't the reason Denard made mistakes today. "I didn't pay attention to one player. I paid attention to everybody."
Team wasn't worried when they went down 2 scores. With a high-powered offense, they should be able to come back from that. Knew they could come back, just needed to keep playing hard and keep focused.
No one person is to blame for the poor performance, time to move on. "Refocus and get back in there. It's mid-season now. Time to crank it back up."
"Yeaaah, I just lost focus" on the first drop. Got into the endzone and realized he didn't have the ball (jokingly).
"I felt like it was a lot of mistakes in the redzone." Have to score when you get down there, and not doing so hurt the team.
Denard "he was keeping poised all through the game." Not getting frustrated by throwing interceptions, and was pumping the team up.
MSU always plays physical, just like everyone else in the Big Ten will against Michigan. MSU isn't necessarily the best defense M has played, there were a lot of mistakes on the Michigan side that helped them.
"This is a tough loss, you know. We just have to go in there Monday and learn from our mistakes and prepare for Iowa."
Ryan Van Bergen
MSU better than other teams played? "They have some better players at some positions than teams we've seen." They took care of the ball, moved it with the run, and smart passes. "They executed better than we did."
A couple miscommunications on gap responsibility led to the long runs. "We weren't in the right one twice. Same play." Will figure that out. "I thought we were prepared for it. Unfortunately they just gashed us on a couple plays."
"I think they got called for an illegal chop on Mike. I think he'll be fine." He wants to get it evaluated before risking further injury.
"If I'm going to be a leader on the defense, I have to set an example. Obviously we didn't win today, I didn't play well enough." Everybody has to push, we haven't seen Michigan play as well as they can yet.
Cousins' bootleg wasn't that effective - the defense against that was improved. "It was kind of easy getting back there to him."
After a long, strange recruitment, FL RB Demetrius Hart is (finally) committed to become a Michigan Wolverine.
|4*, #9 RB||4*, 5.9, #1 All-Purpose RB||4*, 80, #9 RB|
Hart is in the running for this year's "Marvin Robinson/Ricardo Miller Memorial Underrated Award," as the prospect that Michigan fans get really excited about early in the process, only to become disappointed when the recruiting services don't agree. He's still a four-star prospect, most likely, but that's a far cry from the National Top 10, where it seemed like Hart would end up.
On the Orlando Sentinel's Central Florida Top 100, he's fluctuated from anywhere between #2 and #14, and is currently #4. The big board provides the following brief comment:
Has all the moves and the grades
Both positives, in this guy's humble e-pininon. There's a little more detail on the Sentinel's profile page for Hart:
Hart is a playmaker in every sense of the word and will likely set the school's record for all-time leading rusher this season [ed: He did, along with records in single season touchdowns and career touchdowns]. Hart is a running back/receiver/return-specialist for the Panthers.
Some of Hart's disappointing rating can be attributed to his size, which doesn't translate to the running back position at the college level:
Despite his size Hart has owned central Florida the last two years.
That, of course, didn't stop him from getting offers to play either RB or slot from a number of top programs (about which more later). In an interview with ThaRinger.com, Hart broke down his game a little bit:
“Basically, a lot of schools when they recruit me, they recruit me for kick returner, punt returner, things like that but I also play running back. I’m more of an outside runner but I can run up the middle. I can do it all. I’ll put my head down and run through some people, so I can do a little bit of both.”
“I think my strengths are I can see the whole field. I can read a defense real well, watch a lot of film and I have speed so I can get around the outside or I can get through holes. I know how to be patient and wait on things like for blocks to happen and stuff like that. I think one of my weaknesses are just trying to get those extra few yards and taking that contact. I know as a running back you shouldn’t do that too many times, just try to preserve yourself and also just depending on my O-line to be there. I’m pretty good with reading the blocks so sometimes I kind of get ahead of them. Sometimes I see what they don’t see and I try to make a play on it, so that’s what I’m going to try and work on this spring.”
ThaRinger also gives its opinion on Hart:
He’s a smooth athlete with good speed and acceleration and he changes direction as good as anybody. He is also much more physical than his size would indicate. He definitely doesn’t shy away from contact. But perhaps his best attribute is his vision and he admits that when asked what his strengths are and what he would like to work on to continue his development.
He's versatile, excelling from the tailback position, as a receiver out of the backfield, and in the return game.
His coach provides a short-but-sweet comment on Hart:
"Dee is a student, and he's a tremendous competitor. There's a whole lot to like about him."
Scout.com talent evaluator Bill Greene echoes the coach's sentiments:
"Hart's physical ability, speed and quickness, are easily identified, but after watching him for two days there is much more to this impressive athlete," said Scout.com recruiting analyst Bill Greene. "His leadership ability, infectious attitude, and desire to win far outshine his impressive physical gifts. Demetrius Hart is a winner, on and off the field. He will be an outstanding addition to whichever college he chooses."
That drive for success has shown itself in the weight room, where he's packed on weight to become more of an every-down back:
Hart has been working hard this off-season. He has added 18 pounds since this time last year.
“My playing weight last year was 170 pounds. I have actually gotten faster. My quickness is the same. It’s just God given.”
Tying it all together: Shifty running back prospect with great hips who could also project to slot receiver or cornerback. Very good (but not great) speed, good balance, and improving ability to pound the ball inside.
Think of any football power, and there's a damn good chance they offered Hart. That includes the last two national champions, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Clemson, Georgia... the list goes on. His impressive offer list says what should be obvious by now: this kid is a Big Deal.
As his recruitment wound down, he had several "final" lists of schools. Alabama, Auburn, and Florida started the party, with Florida replaced by Michigan shortly thereafter. Auburn dropped off the list, but resurfaced about a month ago.
Hart has been a highly productive player in each of his seasons at Dr. Phillips High School. As a sophomore, he ran 111 times for 758 yards (6.83 ypc) and 16 touchdowns. He also played in the return game and was a cornerback on defense.
Hart is the all-time leader at Dr. Phillips in just about every rushing and scoring category. His junior stats include a game that he missed completely, and one for which he was injured and missed the fourth quarter.
Somehow I didn't managed to find exact junior year stats, but he gained about 2,000 yards rushing, receiving, and returning, and scored 20 total touchdowns. Five of those touchdowns came in the return game, and at least three came receiving. Hart split carries with 2010 Colorado State signee Marvin Ford. He was named 1st-Team All-Central Florida and 2nd-Team All-State.
Hart has been even more productive this season(!), with 813 all-purpose yards on 89 touches (9.13 yard per touch) through just four games. Much, much more detail on his season in next week's Friday Night Lights post.
FAKE 40 TIME
Rivals credits Hart with a 4.43 40-yard dash time, and Scout says 4.50, both of which are fast but plausible (and therefore no fun). ESPN is even less bullish, pegging him in the 4.65 range.
Hart is known as a speedster, but not a blazer, so all these times range from realistic to pessimistic. I have no choice but to dole out just a single FAKE.
Here's his junior year:
There's also video available from the Nike Gridiron Kings 7-on-7.
PREDICTION BASED ON FLIMSY EVIDENCE
Hart plans to enroll early, which gives him a better opportunity to contribute on the field early in his career. However, in his freshman year, Michigan will still have a bunch of running backs on the roster in senior Michael Shaw, redshirt junior Mike Cox, junior Vincent Smith, and sophomore Stephen Hopkins. That means carries will be limited, but Hart might be able to find the field in other ways.
With his receiving and returning abilities, there's a darn good chance that he'll be a starter or major contributor on special teams, and he could see some time in the slot. Couple that with a handful of carries in Michigan's stacked backfield, and it's not hard to see Hart get some good PT as a true freshman. However, with Michigan's depth at all of those positions, it's not necessary for Hart to play much as a freshman, unless the coaches want him to get his feet wet for the future. He could redshirt that season, then have a chance to play extensively the next year.
Hart's talent may be too much to keep off the field. He will probably get shuffled in during his true freshman year, become a big part of the rotation as a sophomore, and then have the opportunity to star as a junior and senior. As with Steve Slaton before him, Hart could become a Heisman contender before leaving Rich Rodriguez's program.
UPSHOT FOR THE REST OF THE CLASS
The depth shown above is an indication that Michigan doesn't have a huge need for running backs in the class of 2011. If the coaches find another running back that they really like, they might take one (maybe Thomas Rawls?), but with 11 commits already in a class that should only go to about 22, the spots will likely be used elsewhere.
Hart's Dr. Phillips High School has put out plenty of talent in the past few years (Kenny Shaw of Florida State and a trio of Colorado State signees in the class of 2010, a trio of D-1 players in the previous class), and that trend looks to continue into the future.
Hart's commitment may not have an effect on Alabama commit S Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, the #1 defensive back prospect in the cass of 2011, but the Wolverines are looking at several other teammates, including WR Chris Gallon and S Roderick Ryles. Michigan is also looking at 2012 QB Nick Patti, whose father is influential in the Dr. Phillips community. Hart's commitment could solidify the Dr. Phillips pipeline that Ricardo Miller helped start (prior to his move to Ann Arbor).
It's back. Sorry for the two-week interruption, but Forces Beyond My Control intervened.
- UMass: Molk excellent, everyone else solidly positive, Lewan goes donkey, Dorrestein majorly positive.
- Bowling Green: candy for everyone. Omameh gets the gold star.
- Indiana: everyone positive, numbers depressed because they scored too fast, WOO DENARD, Lewan gets the gold star.
The major difference between my charting and The Other Brian's is a difference of opinion on Dorrestein. I evidently think he's treading water and just okay; TOB has him approximately equal with the other four guys on the line. Also he was quicker to catch the effectiveness of Michigan's TEs.
Devin zone read issues. After the BGSU game, BWS put up a post about Devin Gardner's zone reads and how they are "rough" if you're being nice and "sucky" if you're not; this was in agreement with the UFR's assessment. Michigan's coaches probably saw too; it appears Tate has reclaimed the backup job. Or maybe Gardner has tendinitis.
I don't hate Vincent Smith. Most of the offensive UFR comments were taken over by the comment war about Vincent Smith. To clarify:
- Smith is a good pass protector and reliable run blocker, though his size makes his run blocking a little sub-optimal.
- He's a good option out of the backfield but the way Michigan's offense is going this year throwing to the tailback is almost pointless.
- He seems to have lost a significant amount of shake-and-bake because of the ACL injury.
- He does not make a lot of yards himself, but he doesn't miss reads often either.
This adds up to an average back.
Finally. BWS has an excellent breakdown of the final drive and the importance of this moment:
This offense is not only explosive but S-M-R-T, kids.
And now on to the WARZONE:
Rollout mitigation strategies. Our Helmets Have Wings has a post based on this previously-linked BWS piece about defending the copious rollouts Michigan has endured. It evades easy summary but the idea is to take someone out of a deeper zone and have him play a flat zone close to the area the rollout is intended to go so he can pressure the QB.
Crab man. The Indiana UFR did not pick up a whole lot in the way of disagreements that are supposed to be the reason for this series, but this is an informative comment for doubters about Roh's DE potential from ironman4579:
While Roh has good athleticism for his size, the key term is "for his size." His hips are fairly stiff in coverage. He has great speed for a DE, probably average at best for a LB. He's not great in space. He has elite athleticism for a DE. He has below average athleticism for a LB. He's just too stiff.
I'd also disagree that he's undersized. Yes, he's a little light (I'd agree that he's definitely lighter than I'd like to see my DE's, but there's enough successful, disruptive light DE's out there in a 4 man line that I think he'd be fine. He might struggle a bit against the run, but I'd give up some in the run game to get an, IMO, vastly improved pass rush), but a guy like Aaron Maybin of Penn State had 12 sacks and 20 TFL's at 235 pounds. O'Brien Schofield was 248 pounds when he went ahead and got 12 sacks and 24.5 TFL's. That's just two recent examples. There are many, many others. Leverage plays a huge part, which actually leads to my next point.
I want people to watch Roh this week when he's at DE and when he's at LB. When he's at DE, he's what scout's call a "flatback." He's incredibly low in his stance. When he comes out he stays basically in the same stance, getting very low with great leverage. He gets his hands out and keeps guys away from his body, and has a great initial punch. He shows a variety of pass rush moves.
When he's at LB, he gets very high. He goes into blockers almost straight up. He lets guys into his body and almost seems to forget his hands until he's already engaged and the blocker is into his body (this is especially evident last year against ND on the Armando Allen hold run at the end of the game, but throughout the season this was a problem). He loses leverage regularly. When he rushes, it's almost always a straight speed rush. He gets lost in space.
The difference between Roh as a DE and Roh as a LB are night and day. He has flashed the potential to be a fantastic DE. As a LB, I don't think he's going to be much more than an average to slightly above average player
I added the picture demonstrating Roh's crazy leverage stance before the snap. I'd like to see a lot more four-man lines this week.
An aside: the debate that's raged between what people are calling a 4-2-5 but is really just last year's defense and the 3-3-5 that's Michigan's run most of this year is really just debating what Craig Roh should do.
Cam Gordon confusion. I solicited opinions on whether or not Cam Gordon should have been able to do anything more than tackle on that corner route…
…picture-paged yesterday. Many people said yes. Many others said no. Upon review I do think that Cam should have been a lot closer since there was no vertical threat from the inside. That probably wouldn't have let him make a play on the ball but he might have been able to tackle at the 25 instead of the 15. The counterargument:
The problem is, jumping the route too quickly can lead to long touchdowns. Gordon does in fact make the right play here. If he jumps up, the experienced receiver will skinny his route and the 5th year QB will loft it over the crashing safety. In a cover 2, the corner route will almost always beat the safety to the soft part of the zone; it's only when the corner drops back enough to disrupt this spot that this pass fails (and then the QB checks down to the out). In a 3rd and long situation, the CB should focus on the deeper part of his zone, as it's always easier to stop a first down if the catch is made in front of the sticks. A more experienced corner, or one that is just less hesitant to react, makes this a much more difficult play to complete.
As always, pass defense and linebacker play are mysterious since who's at fault can vary wildly based on assignments you're not privy to.
The larger point stands. Michigan's inexperienced secondary is not reading the opponent's routes at all (underneath) or quick enough (deep). Hopefully they develop this with time. Also, Chris Brown pointed out this is another variation on the snag concept that Michigan was running elements of earlier this season.
BONUS: Misopogon suggested that the issue was with JT Floyd not getting depth and letting Gordon out to the sideline, but I disagree. Sometimes I fail to explain things I picked up over the course of the game and people disagree based on the individual play, and that's the case here. Most of the time when Michigan went to this coverage, JT Floyd was acting as a Tampa 2 middle linebacker with responsibility in the deep seam. That's why he was at fault when IU hit a deep seam to the TE in the first half…
Does the "J" in J.T. stand for Journeyman?
Floyd spent his second week in a row being moved all over the place. I can understand why they're doing this (he's probably our best DB and we need to get our best athletes on the field.) But with all this moving around, you expect him to get confused occassionally.
On this play he gets caught looking at the underneath crossing route when what he needs to be doing is getting depth in his zone to squeeze off the seam route. The cross will be picked up by the other linebacker, so his false step here was not going to help anyone.
… later in the game when Michigan had covered this bunch snag route a few times they went to a different variation where the vertical receiver ran a post and Floyd dropped right into it. He is not playing a deep half; he's playing a robber. On this pattern he will be of use when the receiver running a dig to the top of the screen clears the CB.
Zone! Man! Fight. BWS's thing this week is advocating more man coverage, complete with a chart of the results when Michigan ran man:
So in 12 attempts, Indiana had six incompletions, one sack, and five completions for approximately 69 yards. Is this statistically significant or proof that Michigan should use more man coverage? Probably not and no.
I'm not sure all of those were man, as BlueSeoul's continuing epic game breakdown series touches upon:
When you're facing 4 or 5 WR, a 3 man rush is not a bad idea because it allows you to run combo coverage behind it.
2 Deep, looks like man coverage underneath, but really it's zone. The man on the slot has good position for run support. The near cornerback is in bump n run with the tall and dangerous, but not necessarily quick, Belcher.
Everyone is covered, Rodgers even manages to stay close enough to his man to dissuade a throw against the confusing look, the 3 man rush gets pressure because Martin beats a double team. Plus we've got 4 extra men in coverage that are just waiting for Chappell to misread it as man coverage and try to force a ball in, so they can get an interception.
Chappell coolly throws it away.
So those numbers may not be right. It seems clear that whatever Michigan is doing in the dime they need to keep doing until they can do it right, at which point they can mix some stuff up. Man coverage is playing with fire every time because of…
James Rogers finally getting exposed. One of the main takeaways from BlueSeoul's post is something that was obvious in the Indiana game after Michigan managed to get away with it through the nonconference:
I've probably covered this enough already, but just to summarize, he is the weakest link. No, that's not surprising given what's happened to the depth chart at corner.
It's so bad that it's hard to tell who he's covering and whether he's supposed to be in zone or man. He's just kind of over there on one side. By the 2nd half, Indiana was actively targeting him on a large percentage of plays. He's giving up the 7 yard out
ALL THE FREAKING TIME.
I don't mean to beat up on him but I agree; he's Nick Sheridan out there. I'm half-expecting he gets replaced this weekend, probably by Avery, though I imagine he'll still have a job in the dime package. Whither Cullen Christian? (Blowing coverages against BGSU, is where.)
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 Eastern, October 9th 2010|
|THE LINE||Michigan –4.5|
|TELEVISION||ABC/ESPN2 reverse mirror|
|WEATHER||70 and sunny
Run Offense vs State
The brahs are all like "OMG Greg Jones" as if Manti Te'o isn't a faster, better version of him, assuring everyone who will listen and their poor disappointed mothers that sometime in the second quarter Jones will violently disembowel Denard so a funeral can be held at halftime.
Unfortunately for the brahs, the State defense hasn't lived up to those proclamations. Aided by an injury, MSU held Wisconsin's John Clay somewhat in check. He managed 80 yards on 17 carries, 4.7 per. They didn't do so hot against his backup James White, a smaller, speedier guy who averaged almost 10 YPC. Between the two primary tailbacks Wisconsin had 178 yards on 27 carries, 6.6 a pop. (White, a freshman, was also responsible for a couple of terrible blitz pickups.) A couple of those long runs came when MSU sucked inside and got punished by bounce-outs because of irresponsible play; against Denard Robinson getting irresponsible is six points conceded.
Meanwhile, ND's Armando Allen averaged 5.5 YPC on just 13 carries, though MSU did keep ND's other tailbacks down. Overall, ND tailbacks averaged 4.5 YPC, almost exactly what they managed against Michigan. I think we know what happens when Michigan's rushing offense goes against the Michigan defense.
That's it as far as useful comparisons go. Western Michigan is 114th and Florida Atlantic 116th in rush offense, and Northern Colorado is a 2-3 I-AA team.
So that seems encouraging, but Michigan was expecting to run against Michigan State last year and ended up averaging one yard per carry. Brown and Minor combined to for 17 yards on 10 carries. This was the first inkling that Michigan's rushing offense was something of a mirage:
Forcier kept the ball when he should have handed it off, most painfully on Michigan's overtime drive where a veer play absolutely had State for a ton of yards and maybe a touchdown but Forcier kept it and was forced to follow Minor into the hole for only four. Twice Brown burst into the open field with a lead blocker and naught but one player between him and the endzone and both times Brown and the lead blocker failed to beat that one guy. Martavious Odoms took a reverse and had absolutely cavernous space to cut up into but did not realize it until far too late and slipped making his cut. On several plays State had left themselves open for a big cutback run behind the center but the tailbacks did not take it. And, yes, the right side of the line repeatedly failed to crease State's DL or chop the backside DT when plays went away from it. State did a good job—on both of those potential big gainers the State player in question made a huge, touchdown saving tackle—but Michigan left a ton of yards on the field.
The offensive line was blown up, too. On GS's run chart your winner was Mark Ortmann's +1.
There were plenty of reasons for this, foremost David Molk's injury and the shuffling it imposed on the defensive line. David Moosman played center, adding another bad snap to the pair that killed drives in the Indiana game. Huyge played right guard and struggled so badly that journeyman John Ferrara got a drive or two in case he was better; Dorrestein was forced into the lineup at right tackle and struggled.
This year, Molk is back, Patrick Omameh has ascended to the starting right guard job and has performed at an all-conference level after a rough start against UConn, and donkey-hating Taylor Lewan has forced his way into the starting lineup past Huyge. Schilling and Dorrestein return as better players. And Michigan has the most dangerous runner in the country taking snaps.
State, meanwhile, lost Oren Wilson and Trevor Anderson from last year's defensive line. Anderson's been replaced by the clunky 6'7" Tyler Hoover, a redshirt sophomore who is a version of Greg Banks minus some of the veteran savvy. Wilson's replacement is a platoon of Kevin Pickelman and Blake Treadwell. MSU returns DT Jerel Worthy, their best DL by some distance, and meh DE Colin "Cam" Neely. Neely and Pickelman missed the Wisconsin game but will return this weekend. Their linebackers are senior versions of last year's guys.
State's been decent against the run but when BlueSeoul broke down the MSU-ND game in one of his extensive Picture-Pages-on-Steroids diaries a major reason for this was the general derpitude of ND offensive linemen in space:
Michigan linemen are from space. They voted for Zoltan and everything. If you put them in space they and the mountain goat receivers will show you your O-I'm-on-the-ground-and-Denard-is-fast face.
Michigan is going to get yards against this defense, but the torrid pace—7.1 YPC, first nationally and a full yard better than all but six teams—they're on should cool off somewhat. If MSU is intent on leaving the safeties back, this will be a steady drip of five, eight, ten yards. If they go Indiana on things it will be more erratic but prone to bigger plays. One key: will Michigan break out the midline option or the veer that Oregon (and now Nebraska) are slicing defenses apart with? Worthy is a guy who just tears after people; he could be exploitable against the midline. Michigan hasn't had to do anything new except pop out a pulling lineman or two; this is the week to deploy a completely new package.
Key matchup: Schilling, Molk, and Omameh versus Worthy and Pickelman/Treadwell. Last year State owned this matchup. Worthy is a quality player but the other defensive tackle is something of a weak spot; Michigan must win this matchup to get second-level players out on the State linebackers and keep the ground machine operating at full death.
Pass Offense vs State
This was also a source of OL ownage on State's part last year:
PROTECTION METRIC: 37/57, Team –5, Dorrestein –4, Ortmann –4, Ferrara –3, Huyge –2, Minor –2, Moosman –1.
That is terrible, and large parts of it can be blamed on the absence of one David Molk. People who would not have been playing otherwise picked up –7 and one bad Moosman snap was given –1: more than half of the 15 negative points assigned to specific players on the line are attributable in ways direct or indirect to Molk's foot.
Michigan's offensive line gave up five(!) passes (or attempts to pass) that were marked "pressure"; Forcier also added ten more attempts that were IN, BR, or TA, including the fatal super triple BR on the OT interception. Three flat drops did not help matters. Forcier managed to go 17/32 for 223 yards despite this, but the offense operated in fits and starts and relied on a burst of Stonum athleticism and desperation to get its two touchdowns.
That is not likely to repeat this year. For one, Michigan's tied for first nationally in sacks allowed with one thanks to a combination of Denard running, massive progress on the OL, and opponents being terrified of Denard breaking contain. Meanwhile, after losing Trevor Anderson and Oren Wilson, Michigan State is in the triple digits when it comes to acquiring sacks. They've got five; even Michigan's three-man rush is doing better (yes, yes, against an avalanche of passing spreads). When Michigan drops back to pass they'll have time.
Despite the lack of rush, State's pass defense has been at least decent:
Notre Dame racked up a bunch of yards and touchdowns but took 55 throws to get there and didn't put up a huge YPA; Wisconsin got thunked. A large portion of the latter was Tolzien having a bad day and Nick Toon dropping everything that came his way (and subsequently complained about not getting enough opportunities!). Even so, Michigan State has not been lit up in the same way Michigan has. A large part of that is the return of Johnny Adams from injury. Their okay senior corner (Chris L. Rucker) also managed to not explode his ankle, so they've got that going for them.
Even if the outside guys are kept in check, this could be a big day for slots. It appears that ninja-kicking former walk-on Jon Misch is going to be the weakside linebacker who spends much of his day hovering in the vicinity of the slots; the fact that he's in a true battle with hyped sophomore Chris Norman is probably not so good for State. MSU cornerbacks have also been historically poor at tackling, leaving bubble screens attractive options, and the main reason Notre Dame couldn't exploit MSU's addiction to the 4-3 was this equivalency: Stephen Threet : screen :: Dayne Crist : screen.
Robinson will have to throw more than usual and in some uncomfortable situations; this will depress his remarkable efficiency ratings. He should still have enough opportunities to hit big plays in the passing game to win.
Key matchup: Magee and friends versus hyperactive Michigan State run defense. We've seen it all year: Denard takes a step forward, causing the entire defense to fly downhill at him, then flicks a pass to Roundtree that he runs into or near the endzone no matter how far away from it he is. While State's probably spent time on defending that particular iteration of Denard Automatic Play Action, there will be other opportunities to rack up RPS +3; in this game Michigan is going to have to lean more towards balance on first down to prevent the drive-stalling two yard plays that happen when a team sells out, Tecmo Bowl-style, and gets it right.
Run Defense vs State
Michigan's run defense isn't good but it's probably better than the pass defense; against State they will be severely tested. Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell, and Larry Caper are all quality backs in the same mold: big, fast tackle-breakers slightly light on the shimmy. Bell has more RAGE, Baker more breakaway speed. Caper is returning from injury and may have gotten Wally Pipped by Bell, a who-dat recruit out of Columbus who arrived in a chariot of thunder and said "surprise!" They're all OR on the depth chart, but Caper's had six carries in MSU's two actual games. He is OR in name only.
The other guys:
That's… uh… kind of terrifying, actually.
Michigan's most relevant outing was the opener against UConn and their similarly power-heavy stone age offense; in that game Jordan Todman had 20 carries for 105 yards, 5.3 per. That's not awful; Todman is legit. In his two other games against D-I foes he put up 192 on a Temple and 190 on Vandy. While those aren't the greatest opponents UConn returned Todman and four offensive lineman from last year's #39 rush offense and appear to be picking up at or above where they left off.
Oh, wait, right: UMass. Crap. Michigan also got imploded by UMass on a series of counters and power running plays on which the linebackers got lost. While Mouton and Ezeh played much better in the two games since the opponents were Bowling Green and Indiana, two passing spreads with no clue how to run the ball that are allergic to pulling linemen. Any hope derived from those games should be vague and humble.
HOWEVA, after watching the Wisconsin game I'm weirdly optimistic Michigan can not die in a fire. Wisconsin's DL was in the backfield a lot and big chunks of MSU's rushing yards came on a misdirection fourth and one pitch and an instance where Wisconsin was badly misaligned against a full house backfield. When it came to just lining up and running it State didn't open many holes. Their tailbacks did drag tacklers all day. If Michigan's linebackers have their heads on straight I can see something similar going down where Michigan does enough to force a bunch of second and long.
Simple power plays and zone stuff probably won't go very well but State has to run it to set up the rest of their offense of counters and play action; I bet the counters are consistent gashers and the regular stuff pops a run or two but also sees a lot of two-yard gains. Some of these will get up to four or five thanks to the quality tailbacks; by the end of the day numbers similar to the UW game are likely.
Key matchup: Cam Gordon run support versus backbreaking long runs. MSU's rush offense is the usual old-school thing Michigan fans will remember from Lloyd Carr's days: a lot of grinding, a lot of meh results, the occasional long gainer that happens when someone busts an assignment or a tackle. For Michigan to keep MSU's numbers in the Wisconsin-or-below range Gordon is going to have to go 10/10 on opportunities to take down MSU backs breaking past the linebackers.
Pass Defense vs State
HAI GUYS I'M THE MICHIGAN SECONDARY
You know the story on Michigan's side of the ball. When it comes to Michigan State, they still have Kirk Cousins. Cousins is a somewhat mobile pocket passer with good accuracy who makes a lot of excellent decisions… and two or three mind-boggling throws per game.
He usually does the latter bit when he's pressured. He has a tendency to chuck the balls Ben Chappell was tossing into the stands at covered receivers. He threw two interceptions against Wisconsin, one horrible, one a ball deflected at the line that seemed like it was going directly to a double-covered receiver and was going to be picked off anyway. In the second half he got lucky on a back-foot throw that could have been a pick-six if it was more accurate.
State's receivers are analogous to Michigan's—a solid unit without a Braylon/Plaxico superhero. Mark Dell, Keshawn Martin, and BJ Cunningham have split receptions almost right down the middle, and if you squish MSU's two TEs into one body you can say the same thing about Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum. There is no one go-to guy. If you're pigeonholing, Martin is the explosive slot guy, Cunningham the big possession guy whose ability downfield comes more from muscle than speed, and Dell a pretty good generic outside receiver. To compare them to Michigan guys: a poor man's Steve Breaston, Junior Hemingway, and… uh… a rich man's Ron Bellamy? There isn't really a good Michigan analogue for Dell. Anyway, it doesn't really matter who they are because they will be open. State's receivers have had a case of the dropsies this season, FWIW.
BlueSeoul picked out a specific thing State does well that Michigan's defense has seen a lot of in practice but still can't defend: the bubble.
Prepare yourself for this. Michigan is going to put either James Rogers or a freshman out on the outside. One will be playing in the parking lot; the other will get blocked into the parking lot. Michigan State is going to eat up yards on bubble screens, and you will be enraged.
This looks like a functional passing game run by something that's not a duck. This means doom so far as it's possible. Will Michigan State abandon its usual gameplan of "run or play action on 80% of first downs" in an effort to attack the Michigan secondary? Probably not since it's not likely anyone will mistake the M run defense for the 2006 unit. Will they have considerably more success on third down than they should? Yes.
Key matchup: Martin and Roh versus the MSU OL. Michigan has the opportunity to pick off some passes of their own if Cousins is dealing. Sometimes this happens when receivers are covered and he just tries to MAKE PLAYS; usually its an artifact of someone getting in on Cousins. The turnover margin will be huge, and Michigan should have an advantage if they get quarterback pressure.
An advantage for Michigan State. Martin returned a punt for a touchdown against Wisconsin and the Spartans have one of those kicker guys. Dan Conroy is 7/7 on the year. They're also averaging 38 net yards on punts, which is around 40th nationally. Michigan can't return punts or kick field goals and freshman punter Will Hagerup is still working through the jitters. Hagerup seems to be coming around, but Michigan hasn't even attempted a field goal since the first half against UMass and seems happy to keep it that way.
Will it matter? Maybe not. Special teams have not played a major role in Michigan's last few games because touchdowns have been plentiful, and both kickoff return units are weak. Michigan's probably going to go for it on fourth and reasonable distance once they crack the MSU 40 until game theory concerns kick in late. MSU is more likely to make their field goals and more likely to get a big punt return; the net effect of that bonus will either be negligible or large with little in-between.
Key matchup: STOP KICKING THE DAMN BALL
- Denard allows his usual backup quarterback cameo, and continue worrying until he returns to the field.
- MSU's line is kicking M's ass again.
- This jumping the snap business happens again.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Michigan State's maligned defensive coordinator leaves the safeties back in a Norm Parker-style adherence to old principles in the face of new technology.
- A significant new addition (midline, veer) to the running game leaves MSU's defensive gameplan in shambles.
- Roh rushes the passer lots.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 6 (Baseline 5; –1 for Michigan State's First Road Game Unless You Count Playing In Front Of Sixteen Fans In Detroit, +1 for They Hit Wisconsin Upside The Head With Ten Pounds Of Ham, –1 for Previous Defensive Performances Say Michigan Can Run Lots, +1 for Competent Passing Offense Versus Sack Of Confused Cats, +1 for Oh God What If Field Goals Are Relevant, –1 for Denard!, –1 for Vegas Is In The Tank For M, +1 for Annual Crazy Michigan State Over-Preparation, +1 for No Reason Except The Lump In The Throat.)
Desperate need to win level: 10 (Baseline 5; +1 for Would Be The Definitive 2010 Is Not 2009 Answer, +1 for Would Force Inane Media Narratives To Switch To A Different, Less Annoying Inanity, +1 for Would Cause Uppity State Fans To STFU, +1 for The Alternative About The Annoying State Fans Is Horrible To Contemplate, +1 for Constant Rich Rodriguez Job Rescue Campaign)
Loss will cause me to... get really annoyed at the little Dantonio head growing out of my shoulder. I mean, you think it's annoying now, let me tell you… man.
Win will cause me to... forcibly suppress any ideas Michigan might be playing Ohio State for the Big Ten title at the end of the year.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Well… dammit. I didn't really know what would happen against UConn. I didn't really know what would happen against Notre Dame. And I don't really know here. Is Wisconsin the top-ten team I was terrified of before the season or was last year a mirage? Is Indiana's passing offense really a high-powered knife cannon aimed directly at the Big Ten's tingly bits? Denard? Greg Jones?
There is a common opponent:
- Michigan beat Notre Dame 28-24, outgaining the Irish by a narrow margin if you discount ND's last drive on which Michigan was happy to cede 40 yards. The game was on the road, but Dayne Crist missed a quarter and a half. Michigan missed two field goals, but why wouldn't they miss two more against MSU?
- Michigan State beat Notre Dame 34-31 in overtime on the trick field goal. Yardage was basically dead even. The game was at home, but Crist went the whole way.
This tells us nothing. At the end of regulation ND had four extra points against State. The home-road flip is worth another six. A reasonable estimate of how many points Crist's absence cost Notre Dame is ten. Flarbity doo, I'm wearing a shoe.
So: I think Michigan's offense is not going to slow down much against what is likely a mediocre Big ten defense. Their drives will be longer because MSU is not a flamingly awful Big Ten defense, but the overall efficacy of them won't be too far off the high level they've established so far this year. I think State will do much the same to M. The home/road flip should be good for a stop or two; Michigan's defense will not be the wasteland it was against Indiana if only because they'll be going up against an offense less suited to torch it; the freshmen defensive backs will have more of a clue; Michigan is likely to end up in the black in TO margin since a somewhat pick-prone Cousins will be putting the ball up more frequently than Denard.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- MSU safeties combine for more tackles than Greg Jones.
- Denard goes for 150 on the ground.
- Michigan finally looks like they've prepared for this game specifically.
- Michigan, 35-30.