"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
While the end of Michigan's bowl streak is disappointing in and of itself, there's more than pride at stake. Specifically, I haven't heard anything about the value of the month's worth of extra practices that come with a bowl bid. It seems as though a team such as Michigan, with all of its youth and inexperience, would benefit quite a bit from the extra practice time. Any thoughts on this and if it sets back Michigan a bit?
There is indeed some value in the extra practices that would come from a bowl bid, but quantifying that is impossible. I don't think the effect will be huge; these days college football is a year-round activity and the hours the players don't spend in supervised practice will be spent doing some other sort of football-related activity. Any effect there will be small.
Have you ever seen Raiders of the Lost Ark? At the end of the movie the bad guys open the ark and everyone that is looking at it is melted (or something along those lines). I'm convinced that this will happen if I ever watch Michigan's offense again when Sheridan is in the game. Is there a way to watch this that will not cause me to go blind/die?
- Drink. Bob Huggins has actually seen the face of God 46 times with no ill effects.
- Blind yourself now. This will prevent you from having to do it later.
- Bet on Michigan's opponent. This is called a "hedge," and works great in the financial industry!
- Remember that football is just a game, and that you have a beautiful wife and children and a job you love and that your life is going to be okay just as soon as the game is over. If you don't have the wife/kid/job thing going for you, there's always disassembling and re-assembling pens.
- Look into Buddhism, which teaches you to let go of earthly cares other than three-man lines on potential running downs. Even Buddha hates that.
A three parter on the future:
Given the generally mediocre play of our offensive line this year, I was wondering if you had any inside information that you could share with your readers about some of the freshman who are redshirting. Are any showing great promise in practice? Given the performance - or lack thereof - of our O line, I am concerned that some of the freshman may be even worse than those who are currently starting and playing.
The two names that keep coming up are Ricky Barnum and Patrick Omameh. As far as I can tell, most insider expect Barnum to be starting at one of the interior line positions—most likely left guard—next year, and for four subsequent ones. Omameh is a surprise name, as he was one of the last additions to the class and was by far the lowest-rated, but he saw a senior-year growth spurt that got him offers from State, Michigan, and (eventually) Ohio State; there's obviously some potential there.
Rocko Khoury, meanwhile, got some buzz earlier in the year as a guy who was doing well and might actually step in at center if Molk struggled. (This, of course, is the tantalizing possibility of a Moose and Squirrel combo on the interior OL.) He could push for time next year. Dann O'Neill has a great frame and should be very good eventually, but came in needing significant work with technique and strength; next year might be too early from him.
I haven't heard much about Mealer or Wermers. Mealer had a shoulder injury that kept him out much of fall practice, so his absence from the whispers is understandable; Wermers has no such mitigating factor and would appear to be slightly behind.
I am hopeful that that is not the case and that the coaches are letting them develop slowly to help next year when, in all likelihood, we'll have a new starting QB. Similarly, our linebackers have been inconsistent, at best, and not particularly effective. Fitzgerald was a prized recruit, but is only playing on special teams. Any word on him or anyone else who may be redshirting?
Linebacker is going to be rough. Redshirt freshman Brandon Herron hasn't seen the field at all despite playing behind a motley crew and appears on his way to Brandon Logan "oh, yeah, that guy" territory. We saw Marell Evans briefly, and then not again. And two of the true freshmen linebackers are already gone. So, the only guy on the roster we'll see next year is Kenny Demens. Demens is a WLB, though, and Mouton appears to be turning into serviceable player, so he might have to wait a couple additional years before seeing playing time.
Everything relies on extensive improvement from the two starting sophomores and Fitzgerald panning out in a big way; Michigan has no margin for error here until the 2009 recruiting class is ready to play.
I've heard pretty good things about both Demens and Fitzgerald, FWIW.
Other than BooBoo, I cannot think of any freshman DB who can be counted on for high caliber help next year. Let's face it. This year is dismal. Id rather think about the future. While I'm hopeful that we'll continue to recruit well and bring in new talent, I wondering about some we already have. No one seems to be reporting on it.
Well, Brandon Smith and JT Floyd are both redshirting and may be of some assistance; also Michael Williams is working himself into some playing time and doing sort of okay.
In the aftermath of another 3rd and long -> disaster scenario, I'm wondering if Shafer has any proven track record against the pass. Does his scheme actually work, or does he just rely on pass rushing to cover up for a weak secondary? Although our safeties are obviously questionable, our cornerbacks should not be, and the pass defense seems porous at best. When Shafer was hired at Stanford, people assumed the major drop in pass defense was just due to an improved run defense, but could there be a systemic flaw here?
There is another possibility: Michigan's pass defense last year was overrated by the numbers. Opponent pass efficiency ratings in groups (I consider 60 to be bad despite being "average" because all BCS teams these days inflate their statistics in the nonconference schedule):
- The Good: Oregon (#42, but Dennis Dixon was #3 when healthy), Florida (#2)
- The Eh: Appalachian State (#6 but in I-AA), Purdue (#48), Michigan State (#44), Wisconsin (#40)
- The Bad: Penn State (#74), Northwestern (#66), EMU (#85), Illinois (#80), Minnesota (#76)
- The Horrific: ND (#113)
- The Not Applicable: Ohio State (#12)
(Ohio State, of course, got a small lead and entirely stopped passing, so their #12 is meaningless.) By my count here every common opponent to date save Wisconsin is better this year as all return quarterbacks or replace Anthony Morelli with Not Anthony Morelli; trading Dennis Dixon for Brian Johnson isn't that far off.
Meanwhile, at Michigan out went the two starting safeties. And how much of Michigan's tragic fall in pass efficiency defense is due to the near-total incompetence of their replacements? A hell of a lot. How much of that is the fault of the new staff? 10%.
I'm beginning to get as disillusioned with Scott Shafer as all the rest of you are, but it is way, way too early to draw any definitive conclusions.
However: yeah, Michigan's insistence on bringing an extra safety (or two!) on the field in nickel situations instead of a corner is mystifying, as is their inability to keep four DL on the field in that package. Michigan fans were told Shafer was a blitz-happy, man-to-man guy; this year we've gotten almost all zone coverage and a lot of three-man rushes. I don't get any of that.
Oh, God, did I just put Minnesota #13? Why do all the teams I put from 11-25 all die every week? Do I have to start considering a team (Virginia) that lost to Duke by 30 points?
Help me. Someone tell me what to do. This is probably my least favorite ballot ever.
10/25/2008 – Michigan 21, Michigan State 35 – 2-6, 1-3 Big Ten
Here's a tip for Windows users who suddenly find their computer freezes on bootup: instead of booting into safe mode and wasting a day running disk checks and searching Google for advice, just select "last known good configuration" and save yourself the trouble.
If only that worked for football teams.
It does not, so we're back with the same story again: mostly outplayed and totally outgained. The only reason it was even somewhat competitive was Michigan State's determination to waste their massive advantage in yardage, but even their essential Sparty-ness couldn't blow this one.
I was completely wrong in the preview, wherein I suggested Michigan would prove itself slightly better on a down-to-down basis and be done in by more critical errors, and I've now given up any semblance of hope the team is going to turn a corner this year. I figure they might beat Purdue since the Boilers look pretty awful; everything else looks like a stretch.
So, like, what should I do with the rest of this season? I don't have anything interesting to write about on Mondays, as you can tell, just another rehash of "Michigan is epically bad and they have just lost by many points." Game previews seem as pointless the last four games. UFRs… well, I guess I have to do those. But expending a ton of energy covering the last few games of a season that might end up 4-8 at best seems unproductive.
In fact, it's time to bring back Henri, the otter of ennui.
Henri's crushing existential dread pins him to ground. Mine makes me go play videogames. I put it to you: what should I do over the course of the next month?
- What does it take to get fired around these parts? This has been all over the place by now so you already know this, but the NCAA rulebook has a specific provision indicating that an airborne player who touches the pylon is out of bounds.
I was in the stadium so missed the analysis that followed the touchdown, but everyone was pretty sure that call was bogus from the get-go, and I privately wondered if this could possibly be the work of the infamous Jim Augustyne and, yes, it was.
Augustyne was the guy responsible for what's now the second-worst call in Big Ten history when he ruled that Chad Henne's incomplete forward pass was indeed a fumble and awarded Domata Peko a long touchdown on the return. (That call is second-worst because it was a missed opportunity to overturn the play; on this one Augustyne actually screwed up something called correctly on the field.) Both calls required a total ignorance of the rulebook anyone who's watched football for ten or so years would know.
Augustyne should be given a gold watch and told to stay away from replay booths. Can someone dig up gambling debts and maybe an arrest or two for domestic violence?
- Michigan's inability to run against State is the last straw as far as hope for the offensive line goes. They couldn't block the Big Ten's iffiest defensive line; there's no hope until next year.
- I really don't get Michigan's decision to keep Cissoko on the bench in favor of a third (bad) safety in the nickel package. Late in the game white receiver named White (we're from White!) lined up with Charles Stewart in man coverage; his out route was open by yards and yards. As I've mentioned before, I'm willing to accept the idea Scott Shafer is working with a really shaky back seven; I'm less willing to accept the wacky tactical decisions that clearly aren't working.
- Speaking of, the one time we go to a three man line on something approximating a running down was Ringer's 60 yard touchdown.
Right, I had no intention of not having a liveblog last week; I just plain forgot. People new to the thing below should check out the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post. Activities should start around three.
|WHAT||Michigan vs. Michigan State|
|WHERE||Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, MI|
|WHEN||3:30 EST, October 25th, 2008|
|THE LINE||Michigan State by 4.5*|
|TELEVISION||ABC Regional, mirrored on ESPN2|
Run Offense vs. State
While it lasted, Michigan's performance against Penn State was a thing to behold, but how much of that was the unexpected debut of a north-south MINOR RAGE offense and how much is replicable week-to-week? I don't presume to tell you.
State's defense, meanwhile, uh…
This is probably worse than it looks, as I haven't excised sacks in these numbers and a big chunk of Ohio State's carries were part of the effort to keep OSU's winning margin under 70. This an awful rush defense unless it's playing Notre Dame. I dunno about that, you figure it out.
Maybe Michigan's ground game has turned the corner? If so, we should expect at least 5 YPC given the numbers above. If not—if that was our one trick and once it's scouted that's all folks—and we descend back into the depths from whence we came, we lose. Michigan has to put up numbers like those above to be in this game. End of story.
I suppose I should venture some sort of guess about this, yes? Well… I don't think we'll touch the 6 YPC Cal and Indiana did but this is not something that happens to you by accident, and Michigan's rushing offense has been erratic but seems to have found something. I think they'll put up something like 200 yards, although that's a low confidence prediction.
Key Matchup: Brandon Minor's RAGE versus Michigan State linebackers. For the first time all year Michigan had a north-south running game and Minor repeatedly made yards after contact; Michigan lifted itself off the ground.
Pass Offense vs. State
As per usual, if Steven Threet doesn't play please mentally replace this section with "HEAD FOR THE HILLS! ONLY THE STRONG WILL SURVIVE!"
Threet, bad elbows and all, was 9 of 13 for 84 yards against Penn State in about a half of action. While this is not exactly Tom Brady we're talking about, he was again pretty good in a tough situation on the road. Nick Sheridan is going to be a legend in ten years, but the kind you tell at night with a flashlight under your chin.
As far as State goes, it's hard to find a reasonable comparable in the opponents. State currently stands at #27 in passer efficiency but has faced off with the heroic likes of Ricky Stanzi, whoever Indiana's backup quarterback is, and a freshman Terrelle Pryor. Actually, those guys suck, so maybe they are reasonable comparables. Pryor is left off because that game got so out of hand so quickly that his stats are meaningless.
State opponents of potential relevancy:
These numbers are actually pretty good outside of the Cal game, which Michigan is not going to replicate, though the interceptions may or may not be a fluke. One negative to State's numbers is a relative dearth of sacks. They're just 73rd.
At this point we know what to expect: short throws to the outside guys, wheel routes to Odoms when he finds himself singled up with safeties or linebackers, the occasional unsuccessful screen.
Key Matchup: Threet versus anything that takes him off the field. So: Ortmann versus stuff.
Run Defense vs. State
You know Javon Ringer, also known as "the entire Michigan State offense." He's out there killing his NFL career three yards at a time. It's kind of amazing then, that Ringer is second nationally in rushing yards and Michigan State is… 52nd?
Yeah, 52nd, and #51 (Maryland) has 100 fewer carries! In fact, if you order teams by YPC instead of raw yardage State falls to 78th at 3.86. One spot behind them? Michigan at 3.85. One rushing attack has seen local media fall all over it in a rush to praise it. I leave you to guess which one.
I have a ton of respect for Ringer, but wow… this is not a good rushing offense. Michigan's gotten shredded by a couple opponents this year, but Penn State is #6 in YPC and Illinois #32. Hell, Michigan held Illinois 0.7 YPC under their average. Wisconsin, which basically runs the same scheme and is currently flailing around at 0-4 in the Big Ten and basically handled by Michigan, is at #46.
Sometimes I come to a conclusion and think to myself "oh, hell, do I really have to think this?" and then it turns out I do. Here's one: one week after giving up like eight YPC to Penn State, I expect Michigan will hold Ringer's average down under 4. Ringer will still get like 30 carries and will have one of those Mike Hart-versus-Penn State days, but unless Dantonio throws some sort of curve this should be the best day from the Michigan defense since the last time they played a team of cavemen.
Key Matchup: Ezeh and Thompson reading pulling linemen and getting to the f*#$ing ball.
Pass Defense vs. State
Q: How do you acquire the nation's #72 pass efficiency rating when you run 60% of the time?
A: You suck.
Q: But not nearly as a bad as Michigan.
Right, Brian Hoyer was banged up and left the Michigan State-Ohio State game and there was a desultory cheer from those still in attendance. He is not particularly good. He is completing under 50% of his passes and has thrown six touchdowns to four interceptions.
Mark Dell is MSU's leading receiver with 24 catches, but not by much; freshman BJ Cunningham has 21 and Blair White 19. State goes to the pass as a play-action complement to Ringer and when they have to; long yardage situations are probably good.
Meanwhile, Michigan's secondary has been pretty much awful all year. The corners are making no plays; the obvious zone alignment has been incapable of covering guys; the linebackers are YAC machines. This is a battle of weaknesses, with one potential item that could swing it M's way: Graham and Jamison.
Key Matchup: Safeties reading play action probably. State's heavy focus on the run means they don't get a whole lot of pressure when they go play action—they've given up just seven sacks in eight games—and do get a lot of safeties sucking up into the play. Michigan safeties, meanwhile, have been… rough.
I definitely shouldn't have gone "eh" about special teams last week, as their implosion was a major factor in Michigan's implosion: kicks out of bounds, a blocked punt, horrible returns, etc. You know how dire the situation is.
The good news is that Michigan State's returns are nearly as dire. State is:
- 86th in net punting
- 98th in KO returns
- 31st in punt returns
The punt returns should be irrelevant; Zoltan has had under 25% of his punts returned and those have gone for 3.4 yards each as there are gunners on the opponent in a snap. So all that looks like a slight advantage Michigan assuming there are some punt exchanges.
One advantage for State: Brett Swenson is 15 of 16 on the year. Don't expect a lot of misses from him.
Key Matchup: Michigan return units versus their general awfulness. State's return units have given up some nice returns; Michigan has to field the ball and not, like, fumble the hell out of it.
- Anyone other than Threet takes a snap at quarterback.
- Anyone other than Threet takes a snap at quarterback.
- Anyone other than Threet takes a snap at quarterback.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Dave Molk gets his reach on.
- Johnson and Taylor look like they're going rack up big positive numbers.
- The turnover margin is in Michigan's favor.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for They Have Two Losses We Have Two Wins, –1 for Slight Possibility The Hockey Team Replaces Their Pads With Anthrax, -1 for Their Castle Appears Built On Sand, About Which More Later, –1 for We Shut Wisconsin Down, Basically, +1 for Did I Mention The Two Wins?, +1 for Distinct Possibility We See SHERIDAN=DEATH.
Desperate need to win level: 7 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for A Win Would Direct The Criticism Thataway; +1 for Big Recruiting Weekend, Too, +1 for The Implosion On The Spartan Internets Would Be A Joy Forever, –1 for General Whatever When You're 2-5.)
Loss will cause me to... avoid a lot of links to stupid columns in the local papers.
Win will cause me to... laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
If you accept the premise that turnovers are really random, Michigan State isn't as good as their record and Michigan isn't as bad as theirs. Turnovers have been a bitch to Michigan and a god to State.
Check it: State is +5 in turnover margin a week after being –5 against Ohio State. In State's two games against tomato cans they were –1, leaving them +11 against the five teams on the schedule that were tossups to start the year. Or, in chart form:
This is how MSU is 3-1 in the Big Ten despite being outgained on a per-play basis in every game. Michigan, meanwhile, is 111th in turnover margin.
Of course, it's been hard to watch Michigan this year and conclude that turnovers are actually random. Michigan's turnovers are part bad luck and part epic suck; if you made me guess what the margin would be in this game I'd peg it at –1.
So, do I think a Michigan team with a –1 turnover margin and a 50 yard deficit in special teams can beat Michigan State? Well… I think so a lot more than I did before I started this preview. Honestly, if you compare the ground games Michigan State has been getting by on boring repetition and Michigan has been erratic but not flat awful. State's run defense, on the other hand… flat awful. And Michigan, again, has been erratic.
The passing games seem like washes. Both are infrequently deployed, poor, and as likely to result in disaster for the offense as for the defense. It'll be close, and I think Michigan will seem like the better team down-to-down; I also think they'll be done in by a couple enormous errors.
AND ONE MORE THING: Rick Comley has suspended two members of the hockey team for their role in the enormous fight that got a sophomore defenseman sent to the hospital. Mark Dantonio has suspended nobody, even though by now he must know all the particulars.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Minor outgains Ringer.
- Special teams continue to screw up in ways unfathomable.
- Michigan State, 24-20.
Part II, obviously. Here is part I, covering 2002-2007.
1997 - Judgment Day
THE SETUP: #1 Penn State and #5 Michigan are both undefeated heading into the game; Penn State has a three-game win streak against the Wolverines in their fourth year as a Big Ten school. Will Michigan ever beat the Nittany Lions again?
WHAT WENT DOWN: Michigan launched a nuclear bomb, obliterating Penn State from the opening snap. Glenn Steele sacks Mike McQueary on the first snap and that sets the tone. Michigan is up 10-0 in the first quarter when Daydrion Taylor delivers one of the most violent hits in college football history:
That was the end of Taylor's career.
Michigan goes up 24-0 at halftime, wins 34-8, and claims #1 in the polls the next week.
IN THE AFTERMATH, PENN STATE FANS WHINE ABOUT: Missing the national championship game in 1994.
1998 – Shutout The First
THE SETUP: Michigan has recovered from their season opening humiliations against the option to win six straight; Penn State enters 6-1 with the lone loss coming to Ohio State.
WHAT WENT DOWN: Not much of interest. Michigan shuts Penn State out 27-0; with Michigan up 10-0 at the beginning of the first quarter Penn State gets the ball down to the one, goes for it on fourth and goal, and gets stoned.
With a minute left in the first half, Michigan hits a big screen to Anthony Thomas, then throws a fade to Tai Streets for a touchdown, and that's all she wrote.
IN THE AFTERMATH, PENN STATE FANS WHINE ABOUT: Their short yardage package.
1999 - Brady
THE SETUP: Penn State was undefeated until the week before, when they lost 24-23 to Minnesota; this was the high-water mark of the Mason era. Meanwhile, Michigan rolls into town at 7-2. It's David Terrell and Tom Brady versus Lavar Arrington and company.
WHAT WENT DOWN: This was the game with the famous transcontinental play where Brady left the field, faking an injury, and Henson came in to throw a screen to Johnson. Said screen was backwards; Johnson threw it back, and Michigan got 30 yards on an eventual touchdown drive.
Early in the third, Tom Brady would hit Marcus Knight running wide open on a post route, putting Michigan up 17-7. Penn State then ran off 20 straight points, leaving Michigan down ten points with just under six minutes left in the game. It was at this point Tom Brady started his rise to supermodel-nailing All-American ubermensch:
And with that, Michigan was in Penn State's head.
IN THE AFTERMATH, PENN STATE FANS WHINE ABOUT: This is the game that really set some of the nuts on BWI off, most famously "MarshCreek," who dedicates about a month of his life every year to parsing Michigan's last two drives frame by frame. Apparently, Michigan was holding on every play.
2000 – They're Bad Now?
THE SETUP: No one expects this game to be particularly competitive, as Penn State enters with a 4-6 record and a loss to Toledo (albeit a Toledo team that would go 10-1). Michigan is just 6-3 and is coming off the 54-51 loss to Northwestern, but Penn State is bad, man.
WHAT WENT DOWN: It's close until late in the second half, when Michigan puts together a touchdown drive and immediately picks off Penn State, getting the ball at the 20; Michigan takes a 17-3 lead to the locker room.
A throwback screen puts Michigan up 27-3 early in the fourth, and that's all.
IN THE AFTERMATH, PENN STATE FANS WHINE ABOUT: Not going to a bowl game. Michigan would never do that!
2001 – What-Evah
THE SETUP: Penn State starts off 0-3 in one of the strangest schedules I've ever seen: the opener is a Miami team that would go undefeated, then there are two byes before Wisconsin. Anyway, no one expects much out of Penn State going up against Michigan, 3-1 with their only loss that fluke-fest against Washington.
WHAT WENT DOWN: No one got much out of Penn State, as they were shut out 20-0. Michigan opened with four Epstein field goal attempts, the first of which was an unsuccessful fake and the fourth of which was missed, before getting a touchdown right before the half; Zach Mills was sacked a jillion times and Penn State never threatenened to score.
IN THE AFTERMATH, PENN STATE FANS WHINE ABOUT: The direction of the program: this is the second consecutive losing season for them.