that is nice bonus change
New thingy: "pressure" charted much like "coverage" is. First attempt seems generous.
|O23||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||14||PA Deep comeback|
|Waggle on the first play; a nice call from the Minnesota OC. Wheelwright drives Hall off, then breaks back to find a perfectly placed ball. Excellent execution. (DO, coverage -1, pressure -1)|
|Biggs is unblocked by the tackle on that side. Minnesota pulls a WR to block him, but his attempted chop is avoided, leaving Biggs(+1) free to dive at Pinnix and stop this for a minimal gain.|
|Branch(+1) comes free a bit late, forcing a dumpoff to Pinnix. Harris(+1) comes up to prevent any YAC. Cupito had some time to find a receiver but not much. (coverage +1, pressure +1)|
|Essentially a replay. Some time for Cupito but not much. Biggs(+1) spins free, forcing a checkdown which is read and tackled by Harris(+1) (coverage +1, pressure +1, CA)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, ??? 1st Q. Michigan didn't get a sack or even a hit on this drive, but on second and third down they did get enough pressure to force a Cupito dumpoff and vanishingly few yards.|
|O21||1||10||Base 4-3||Run||20||Pitch sweep|
|Spaeth, lined up wide, comes in motion towards the line and crushes Jamison to the ground. I'm cereal: he's blown off his feet. The WR remaining to that side comes in and gets a block on Burgess as two OL pull around. One steamrolls Stewart, the other gets a block on Mundy downfield. End result: 20 yards, none of which I think we could have done a damn thing about. I think we were in trouble when we shifted our linebackers towards the wide side of the field, where Minn's second TE was lined up, and forgot about the omnipresent threat of Spaeth clocking someone. Stewart (-1) could have done better downfield.|
|Branch(+1) penetrates into the backfield, getting a hit on Pinnix just as he reaches the LOS. Burgess(+1) cleans up.|
|O40||2||11||Base 4-3||Pass||Inc||PA Throwaway|
|Branch(+1) breaks through the line almost immediately, forcing a Cuptio scramble and errant throw. (IN, pressure +1)|
|Good protection for Cupito, who fires behind Payne. Marginally catchable. Some discussion about Jamar Adams getting in Payne's way potentially being interference... and it probably is. Without it, Payne's way past the ball and it's probably a Hall interception, actually. (IN, pressure -1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 2 min 1st Q.|
|Goes right up the middle with Minnesota in a three-wide formation. A disappointing play. Branch is doubled and driven back; Taylor's penetrating move upfield is used against him. (-1 for Taylor.) Result: hole up the gut. Both Burgess and Harris have to take on blockers and can only make a downfield tackle as a result.|
|Both DTs get caved in again (-1 Branch, Taylor). Adams in in the box; he makes a stop downfield.|
|I think this is our first blitz of the game. Crable(+1) gets in on Cupito quickly, forcing a dumpoff to Spaeth. Adams(+1) closes quickly but is dragged a couple yards. (Pressure +1, CA)|
|O42||2||6||Base 4-3||Run||-1||Pitch sweep|
|Good job by Crable(+1) to fight through a block and get to the outside of his man, forcing a Pinnix cutback. Woodley(+1) and Harris(+1) converge to make the tackle.|
|Outnumbered to the wide side of the field, as our linebackers are shifted to the weak side. Pinnix takes the handoff and doesn't meet a Michigan player until he's past the first down marker. Stewart, lined up in press, doesn't recognize the play at all â€“ but when you're in press coverage on third and seven that's not a shock. I don't like Harris'(-1) tentative play here. He pauses in the middle of the field for a moment despite two Minnesota OL pulling to the outside, which gives Pinnix the corner and the first down.|
|Jamison(-1) bites hard to the inside, opening up the short side. When Jamison figures out that Pinnix doesn't have it he takes a couple steps towards Cupito, not Payne. Burgess also gets trapped inside.|
|M38||2||3||Base 4-3||Run||1||Pitch sweep|
|Alex Daniels in. He fumbles the pitch momentarily. Burgess(+1) cuts up between two OL to make a play near the line of scrimmage.|
|M37||3||2||Base 4-3||Run||0||Pitch sweep|
|Pinnix decides to cut this up, right into the waiting arms of Branch(+1). He probably ends up with about as many yards if he moved to the outside, as Crable(+1) was coming up hard.|
|M37||4||2||Base 4-3||Run||10||Zone Right|
|Again we seem misaligned. They're in a straight I with a tight end on each side of the line. We have Crable lined up just wide of the TE to the short side, a cornerback lined up a yard and a half behind him, and two linebackers in the middle of the field. They run away from Crable's side to the vacated area of the field, and despite Terrance Taylor(+1) driving his guy way into the backfield, neither linebacker can get to Pinnix, partially because the Minnesota fullback levels Burgess.|
|Daniels runs right into the waiting arms of Taylor(+1), who spun off a block and closed the hole at the LOS.|
|Token fake to Pinnix. Woodley(+1) discards a blocker and pressures Cupito, who hits Pinnix against the motion of the play. Hall(+1) comes up to make an immediate tackle. (Pressure +1, CA)|
|Payne just outruns Stewart(-2). I know Payne's good and all but I can't imagine this happening to Trent. (DO, coverage -1)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 14-7, 8 min 2nd Q. Already we've lined up in an odd formation that gives Minnesota an advantage should they run to one side or the other three times. Each time, Minnesota has taken advantage of that opportunity and gashed us. Shades of the disastrous Russell run that cost us last year's game.|
|O31||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||14||PA Comeback|
|Hall(-1) is there at the catch but misses a tackle, yielding 6 extra yards he didn't have to. Michigan was coming if this route wasn't open. (Coverage -1, CA)|
|O45||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||Inc||PA Fly|
|Cupito is way long... Hall in good coverage but not great coverage. (IN)|
|We blitz past Pinnix, opening up a bunch of space for him. Harris and Burgess (-1 each) get obliterated by blockers.|
|M41||1||10||Base 4-3||Run||-4||Zone Right (2)|
|Woodley(+3) twists around the tackle, getting penetration into the backfield and stoning the play.|
|We send five; no pressure. Stewart(-1) is way off Payne, open for a good gain. (CA, coverage -1, pressure -1)|
|M35||3||4||Base 4-3||Run||0||Pitch sweep|
|Brandon Harrison blitzes into the sweep. He's eventually crushed backwards, but his momentum manages to convince Pinnix to cut inside. On the inside, Biggs(+2) has done an excellent job to spin off his blocker and meet Pinnix at the LOS.|
|M35||4||4||Base 4-3||Penalty||-5||False Start|
|Convinces them to punt.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-7, EOH.|
|Hall closes on Wheelwright immediately for a minimal gain after the catch. (CA)|
|Big hole up the middle because Taylor's almost tackled by the guard, otherewise he picks up a TFL. Downfield, Burgess is getting doubled and Harris is blitzing away from the play. Should have been a holding call.|
|Backup center in. Taylor(+1) gets quick penetration, delaying a blocker destined for Burgess. Unblocked, he quickly fills the hole and tackles.|
|O48||2||11||Base 4-3||Pass||Inc||PA Deep out|
|Not great pressure but Branch does drive his man back and discard him, forcing Cupito to throw. The throw is a very tough one, as Decker is bracketed by Hall and Mundy in the zone. (IN, Coverage +1)|
|Terrible play by Harrison(-1). Run off by a deeper route, he reacts to the cross to Payne by coming up hard instead of trying to get wide and funnel Payne back to the help coming to the inside. If he takes a shallower angle it's highly likely this is stopped short of the first down. (Coverage -1)|
|M39||1||10||Base 4-3||Pass||-10||Misdirection bomb|
|Mundy(-1) toasted on this play. Holding called on a Minnesota guard trying to block Terrance Taylor(+1). I've seen worse go uncalled and it was not relevant to the play, but Taylor had gotten free except for the Minnesota player's arm clearly grabbing him outside of his shoulder pads.|
|M49||1||20||Base 4-3||Run||-1||Off tackle|
|Slow developing because we blitz. Englemon takes on the fullback, blocking off the outside. Crable's(+1) blocked by a DL but sheds him and attacks the LOS. Englemon finshes the tackle.|
|50||2||21||3-3-5 Stack||Run||2||Zone Left|
|Biggs(+1) holds up outside, forcing Pinnix back into the defense. Will Johnson flows down the line and closes down the cutback.|
|M48||3||19||3-3-5 Stack||Pass||Inc||Deep Cross|
|Crable(+1) and Woodley(+1) force Cupito out of the pocket. He lofts a hopeful ball to Wheelwright, batted down by Hall(+1). Barringer also around. (Uh... CA, coverage +1, pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-7, 11 min 3rd Q.|
|O20||1||10||Base 4-3||Run||0||Off tackle|
|Woodley(+1) penetrates into the backfield before being spun out of the play. Pinnix tries to come up inside, but that's filled by Burgess(+1), leaving him to try the outside again... Woodley there to make the stop. The entire backside was full of un-cut Michigan defenders, as well.|
|O20||2||10||Nickel||Pass||Inc||Out and up|
|Cupito lays it inbetween a beaten Stewart(-1) and a quickly closing Barringer. Should have been a completion for a first down but Wheelwright can't handle the somewhat difficult throw. (CA, coverage -1)|
|Burgess's blitz stunt is unblocked and results in a QB hurry for Michigan. Cupito throws a comeback that's unlikely to result in a first down even if Crable(+1) doesn't deflect it at the line. (BA, pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-7, 4 min 3rd Q.|
|Jamison(+1) gets some penetration, cutting off the outside. Pinnix cuts behind the man blocking Jamison, but Harris(+1) fills the gap, avoiding the cut block of the late-arriving pulling guard.|
|O20||2||10||Nickel||Pass||Inc / -10||Deep Out|
|Cupito needs a second or two more for this route to finish, but Harrison(+1) avoids a block on his blitz and Branch(+1) spins off a tackle. Cupito has to throw it early and Decker isn't ready for the pass. (IN, pressure +1) Holding penalty backs Minnesota up to the 10 but no replay is provided. I don't see it from the original angle. Weak call.|
|The kind of play you cede in this situation to get a third and long. Five Michigan players converge on Pinnix downfield. Hall(+1) came up to cut off the outside, removing any potential for major yar dage.|
|Uh... okay. Nice job by Englemon(+1) to get off the block and tackle.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-7, 12 min 4th Q. They give up after the holding penalty. Glen Mason coaches to win!|
|Stewart versus Wheelwright this time. Stewart(+1) gets a bump right before Cuptio throws, disrupting the timing of the route. Probably irrelevant since the throw was not going to be catchable anyway. (IN)|
|We zone blitz; Minnesota is prepared for it. Biggs fakes a rush then drops back awkwardly, not in time to get between Spaeth and Cupito. Hall probably tipped this pre-snap when he threatened a blitz from the corner, as we've run a lot of zone blitzes this year where the DE opposite a corner blitz drops into coverage. (CA, coverage -1)|
|Either miscommunication or a really poor ball. Decker is missed by yards. (IN)|
|Cupito has time. Good coverage(+2) for a while, then Cupito flushes himself out of the pocket and gets rid of it. (TA, pressure -1)|
|O20||3||10||3-3-5 Stack||Pass||Inc||Deep Cross|
|Decker wide open (coverage -1) about 20 yards downfield. Cupito throws way behind Decker. (IN) Reason it was so open: Barringer bangs into Hall.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 21-7, ??? 4th Q. Clock malfunction again.|
|Good coverage from Burgess(+1, coverage +1). Spaeth wings it wide anyway. (IN)|
|O16||2||10||3-3-5 Stack||Pass||23||Deep Out|
|Some guy named Chambers gets a step on Mundy(-1). Cupito puts it on the money â€“ tough throw, especially as he's about to get hit. (DO, pressure +1)|
|Burgess comes free on a delayed blitz, forcing a throw from Cupito. It's accurate but Hall(+1) gets a deflection, I think. (CA, pressure +1, coverage +1)|
|Good protection. Crable is about two inches away from hitting Cupitos arm but can't quite get there. Payne gets open underneath the safeties and Brandon Harrison (coverage -2, pressure -1)|
|Stewart(-1) hit with pass interference, as he impedes the receiver's progress with the ball in the air with his body. Sort of like the Trent call in the ND game except without the obvious offensive PI afterwards. Probably unnecessary. (coverage -1)|
|A simple six-yard stop. Stewart(-1) manages to whiff on the tackle and let him outside, equalling touchdown. That's not a good play. (CA, coverage -1)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 28-14, 4 min 4th Q.|
|We blitz but don't get there. Mundy(-1) is man-on-man with Spaeth and is beaten badly on the post; Cupito lays it out there for him (DO, pressure -2, coverage -1)|
|Crable(-1) and Burgess(-1) both miss tackles that would make this a minimal gain.|
|Spaeth sits down in front of the zone. (CA)|
|Hall has a big cushion on Wheelwright and backpedals on the snap. Wheelwright stops ten yards downfield and Hall is way off him, moving backwards. Makes no sense on the 19 yard line. (Hall -1, coverage -1).|
|Receiver never breaks on the route. Not charted.|
|Caught but out of bounds. Johnny Sears now in. (Coverage -1, CA)|
|Harris(+1) right with Spaeth, making the high and hard throw almost impossible to catch. (CA, coverage +1)|
|They roll the pocket. Michigan's all over the side of the field where the pocket rolls to and gets fairly quick pressure. (Coverage +1, pressure +1)|
|Drive Notes: Turnover on downs, 28-14, 3 min 4th Q.|
Was that a letdown?
Well... yeah, a bit. You can point to the total yardage allowed when Minnesota got the ball back down 28-7 (it was essentially 400 yards to 200 yards), but in terms of possessions this was a remarkably short game. By that point in the game Michigan had only faced eight Gopher drives. Only one of those had ended in a score, but Michigan narrowly escaped letting in a second touchdown when the referee threw a tenuous flag for holding and only one of the Gopher drives went three-and-out.
It's hard to get really righteously angry when your opponent has seven points when the game is over (and with five minutes left in the game down 21 it was over, despite the wackiness at the end), but Minnesota was more successful than any opponent to date against our defense.
|Woodley||7||7||Same as last week. All plays came against the run, though.|
|Taylor||3||3||0||Uneven but all right.|
|Branch||5||1||4||Quieter day than normal.|
|Jamison||1||1||0||Not the sort of opponent he excels versus.|
|Crable||6||1||5||Solid day from all the linebackers.|
|Mundy||3||-3||Didn't really cover anyone.|
|Trent||-||-||DNP due to broken hand suffered against Wisconsin. Expected to play versus MSU.|
|"Pressure"||11||7||4||A little generous, perhaps, but Cupito was forced to throw when he did a lot of the day. Any hesitation from him would have resulted in a few sacks.|
|"Coverage"||10||15||-5||Was approximately even until desperation drives from Minnesota.|
Pressure is a work in progress. In general: three step drops are not charted. Longer drops get plusses if the QB has no opportunity to find a player downfield because of incoming players. Sacks generally get bonuses. Minuses appear when a QB has a ton of time. The scale shifts towards the negative when a blitz comes, as it should be easier to get to the QB then.
With that in mind...
The front seven did a good job holding the Minnesota rushing game in check. About half of Minnesota's yards on the ground came on three plays where we were misaligned before the snap and unable to compensate afterwards, including the sweet 20-yarder where Spaeth knocked Jamison into next week. There was but one minus on that play, handed out to Stewart, because we were essentially dead on the snap. That's on the coaches, not the players.
When the players were in a position to halt the Minnesota ground game they did so, getting contributions from everyone. Woodley would make a play, then Branch, then Biggs, then Taylor or Harris.
It doesn't take obsessive tape review to see that Charles Stewart wasn't particularly good. He was beaten for both Minnesota touchdowns, had an unnecessary pass interference call, and didn't exactly display the fierce run support that was rumored to be his calling card. His momentary presence as a starter in name only now looks like a motivational ploy aimed at Morgan Trent more than a reflection of reality. It could just be one rough game, but I was skeptical about his contribution in the offseason and am more skeptical now.
Also: Brandon Harrison's tendency to take bad angles on guys running short crossing routes was cute when it was the only thing wrong with the defense against ND. It's less cute now.
The safeties were less than stellar on Minnesota's deep passing, getting reprieve by flag once, then watching as Minnesota took huge chunks of field late in the game.
So, Morgan Trent was injured, huh?
Yup. Respect my authorita!
He should be back next week. No word yet on Jamar Adams, who missed the second half with an undisclosed injury.
What does it mean for Michigan State?
Depends on whether the Spartans have packed it in for the year. Without Ringer they're down to two big, pounding tailbacks who don't seem like huge counter draw threats, and they're still shuffling their offensive line around. Illinois had five(!) sacks against them. All signs point to the defensive line wreaking havoc. Expect a lot of the 3-3-5 Michigan's deployed this year with Crable featuring as a roving blitzer.
Michigan State will move the ball, IMO. They'll come out fired up and play competently because they're Michigan State and that's just what they do to spite Michigan. Stanton's struggles over the past two games are aberrations in a fine career. And the Spartans put up 37 on ND, anyway. They have talent.
That said, things are lining up nicely for Michigan: Stanton's ribs are bruised, Ringer's out, and the interior of their line is having issues. Their running game is severely hampered. If they get in a lot of third and longs as a result the returns from Illinois indicate that Stanton is going to be buried under Branch, Woodley, et al, until his ribs go splat.
- Some movement based on the action from last week but some based on reconsidering teams to date.
- Notable re-evaluation: who has Texas beat? They lost decisively to OSU at home and have beaten up on North Texas, Rice, and Sam Houston State. Any and all assertions of their powah are totally without evidence.
- By that measure, I may want to curtail my enthusiasm about LSU, since their best win is against Arizona. They did stick much closer to the elite team they lost to, though.
- I'm finally over the Oregon-Oklahoma thing, I guess.
- ND gets a boost less for a win over a Purdue team seemingly destined for 3-5 in the Big Ten and more for Georgia Tech's pantsing of Virginia Tech. They also benefited from the Texas re-eval.
UT, Cal, and OU movement more due to not looking at previous ballots than anything else.
- Missouri gets a healthy boost. I saw about half of their game versus Colorado and was impressed with Chase Daniels and Tony Temple. Also it seems right to put an undefeated team with a flimsy schedule to date above another undefeated with a similar profile when one handled Colorado comfortably and the other needed divine intervention to win.
- I give up on Iowa.
Games seen: MSU-Illinois (hur hur hur), enough of UW-Indiana, Michigan-Minnesota, UF-Alabama, portions of Purdue-ND, the second half of Auburn-South Carolina, approximately half of Missouri-Colorado.
- BREASTON'S TRAITOROUS HANDS: are yo-yoing like Oprah's weight. This week, he made all the catches he had the opportunity to, including a tough one along the sideline. Yes, messed up that onside kick but the chances of that recurring are slim.
- FIRST DOWN PLAYCALLING: DeBord chose between "ten yard run" and "40 yard touchdown"... uh, I'm okay with that.
- JAMES KAMOKU: Horrible oversight from last week. You intentionally try to injure a player, you get on the board.
- CRAPPY NEW PSA: Michigan's glorious year of "Space, Bitches" is over, replaced with a well done but totally generic collage of smiling Asians in chem lab, smiling professors ruminating over a book, and so forth and so on. If they absolutely had to change it they should have gone with the medical school one.
DEAD TO ME
BRET BIELEMA: Way to make an impression in your first season as a head coach. A player tries to rip someone's leg off, you play Indiana the next week, and he's not suspended. Also, your hair looks ridiculous.
9/30/2006 - Michigan 28-14 Minnesota - 5-0, 2-0 Big Ten
When you're a freshman in high school, your English teacher -- the one people call "Thunderthighs" behind her back, because they are cruel children -- teaches you all about the idea of conflict, in a literary sense. Man vs. Man: Mike Hart disposes of tacklers. Man vs. Nature: Steve Breaston battles through stone hands and willow-thin legs to become a highly useful player. Man vs. Self: Chad Henne, no explanation needed.
There is little drama in the first two -- Hart is Hart and Breaston is Breaston at this point -- but Chad Henne's seemingly never-ending battle with hennebriation has had Michigan fans quietly muttering prayers to whatever deities they possess for almost two solid years. As they should. Henne makes an outstanding object of worship, but in an Old Testament sense. He possesses within himself the power to bring great joy but, like rain and women and most things that are fearfully worshiped, Michigan's quarterback has been cruelly fickle with his attentions. Thus last year's cottage industry dedicated to coming up with ways to describe his insufficient performance just so. Warren St. John chipped in "hennebriation". I invented Tacopants, Jason Avant's invisible, 11-foot-tall imaginary friend. A Google search for "Henne" over at RBUAS turns up all manner of evocative comparisons, the best being this one:
For the most part I thought what I had thought all year. That "Henne # 7" was just a jersey, and that various talents ranging from NFL quarterbacks to high school band members put it on at random points of a game.
Which was the aberration: Wisconsin last year? Or OSU last year? We all live in fear of Evil Henne and sometimes wonder if he was the real one.
Passing Att-Cmp-Int Yds TD Long Sack
Henne, Chad 22-13-1 220 3 69 2
Henne, Chad 25-18-3 211 2 38 2
Henne, Chad 24-17-0 284 3 41 1
...this is the point in a movie that takes "Man vs. Self" in the most literal sense possible when the man who jumped through the mirror or grew from Bruce Campbell's shoulder finds itself on the wrong end of a shovel blow and collapses wheezing to the ground. Evil Chad is on the verge of expiring. He has taken one laser-guided smart bomb too many. Seen Good Chad look off one safety too many. Seen Tacopants starve to death.
And, right, we're not allowed to think that because to do so inevitably brings tragedy. But it's true.
Bullets Much Akin To The Ones Chad Slings Downfield With Regularity:
- I disliked DeBord's playcalling against UW, but against Minnesota it was brilliant. I get the impression it's far easier to look brilliant against Minnesota than Wisconsin, but still. Devoid of anything resembling a short field or a Minnesota turnover, Michigan drove the length of the field five times, often because DeBord was willing to take advantage of Minnesota walking a guy up to the LOS. I hesitate to give the coaching staff credit for playing tight against UW because they had nothing to fear from their offense when Occam's Razor states it was just Michigan being Michigan, but it's a possibility.
- We punted on fourth and fourteen from the 35. I don't hate that call, since it was fourth and fourteen, but I do think it's slightly wrong. If you have faith in Zoltan the Inconceivable to sky the ball a million yards in the air and land it at the one -- that was some Orin Incandenza stuff right there, BTW -- then it's the right call.
- Speaking of that play: is the college touchback the least understood rule in the game? Everyone assumes that it's the same as the NFL, but all college cares about is where the ball is. Steve Brown didn't know the rule, and neither did the refs, though they got it right on review. Almost every punt that can be downed around the one across college football features some guy who thinks he can't put his foot in the endzone.
- Yeah, Mike Hart is slow. I'll deal.
- Adrian Arrington is kind of good. Hopefully his ability to get open deep was due to surprising speed instead of general Gopher incompetence.
- Morgan Trent did not play because of a hand injury suffered during the Wisconsin game. He was on the bench with a cast on. Charles Stewart was not inspiring in his stead.
- I would characterize the Minnesota surge after it was 28-7 more "irritating" than anything else.
Update: Yay we win. Not terribly concerned about the goofiness at the end, as it seems largely attributable to sensible prevent D up three touchdowns and Charles Stewart not playing very well. Everyone who's on Breaston's jock constantly will focus exclusively on the onside f-up and overlook his otherwise outstanding game.
Run Offense vs. Minnesota
Mike Hart ground out 4 yards per carry against a good defensive front despite running into stacked lines most of the afternoon. That's nice. Minnesota is not a good defensive front, which is nice, too. Purdue's two-headed running back racked up 166 yards on 25 carries, but Purdue is a passing team was running from shotgun spread looks and that weird pistol formation, so the results may not be applicable if we decide to plow ahead with our zone running game -- something Minnesota's familiar with -- into stacked fronts. Our line hasn't been creating creases very much, leaving Hart to attempt backside cuts where eighth guys (or un-cut DEs) are waiting in the weeds.
The result against Minnesota should be more of the same, especially since the Gophers are should be adept at avoiding cuts while Michigan is not adept at making them. The assumption: Minnesota will dare us to beat them with the pass, and we will run. Every once in a while we will take advantage of their aggressiveness but not frequently enough for the internet's tastes. Hart has a similar day to the one he had versus Wisconsin, except he picks up another 20 or 30 yards because of the downgrade in the defense he opposes.
Key Matchup: Mike DeBord versus Obvious Playcalling. If Minnesota stacks the line they're begging to have their corners ritually humiliated. Running into those fronts might keep the game close enough for wacky stuff to happen and bring on ignominious defeat.
Pass Offense vs. Minnesota
Year to date Michigan's passing game has been deployed sparingly but effectively, ranking 31st in the country in efficiency despite a spate of dropped balls and the occasional meaningless interception. Chad Henne's accuracy has vastly improved since the bad old days at the beginning of 2005. Meanwhile, Adrian Arrington is in the process of emerging into a reliable second option behind Mario Manningham -- who just emerged into a full-fledged #1 receiver himself. Steve Breaston provides a threat from the slot (yes, if he catches the ball) and Michigan has a trio of pass-catching tight ends they love throwing three-yard-outs to on third and eight. The main question is the protection, as Rueben Riley is still vulnerable at right tackle.
The bottom line: if Steve Davis is blocked, Minnesota will get shredded like wheat. Curtis Painter was given hours in the pocket but singlehandedly prevented Purdue from running up 45 or so by missing open wide receivers. Given Henne's improved accuracy to date, if Michigan receives the same amount of time to throw the results will be impressive. Purdue has a veteran line with no outstanding weaknesses, though -- not something that can be said about Michigan.
Key Matchup: Rueben Riley versus Steve Davis. Minnesota was blitz-allergic versus Purdue despite their obvious lack of pressure, no doubt because their faith in their cornerbacks is approaching nil. Davis appears to be their only way to get to the quarterback. Of note: Davis won the the battle handily a year ago.
Run Defense Vs Minnesota
Minnesota's bread and butter for years takes a step back, finally, with the departures of Laurence Maroney, Gary Russell, Greg Eslinger, and Mark Setterstrom. New running backs Alex Daniels and Amir Pinnix aren't chopped liver but neither are they potential NFL first-rounders, especially the 250-pound Daniels, a linebacker until recently. Pinnix is decent back used to zone cuts and with decent speed, but does not put the fear of God into you like Maroney did.
Sure, the Gophers are 8th nationally in rushing yardage, but they struggled against Cal, gaining only 109 yards on 32 carries versus a good front seven, but one that does not compare to Michigan's. Though opponents have been robbed of rushing yards by sacks and severe deficits, Michigan is the #1 rush defense in the country for good reason and should prove it again on Saturday. Twelve rushing yards might be a bit optimistic, but more than around 120 would be a surprise.
Key Matchup: Rondell Biggs and Lamarr Woodley versus Gopher tackles. The surest way to disrupt the perimeter running game of Minnesota is for your defensive ends to get upfield and cut off the corners. With Taylor, Johnson, and Branch on the inside matching up against new starters, if Biggs and Woodley can close down the outside more often than not Minnesota will be forced into third and long with frequency.
Pass Defense vs. Minnesota
I have a sneaking suspicion that Minnesota's excellent pass protection versus Purdue says more about the Purdue pass rush than Minnesota's line. Purdue's senior DE Anthony Spencer, the closest thing to a star their defense has, sacked Cupito twice by beating Minnesota tackles one-on-one. The Boilers' third sack was similar but from an anonymous DE whose name I don't recall. All three were instant pass rush Cupito had no chance to avoid. Given the rest of the Purdue line's performance in both phases of the game, it's safe to say they're not exactly stars in the making. I expect significantly more pressure from Michigan's beastly defensive line.
Minnesota poses a bigger threat in the passing game than Wisconsin did, figuratively and literally. They feature a trio of huge targets in 6'4" Logan Payne, 6'5" Ernest Wheelwright, and 6'6" Matt Spaeth, all of whom have the ability to fetch the jump balls that are a Cupito speciality. Wheelwright is the deep threat, with Payne being more a possession type (yes, he is white) and Spaeth being a tight end, but any and all are threats downfield. The catch? Cupito is still average at best, erratic with his accuracy and not particularly mobile. Against Purdue he was terrible. The chances of long drives featuring multiple third-down conversions from Cupito's arm are slim.
Key Matchup: Hall versus Wheelwright. Expect a few JBPHJBs (Jeff Bowden Patented Hopeful Jump Balls), all of which should be directed at Wheelwright. Michigan was fairly good on deep balls versus Notre Dame but let McKnight behind the defense on occasion.
Michigan has an advantage in the form of one Steve Breaston, especially since the Wisconsin game featured the best punt return setups Michigan has featured in the past year or two. The gunners were still being singled but the two guys Michigan drops off the line were getting back to effectively double team them more often than not, opening up a lot of room for Breaston to work his magic. Minnesota does have a good returner in SS Dominic Jones, who's averaging 11 yards a punt return and has a kick return touchdown this year, but he hasn't proven himself to the extent Breaston has.
Jason Gianni is a decent kicker who's made 17 of 24 in his career to date. Garrett Rivas is 8 of 9 so far this year.
Key Matchup: Breaston versus futile attempts to contain him.
This almost a double-digit spread, so no kittens. Especially because it seems weirdly low for a team that was killed in its one outing versus good competition and lost to Purdue, who is bad.
- We continue running into stacked fronts.
- Our run defense suddenly looks mortal.
- Henne reverts.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Steve Davis is as invisible as he was versus Purdue.
- Our offensive line starts shoving the Minnesota DL into Lake Michigan.
- The playcalling takes what the defense gives us.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 3 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for We Seem Allergic To The Metrodome; -1 for You Basically Have Wisconsin's Offense; -1 for You Definitely Don't Have Wisconsin's Defense; -1 for And You Lost To Purdue).
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Don't Blow It; +1 for The Jug is of Minor Signif
icance; +1 for Our Opponent Is Not Good)
Loss will cause me to... attempt to implant some sort of mind-control device into Mike DeBord.
Win will cause me to... pray that Michigan State's annual stupid upset comes against anyone except us.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Minnesota has crushed three of the worst defenses in the country and been largely stoned by Cal, who are somewhere between good and very good when they bother to tackle people running outs. Michigan's defense is at least as good as Cal's, but hasn't seen a run offense that could potentially hurt them yet -- PJ Hill was never really a threat. The Gophers have a few playmakers in the receiving corps, something Wisconsin lacked, and will move the ball in fits and starts but this isn't Purdue.
Defensively, Minnesota is no good and will get throttled if Michigan diversifies its playcalling.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Still many first-down runs into stacked fronts.
- Arrington scores.
- 30-10, Michigan.