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.
Okay: the deal in all its gory detail.
- Dave from Tikilounge posts a comment stating Trent's hand is broken. I check around for confirmation on the Internet, there is none, I file it away for later.
- Report from a guy who has Trent on his IM that his away message says "going under the knife."
- Friend of mine IMs me, says Trent's hand is broken. Says Dave and a friend both bowl with the Trents and heard it from Trent's father. I post the rumor.
- Someone posts a snarky rebuttal that declares Trent to be just darn-tootin' fine, nevermind the internets. I'm confused by the strength of their assertions and post that they're probably right.
- Source B confirms story. An emailer responds with a third source who talked to Trent's dad after the initial report. Source C says his hand is broken and he had two pins placed in it. Says his status for Minnesota is questionable and that his father would prefer for him to rest the injury.
That's it. Four separate pieces of information that indicate Trent is indeed injured. You make the call. Personally, I believe me and wish I had stuck by my initial assertion.
Since there are no Minnesota bloggers out there, there's no Vicious Electronic Questioning this week. In its stead: a game impressions column on the Minnesota-Purdue game.
It's tough to judge the Minnesota offense against a team that's given up 35 points to Indiana State, 31 to Fake Miami (as Mark Hasty would put it), and 28 to Ball State. Boiler fans may argue that some of those points were put up in garbage time (7 to ISU and 14 to Ball State), but I repeat: Indiana State and Ball State. But we're going to try anyway.
Minnesota Pass Offense
...is severely hampered by Brian Cupito. Minnesota's impressive receiving trio of Matt Spaeth, Ernest Wheelwright, and Logan Payne got open quite a bit on what should be a legendarily bad Purdue secondary. It was about 50-50 whether Cupito could manage to hit whichever guy broke wide open. Minnesota ran a ton of WR screens as a result that worked decently well, but Payne is closer to Jeff Samarjaeixkia with the ball in his hands than Steve Breaston: not bad but not electric, either.
And it's not like Cupito's problems came from a fierce pass rush. Purdue ended up with three sacks, but those were essentially the only times they got any sort of rush on him. Is that a sign of a surprisingly competent offensive line or just a crappy Purdue rush? I don't know. Purdue does have a star defensive end in Anthony Spencer, who got two of his five sacks on the year versus the Gophers. His pass rush was held largely in check the rest of the game, though.
Minnesota Run Offense
...looked as strong as ever versus Purdue. Amir Pinnix has claimed the starting job from 250-pound converted linebacker Alex Daniels. Against Purdue, he showed himself adept at the quick zone cuts required of Minnesota backs and had a number of impressive runs. Daniels, on the other hand, is a lot like PJ Hill. He's a thumper but if you make him change direction in the backfield he's toast. I doubt he'll have much success versus us.
Of note: while our zone runs feature all our linemen moving in unison, when Minnesota runs to the outside they almost always pull a guard or the center or both to create a hole at the point of attack. Against Purdue they also faked end-arounds frequently, which opened up backside holes on a few of Pinnix's better runs.
This is not a game we're going to hold our opponent to 12 yards rushing, but it will give us some definitive proof about the rushing defense.
Minnesota Pass Defense
...yikes. Much like Cupito, Curtis Painter spent a large portion of the game vastly overthrowing wide open receivers. He he made a number of good throws but was far from surgical. Of note: while Purdue got to Cupito at least a few times, no Gopher came within three yards of Painter the whole game. What happened to Steve Davis, who terrorized Rueben Riley a year ago? I don't know. Purdue does have a veteran line that may well be better than Michigan's -- our performance in pass protection versus Minnesota will be a good measuring stick.
Coverage was somewhere between understandably spotty and nonexistent. Dorient Bryant was Manningham-versus-ND open on a second-quarter flag route that went for a touchdown. Purdue's tight end had a 50 or 60 yard reception to dig the Boilers out of a big hole when he got way behind the Minnesota linebackers.
Minnesota Run Defense
Had the occasional nice play, but also featured a lot of flaming incompetence. Kory Sheets and Jaycen Taylor -- both fast little scatback sorts -- combined for 166 yards on 25 carries, almost all of it from either a spread shotgun or that weird "pistol" half-shotgun that is coming into vogue. With six or seven guys in the box, they couldn't handle Purdue's rush game. Defensive tackles got no penetration, leaving linebackers attempting to pick through the mess and usually a blocker to get to a running back. When Minnesota brought an extra player in the unblocked linebacker flowed to the ball well, but without overloading the box the Gophers were helpless.
Chris from Dangerous Logic proposed a theory: our running game may struggle more versus Minnesota than it would against other teams of similar talent because Minnesota's defense has seen plenty of zone running. I buy that to some extent, but this front isn't Wisconsin or even Notre Dame's. If we can't consistently open up holes against them it's a bad sign.
Right: people who have better connections than I checked into Trent, who was reported to be A-OK. This is obviously a "my bad" situation and I hereby offer apologies for any panic caused. I endeavor not to report rumors unless they trip a certain level of credibility... this one had that, but was still wrong.
I will now undergo a ritual of self-mutilation and purification to purge myself of this deed.