"...don't believe something because an "expert" is saying it. Believe it because of the evidence."
10/14/2006 - Michigan 17-10 Penn State - 7-0, 4-0 Big Ten
"WE'RE PENN STATE...
AND THEY'RE NOT."
-Beaver Stadium scoreboard during pregame chintzfest
"If you put a pit bull in a ring with a chihuahua, don't expect the chihuahua to win."
-Chafie Fields, former Penn State wide receiver, after the game
It's polite to respectfully clap for a fallen opponent has he makes his way from the field. It's good etiquette, etiquette of course being a sophisticated structure of lies designed to ease social interaction. Things in our section being a little touchy, I lied with my hands as Anthony Morelli jogged groggily off the field. But my eyes danced in blood.
Watching Michigan's defense gore Penn State quarterbacks was the closest I've come to watching gladitorial bloodsport. I now have some insight into the animal pleasure of a prone, wounded opponent. Unlike Derrick Williams' freak injury last year, the parade of bewildered quarterbacks wandering off the field asking for pudding was very much the doing of large angry men in winged helmets. It was... well, not right but correct that Morelli was literally knocked into next week, if not further, by Branch. Reportedly, he asked the trainers who attended to him whether his last pass had been completed. Somewhat miraculously, it had been.
Furthermore, it was correct that his backup suffer under siege for a quarter before getting crushed by David Harris and Lamarr Woodley, making way for some guy the Michigan students aptly dubbed "Rudy" no doubt picked fresh from the residents of Paternoville. Once the fluky events that conspired to place an emphatic exclamation point on the Michigan defensive line's complete-utter-total dominance of an entire football game occurred, our mental histories rearranged themselves so that they were inevitable. How could one man possibly endure an entire game of that?
The man sent out to try could not and neither could the man sent in his stead. Thus in just seven quick games, a Michigan defense faced a cornered team driving for the game and I felt nothing but irritation at the two screen passes that had allowed the Lions the faint heartbeat they possessed. The residual terror from the Year of Infinite Pain -- which had me somewhere between "alarmed" and "panicked" into the fourth quarter of a *$&#ing BEAT DOWN against Notre Dame -- had receded.
Then: near interception, four-yard out, incomplete, incomplete, ballgame. Instead of a roar there was but a flat, damp squeak as Michigan landed the final clubbing blows and emerged from the lion's den with a rug in tow. There are no arguments about this game. No two seconds, no questionable heels or holding calls or other fantasies about if this or that. There is no "if". Michigan has still not been threatened this year. No opponent has moved the ball except when fortunate or permitted to. Its dominance is unquestioned by the foes it leaves battered in its wake. Sometimes -- and I know this is hard to believe -- seven points is a very large lead indeed.
Penn State learned that Saturday. We rolled through the undulating hills, slowly bridging the gap between Beaver Stadium and I-80. In the brief windows of radio clarity provided by high points or fortuitous angles or small eddies in the general bloody-mindedness of the universe, once excitable Penn State partisans glumly pondered the future of the program. Fields uttered the above quote and several others along the lines of "this is a tough conference" and "we aren't playing Temple." His cohosts muttered in agreement. Resignation hung thick in the air.
Only the increasingly deranged callers -- the hour being late and the liquor steadily disappearing -- seemed to remember that once upon a time that scoreboard exhortation would have been something other than hollow and humorous. Once upon a time they were Penn State. Last year seems just as far away for them as it does us, a dream that we've woken up from into harshly different realities. 8-0; 0-8. A transposition makes all the difference.
I am off to State College by way of Cleveland soon. I will avoid Paternoville, bundle up against the cold, and hopefully witness glorious victory. I may or may not be able to check in here in the meantime.
Update: Back. Tired. Ate at Waffle House. Cat:
Note that it's not a kitten, because requests like "really old kitten," "amazingly old kitten," and "really amazingly old kitten with occasional embarrassing bouts of incontinence" confuse Google Image Search, somewhat understandably. This picture was titled "The Million Year Old Cat": good enough for me.
Bullets @ The Fanhouse. Left this one out but want to relate it here:
With that [the overwhelmingly positive impresson of PSU fans I got from the trip] in mind, please file this under "scattered asshole" and don't use it to impugn the Penn State fanbase as a whole... but a story to relate: I acquired my tickets from a blog reader and hero amongst men, who offered tickets for face, beer, a place to warm up from time to time, and food. They sat in the row in front of us, hero's father on the very edge of the Michigan section. An old woman was waving her pom-pom in such a way that her arm was repeatedly banging into him. I didn't see exactly what happened, but the next thing I knew the elderly woman's immensely obese son was yelling at hero's father something about not touching his mom. Now, this is a 50-some year old man. Not exactly a confrontational guy. There's a verbal altercation, immensely obese man makes some threats, and an usher calms things down. This happens on the first drive of the game.
Fast forward to game over. Michigan kneels down, Michigan fans celebrate. Hero's father isn't even looking at the Penn State section, let alone doing anything. This time I am watching as immensely obese man makes a grab for hero's father's arm with evil intent. He escapes, and suddenly there are many pissed Michigan fans, including me, stepping in between. More verbal altercation; called a pussy; challenged to a fight; etc. Eventually dude withdraws, no doubt to scurry off to BWI and post something about classless Michigan fans.
There was also an incident in which a Michigan fan was sarcastically screaming for a late hit after yet another Michigan sack, prompting a pissed off Penn State fan to turn around and scream at him to shut up and let him "enjoy the game" (good luck with that). So... yeah, certain Penn State fans have totally flipped out. But you knew that, you read the Internet.
- JAMES KAMOKU: I'm over it.
- "SWAGGER": Another broadcasting annoyance has clearly taken precedence.
- THE NATION: They've been notified and have taken heed.
- MARIO'S TRAITOROUS KNEE: is the new grand champion of Hated Wolverine body parts. With Antonio Bass down for the count, another wideout injury can only be the doing of Angry Michigan Wide Receiver Hating God.
- BRIAN HOYER: Drew Stanton lifetime versus Michigan: 0-5. Hoyer now stands at 0-2. You're next, kid.
- TIME OF POSSESSION: Obviously.
Run Offense vs. Penn State
This could go either way. Minnesota chose to run up the middle against Penn State instead of using their pull-crazy perimeter game and had disappointing (but not awful) results. Amir Pinnix had 76 yards at just under three yards per carry. Ohio State, however, got Antonio Pittman to the edge frequently (or he got himself to said edge -- guy loves, loves, loves to bounce it outside) and was rewarded with 5.5 YPC and a win on a day where Troy Smith was awful except one play where he was magnificent. The clear implication is that you should get it outside as often as possible versus Penn State to take advantage of their weak defensive ends and stay away from Ed Johnson and Jay Alford as much as possible.
Michigan's zone game is poised to do that. Over the last two weeks Mike Hart has picked up dozens of yards when he bounces outside of a properly sealed defensive end. Penn State's linebackers might have better luck containing Hart after he gets the corner -- Minnesota's lack of pitch sweeps still puzzles -- but good play at that point is damage control. Also of note is last year's Penn State game, when Mike Hart ran a ton of draws for good yardage against essentially the same defensive front with a markedly worse offensive line. Alford loves to penetrate, but that tendency works against him in both Michigan rushing scenarios: get upfield the wrong way against either a draw or the zone and you've taken yourself out of the play and opened up a huge hole for the opponent.
It's doubtful Penn State can control the Michigan running game without drawing an extra defender into the box regularly and having him contain the perimeter. The defensive ends have proven themselves wildly subpar and Michigan is poised to attack them. I think there's a chance excellent play from Connor, Poz, Johnson, and Alford does the same thing to the Michigan running game they did to Minnesota, but I think another 120 yards for Hart at 4 per is more likely.
Key Matchup: DeBord versus Alford. Weird, but hear me out: he's Penn State's best defender, bar none, but has exploitable tendencies. Keeping him off-balance -- running when he thinks pass, passing when he thinks run -- will keep his first step a tentative one and do much to neutralize his impressive penetration.
Pass Offense vs. Penn State
Apparently some guy is injured or something, but I forget his name.
Right, right: Mario Manningham will be a huge loss for the Michigan passing attack. Much is being made of his nine touchdowns in comparison to the 13 the rest of the team has. He'll obviously be missed by everyone not named "Justin King," but the Penn State secondary has taken on three actual teams and been torched by two. They were spared from a third by heavy rain and an off day from Troy Smith. My constant harping on the lack of Penn State pass rush seems odd given that they have more sacks than Michigan does, but all I can say is that've watched Penn State's games versus Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Minnesota and the image of a quarterback surveying the field seemingly forever has burned itself into the cathode ray tube of my mind.
The loss of Manningham reduces the chances of the long bomb touchdowns that have featured in every Michigan game since The New Math's coming out party versus Notre Dame but it doesn't eliminate them entirely. Adrian Arrington has been open deep twice in the past two weeks, catching one touchdown and watching one underthrown pass bounce off a beaten Spartan defender's helmet. A hyped recruit coming out of high school and a secondary breakout star in the receiving corps, his combination of height and speed makes him a dangerous person to single up. Steve Breaston's contributions to date have been mostly chain-moving third-down conversions and the occasional dropped slant, but putting him in man coverage against a secondary that's proven itself to be a missed tackle factory also seems... unwise.
Key Matchup: Bihl/Mitchell/Kraus versus blitzers and DTs. Without pressure up the middle, there will be little pressure at all from Penn State, and Henne's proven himself accurate enough this year to replicate Brady Quinn's slice-and-dice performance versus the Nittany Lions. If Henne has time, game over.
Run Defense vs. Penn State
Tony Hunt is a good back who is about to get Dayned by the Michigan defense. He's powerful but not particularly elusive or fast and he's running behind an inexperienced offensive line featuring four new starters and a potentially banged-up Levi Brown, who missed the Minnesota game. Even with a fully healthy Brown, the Penn State run game is a near duplicate of Wisconsin's, featuring a huge, powerful back with some burst, one top-ten NFL draft pick on the offensive line, and a bunch of question marks elsewhere, two future stars and two dodgy at best. Penn State does feature a smattering of ISQDs, predictable end-arounds to AJ Wallace, and ineffective pitch sweeps to Derrick Williams, but those are window dressing on the main course: Hunt left, Hunt right, Hunt up the middle.
After some initial shakiness, the Michigan defense swallowed PJ Hill whole by getting penetration into the backfield and forcing him to cut. One can't move that much beef fast enough to make a backfield cut and outrun Crable, Burgess, and Harris.
I foresee doom for PSU here. Penn State fans will point out his 60-some-yard run against Michigan last year, but that was mostly due to a terrible angle taken by a freshman safety, Brandon Harrison, in his first-ever start. Also, that was the worst Michigan run D in recent memory. This... uh... is not. Hunt's been great at powering through tacklers and reliably picking up big hunks of yards by running north-south. Meanwhile, David Harris and Prescott Burgess have spent the year thumping guys bigger than Hunt and the defensive line has put a lot of unexpected east-west in the opponent's game plan. Michigan matches up perfectly.
Key Matchup: Linebackers versus Hunt. Hunt's main asset as a back is a Hart-like ability to carry a tackler three yards forward before going down. If he turns one yard into four consistently Penn State will have a semblance of a run game and thus an offense.
Pass Defense vs. Penn State
There is a point at which Anthony Morelli might suddenly become damn good. This is not the week. He had the best day of his career against Minnesota, but still threw three balls that should have been intercepted. That's a neat trick against a Gopher secondary court-ordered to stay ten feet away from wide receivers at all times. Season-to-date, Morelli is completing 56% of his passes, has 6 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions. For reference, Michigan fans were very upset when Chad Henne completed 58% of his passes with a 23-8 TD-INT ratio in 2005. The kicker: the only defense Morelli has played that people would describe as "not utterly crapulent" was Ohio State, against whom Morelli was 16 of 25 for 106 yards with three interceptions.
It's safe to project a better performance than that with a more experienced Morelli at home, but how much better? And how much better when Michigan projects to do much better versus Tony Hunt, forcing the Lions into obvious passing downs? Probably not much.
Meanwhile, over the last two games Michigan's struggled to get as much pressure as they did in dominating wins over Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Both Minnesota and Michigan State found that they did have time to throw in certain situations, though Minnesota went with a lot of three-step drops and Michigan State rolled the pocket all day, limiting their offense in an attempt to keep their quarterbacks whole. Both managed that trick but couldn't manage more than seven points before garbage time.
Morelli isn't mobile, so rolling the pocket is out, and his accuracy and decision-making are iffy, making a three-step West Coast game unlikely to not run into a third-and-long eventually.
He does have a wide array of tiny bastards at WR well-suited to wide receiver screens. With Morgan Trent still sporting a soft cast and Michigan vulnerable to middle screens versus Wisconsin and Michigan State, I expect a ton of screens of all varieties.
Key Matchup: Morelli versus Various Coverages. Penn State can't win this game if they lose the turnover battle, and if Morelli throws three or four balls that should be intercepted, one or two will likely will be. That's curtains. Without a "0" in the interceptions column, Penn State loses.
Kevin Kelly, like Garret Rivas, is generally reliable but will flake out on short field goals occasionally. He's 12/17 so far. Derrick Williams has been all right in the punt return game; Rodney Kinlaw hasn't done much with kick returns. Their punter, Kapinos is good.
Slight advantage Michigan here in the form of Steve Breaston.
Key Matchup: Punters versus Common Sense. Kapinos is the kind of guy who might outkick a coverage or two, and you know Zoltan has that ability.
I've been ragging on Penn State all year, but I'll give them the respect their program and crazy stadium demands by breaking out a kitten photo. Though it is a kitten photo that reflects the way the series has gone over the past decade.
- Penn State sells out on the run and we are stubborn.
- Morelli looks magically more competent at home.
- I'm totally wrong about Hunt.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Adrian Arrington lopes downfield, behind the defense.
- Their defensive ends crumble like girly cookie.
- The DL resumes its perforatin' ways.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 5 out of 10. (Baseline 5; -1 for Hunt == Dayne, -1 for Morelli == Not Good, +1 for They Really Hates Us, Precious, +1 for It Will Be Damn Loud, +1 for Wither The New Math?, -1 for Their Defensive Ends Are In No Position To Argue).
Desperate need to win level: 10 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +5 for Eff It, We Must Go To Columbus Undefeated)
Loss will cause me to... experience the worst drive home of my life.
Win will cause me to... omigod omigod omigod. Beat Iowa. Please beat Iowa.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: Like the Wisconsin game, I have a hard time believing Penn State's offense is capable of driving the field even once versus the Michigan defense. An unfortunate interception and a David Harris bust proved me wrong about the Wisconsin game, though, and Michigan seems to have one major breakdown due to excessive aggression or just plain stupidity per game. I expect Penn State will claw together a couple drives here and there, get one big play and end up with around 10 or 13 points unless they get a huge turnover or return.
Michigan goes up against a tough defense but one they match up well against. Their weakness at defensive end will have to be either endured or compensated for. Of all the teams we've played so far the Lions are least capable of taking advantage of Rueben Riley's weaknesses in pass protection. I don't think Manningham's loss is as big as it might have been versus other teams, as I do expect Penn State to lay back like they have in every game they've played against real competition. Henne will have to be on and Breaston will have to make those hands behave for Michigan to drive down the field. It'll be a struggle, but I figure Michigan gets its share of short fields and chunks of yardage... enough to score in the mid-twenties.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart outrushes Hunt by 60-70 yards.
- Morelli throws at least one interception.
- 24-10, Michigan.
|M44||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||16||Hart||Off tackle left|
|Well... nice running and all that but also extreme stupidity from the MSU safety, who's walked up to the line and sort of hurls himself into the back of the defensive end instead of, you know, trying to keep contain. The corner is wide open as a result â€“ Breaston hardly has to do anything to seal him. Nice block downfield from Manningham(+1).|
|O40||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||0||Hart||Zone left|
|Would have had the corner again, but Arrington(-2) runs right by the Key, the MSU safety, who's walked up into the box. Hart's forced to cut back into a loaded front. Mitchell's attempted cut against Clifton Ryan is ineffectual.|
|Waggle. Henne comes down to Breaston, his outlet. Greg Cooper makes a solid tackle. (CA, 3)|
|They jumped off on the previous play when Chad did his check-with-me... and they do it again on the very next play. They are about as well-coached as a pack of squirrels on coke.|
|O31||3||1||I-Form 2TE||Pass||6||Breaston||Long handoff|
|Another jump, but they get back. They're playing way off Breaston on third and one; Henne takes the free yards. (CA, 3)|
|O25||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||5||Hart||Zone left|
|Video provided; words fail. Breaston brought in motion to block a guy but is unsurprisingly driven into the backfield. Hart reverses his field and punishes fools who try to tackle.|
|O20||2||5||I-Form Twins||Run||5||Hart||Zone left|
|Oluigbo(+1) gets a nice block on Adams, opening up the corner.|
|Fourth jump of the drive. Dyslexic squirrels on coke.|
|Oluigbo(-1) does not get much of a block, leaving Herron in the hole on his stomach, but enough to deal with Hart. Better block == first down and possible touchdown.|
|O7||2||2||I-Form Twins||Run||4||Hart||Zone left|
|Overloaded set we run from time to time with everyone to one side, including the TE that I'm not a huge fan of because we always run from it. The TE, covered by a WR, can't go out in a pattern. Anyway: zone left and there's a hole between the guards (Bihl's on the second level.) Wiley, leveled on Hart's cutback play, comes up again and is again dragged forward. Wiley tries to talk smack afterwards.|
|O3||1||G||I-Form Twins||Run||-10||Hart||Zone left|
|Same formation. Hart goes off left tackle and into the endzone; holding call brings it back. Call is weak and stupid on Bihl's part... let him go.|
|O13||1||G||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||Inc||--||Near disaster|
|Massive protection breakdown that's not explicable. Line slides way right, leaving the DE unblocked. Hart does not pick him up, leaving him to crush Henne and momentarily "fumble" the ball, though apparently Jim Augustyne's been briefed on "the rules" of "football" this year. Unbelievable this was actually called a fumble on the field. Hart points to himself on the sideline and thus gets the big fat (-2 protection, PR)|
|O13||2||G||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||13||Arrington||Skinny Post (2)|
|Arrington is wide, wide open. Henne makes this catch an impossible one, but he comes down with it... I guess. Why wasn't this reviewed? (IN, 1)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 7-0, 9 min 1st Q. Does your hand count for inbounds? People keep saying it does but I checked the rulebook and there's nothing specific.|
|Definitely the right playcall. Michigan needs to get the two inside linebackers cleanly blocked and then it's secondary time for Hart. This doesn't so much happen, but there is a crease. Hart bolts through a gauntlet of arms for six.|
|Gold, Jerry! Gold! We fake ol' zone left, set up in what looks like a waggle, then throw the screen back to Hart. Eleven yards and a first down. (CA, 3)|
|I find the idea of a first and ten draw hilarious when we always run on first and ten. State has eight in the box; Ryan stands up Mitchell(-1) and disengages at the LOS.|
|Dropped. Anyone else worried Manningham is developing Braylon Edwards disease? (CA, 3)|
|M35||3||6||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||11||Breaston||Shallow Cross|
|Ton of time (protection +2). We max-pro with only the three WR in a pattern. Henne eventually checks down to Breaston, who should be stopped short of the sticks by all rights but makes the State DB miss and rolls up 8 YAC. Another instance where these damn three-yard routes on third and medium are wide open but Henne throws it way too late. (IN, 3)|
|And by "excellent coverage" McDonough means "terrible coverage." Yeah: they leave S/OLB hybrid Adams lined up in press over Arrington, essentially begging Michigan to drop a bomb on his head. This they do... literally. Henne underthrows the pass and it bounces off his helmet. Back in the day we used to call that the Todd Howard. (IN, 1)|
|They play way off and we make them pay for like once. (CA, 3)|
|We run a draw into nine in the box. I am displeased.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 7-0, 2 min 1st Q. They fair catch a punt at the four. They are very stupid.|
|Sharp cutback behind Kraus. Bihl's on the second level, on a linebacker. Mitchell(+1) has sealed a MSU DT who's first step was fatally upfield.|
|Ack. There's a definite hole here and the potential for a ton of yards, but Kraus(-1) can't seal his guy despite getting him good and engaged. Oluigbo flies by, as at that point the dude looks blocked.|
|Uh... yeah, that looks familiar. (DO, 2)|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 14-0, 13 min 2nd Q.|
|Uh... you're dumb.|
|Riley(-1) blown backwards off the snap, preventing Hart from getting outside for nice yardage. Mitchell also with no push.|
|M26||2||4||I-Form 3-Wide||Run||22||Hart||Zone right|
|Only six guys in the box and it shows. Michigan creases the line right up the middle. Kraus manages to disrupt two guys while Mitchell and Oluigbo double Herron and open up a hole. Hart darts through it snappily.|
|M48||1||10||I-Form 3-Wide||Run||2||Hart||Zone right|
|Kraus(-1) lets his man into the backfield immediately. Another one of those hard-to-make blocks on playside DTs.|
|Spartans blitz into the draw and jam up the middle.|
|Manningham and Arrington run off zone defenders, opening up the short cross to Breaston. Caught a couple yards short of the sticks but the Spartan DBs hesitate, knowing who they're up against, allowing Breaston to go straight upfield for the first. (CA, 3)|
|O40||1||10||Ace||Run||5 + 5||Hart||Slam|
|Bihl gets a good push on his man, opening up a gap between himself and Mitchell for about five. Herron gets tagged with an incidental face mask.|
|Dude. Clifton Ryan meets Hart at the line of scrimmage â€“ Riley is following him down the line â€“ to make a tackle but Hart drives him five yards downfield. Ryan is a 300-some pound defensive tackle.|
|Nothing off the left side. Linebackers aren't blocked.|
|O24||3||5||Ace 3-Wide||Run||1||Grady||Zone left|
|Can I tell you how much I hate this playcall? I hate all of it. Forever. It's one thing to "establish a run game" or whatever, but this is throwing away expectation.|
|You are so stupid.|
|Hart hit at about the eleven after cutting it up the middle; drags guys to the seven.|
|Mitchell(-1) blown way backwards by unpronounceable Spartan DT, who flows down the line and makes the tackle.|
|Fade is too far inside and short, allowing Demond Williams to make a play on it. (IN, 1)|
|Drive Notes: Almost Blocked FG, 17-0, 4 min 2nd Q.|
|M24||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||2||Hart||Zone left|
|Hart tries to cutback between Mitchell and Riley, but Clifton Ryan has pushed Riley into the backfield and disengaged. Ryan leaves the game at this point.|
|M26||2||8||I-Form 3-Wide||Run||16||Hart||Lead draw (2)|
|DE opposite Riley slants inside; Riley just shoves him the directions he's going. This causes Mitchell to trip as he's getting out on Herron, eventually falling right at his feet. Oluigbo(+1) hammers a linebacker, providing a crease between himself and Riley, and Hart bursts past Herron, who's tripped up by the prone Mitchell.|
|M42||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||Inc||Manningham||PA Deep post|
|Fake a zone right; Henne sets up deep and overthrows Manningham. (IN, 0)|
|Hey, Carl Tabb exists. Huh. DBs are playing up on him and there's not much opportunity after the catch. (CA, 3)|
|M44||3||8||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||Inc + 15||Manningham||Deep out|
|Manningham drops what should be an easy conversion (DO, 3). Warrick then gets flagged for a weak personal foul. He was way late, but I dunno.|
|Brian Thompson lined up at FB. Grady does well to pick out a small hole that didn't appear to be there. Grady's grabbed by a diving Spartan DT, holding this down, but a good, decisive run that displays actual vision.|
|O35||4||Ace 3-Wide||Run||8||Grady||Zone left|
|Pat Massey(+1) gets an outstanding seal on the DE, walling off the entire Spartan line. Long comes around the outside of Massey to kick out a linebacker; Grady scoots up through the hole. I wonder if this pull â€“ the first we've seen all year â€“ was impromptu after the Massey seal or designed. In any case, excellent work all around from Massey, Long, and Grady.|
|Deflecto-touchdown. What am I supposed to chart this as? Without the deflection this hits Manningham in the chest, but does Henne have to get it a bit farther out there to avoid the corner? I'd rather not with a safety coming over and the acknowledged crappiness of the Spartan secondary. Um... (CA, 3).|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 24-0, 11 min 3rd Q.|
|M22||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||14||Hart||Zone right|
|Spartan DE's first step to is upfield. All Butler has to do is step forward and seal; this he does. Spartan safety, filling late, is taken care of by Arrington. We hurry this snap count, perhaps preventing the safety from walking up pre-snap and allowing Arrington the block that opens up the outside.|
|M36||1||10||I-Form 3-Wide||Run||-2||Hart||Zone right|
|Spartan run blitz sends five guys forward at the snap with a corner coming up to contain the backside. Eight versus six == too many guys to block. An ND-trailing class sellout.|
|M34||2||8||Ace 3-Wide||Run||15||Grady||Zone right|
|Only three Spartan DL! And they're freakin' stunting. The playside DE slants inside, essentially blocking himself, and the DT is nowhere near able to make a play. This leaves Butler and Riley free to rumbled downfield, looking for blocks. Butler engages Herron, eliminating him, and Riley just sort of wanders downfield. Grady flows through the massive hole and is just barely tripped, otherwise touchdown.|
|M49||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||1||Grady||Zone right|
|Similar hole, only this time the Spartans are on the right side of their blockers, disengage, and tackle.|
|50||2||9||Ace 3-Wide||Run||10||Grady||Zone left|
|Spartan Lbs are shifted right, with Thornhill over Riley and Herron outside the TE. But we totally trick them and run zone left instead of zone right. Grady makes a hard cut upfield that leaves the Spartan linebackers â€“ unblocked â€“ eating dust and trying to grab an ankle. Nice play. This is probably his best game of his career.|
|M40||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||40||Minor||Zone right (2)|
|Huge hole up the middle created by outstanding seal block from Kraus, who takes the DT right out of the play. Long does likewise with his man, Bihl drives his guy the other way, Arrington picks up the last block on the safety, and Brandon Minor is NOT a fullback.|
|Drive Notes: Touchdown, 31-7, 1 min 3rd Q.|
|M3||1||10||I-Form 2TE||Run||0||Grady||Zone left|
|Spartans selling out versus the run, sending almost everyone. We oblige; no room.|
|M3||2||10||I-Form 2TE||Run||0||Grady||Zone left|
|I think Grady makes the wrong read here. There was a crease outside if he could get to it. I mean, Obi gets through... follow your fullback.|
|M3||3||10||I-Form 2TE||Run||1||Grady||Zone right|
|I don't know if this is ruled a fumble or not, but it was close. Grady recovers it anyway.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 31-7, 10 min 4th Q. I don't really have a problem with the play-calling here. Up 24 with 13 minutes left and with the defense we evidently have, the only way we lose this game is to do something stupid down here. Run run run punt, I'm fine with. Unfortunately, as soon as you praise Grady, he misses a fairly obvious hole (follow your fullback!) that probably would have gone for a first down and then (maybe) fumbles.|
|M48||1||10||Ace 3-Wide||Run||2||Grady||Zone left|
|Would have gone for more, but Long(-1) lets his man go by and tackle. Had the corner otherwise.|
|50||2||8||Ace 3-Wide||Pass||7||Mathews||Long handoff|
|Hey, it's like Greg Mathews and stuff. (CA, 3)|
|M43||3||1||Ace 3-Wide||Run||-2||Minor||Zone left|
|Long(-1) gets owned, letting his man in the backfield immediately. Don't know if it's his fault. I don't like this play and will expound later.|
|Drive Notes: Punt, 5 min 4th Q. EOG.|
Aaaaargh run run run run run run run run.
Well... yeah, sort of, but when you can take the ball at your 22 and run six times for a touchdown it makes some sense. By the time we were up 31-7 with the ball at our three thanks to an unwise Jamar Adams interception, running three times and punting was probably the right decision, as only a conspiracy of miracles loses you the game. And hell, if Grady follows his fullback on second down he probably gets a chunk of yards and potentially a first down.
The only series that really bothered me was the field-goal drive in the second quarter featuring five straight ineffective runs connected by a roughing the kicker penalty. That particular drive felt a lot like Michigan wanted to grind a lot of time off the clock, kick the field goal, and go in with a 17-point lead. Except the result was that field goal and a Michigan State possession with 3 minutes left in the half, which is plenty of time to mount a drive. Michigan would have been better off going with play action, hurrying up the end of that drive, and punting it back to State with around five minutes left, increasing the chances that Michigan would have gotten the last possession of the half.
Not to be one of those people, but Henne seemed kinda o ff, right?
(Now with explanatory legend.)
Maybe I was a bit harsh: two INs were bombs, one was the Arrington touchdown, one was a late throw to Breaston that turned into a first down anyway, and the final was a throw that was a bit inside on a fade to Manningham. So two were catches and two were catchable -- one of the bombs was a bit underthrown and bounced off a Spartan's helmet.
Still: Michigan threw five screens, including Gold Jerry Gold, so he only had six good passes downfield. The sample size isn't exactly vast, but this was Henne's iffiest performance since Vandy.
Gold Jerry Gold? From Wisconsin:
Speaking of screen: play-action waggle screen. Fake a zone, get the offensive linemen moving left, get the defense reacting to the "waggle"... throw back to Hart. It's gold, Jerry! Gold!
It worked for a first down, which marks the first time I've ever predicted anything correctly. So I've got that going for me.
Remember: "1" is a technically feasible by improbable catch. Any catches in this category are bonuses. "2" are moderately difficult but makable catches. "3" == should be caught.
So how about those backup running backs?
Minor's touchdown run got all the attention but it was Grady who impressed... except when he didn't. Several times he slashed up through small or nearly nonexistent holes. After he cut through the line he read the defense well and was unlucky not to break a long one, being barely tripped up a couple times. There was one major missed hole deep in Michigan territory late and something that may or may not have been a fumble on the next play, but other than that Grady was excellent.
Why do we suck on third and short?
I dunno. We were actually really good last year, but it seems you put us in third and short this year and we run out three wideouts and run a stretch play into nine guys. This doesn't work so good, evidently. What's wrong with lining up in a big set and cramming it down their throats? We have the personnel for that sort of thing.
And what does it mean for Penn State?
Penn State fans theorize there's some sort of home/away split in the aggressiveness of their defense and that with Manningham out they'll encroach upon our wideouts with impunity. I have my doubts, as Penn State's home opponents have been Akron, Youngstown State, and Northwestern. It seems far more likely that Penn State was tighter in coverage in those games because they could expect a ton of pressure against overwhelmed offensive lines and sucky quarterbacks. The split is more likely Actual Teams/Tomato Cans. Michigan is an actual team.
I expect Penn State to lay back a la Notre Dame and Ohio State. They don't have much faith in their secondary and are content to bend their way down the field and prevent the big play. They'll try to contain Hart with seven guys. Will this work? I don't know. Minnesota would have been of great help in my analysis of this game if they had tried those pitch sweeps that are a staple of their offense but did not. We do know that they have two good DTs and questionable-at-best DEs. Our tight ends have been merrily sealing all year, getting Hart to the edge for plenty of yards, and I expect a fair number of those plays over the course of the day. The Penn State linebackers are good but have been a bit of a disappointment, and Antonio Pittman got the corner with frequency. I don't think you'll have too much success lining up and running right at PSU, but our run game doesn't do that. I'm willing to bet it's surprisingly effective.
As for the pass game, Penn State gets no pressure and Henne has been extremely accurate -- if a bit tardy -- on his throws this year. With the dodgy tackling in their secondary, Breaston should have a big day.
I dunno... everyone says this Penn State team is dangerous but I don't see it. The main worry is that the run game is ineffective but DeBord stays with it long past reason, turning this from a comfortable game into a tight one.
Over the last few weeks, broadcasters covering Michigan games have noted a couple things with awe and reverence: Michigan's run defense, which is #1 in the nation, and Michigan's ranking in time of possession, also #1. One of these things is meaningful. The other is an effect, not a cause, and should never be spoken about again. As you've probably discerned from the title, the latter is "time of possession," the most fradulent stat available for the sports media professional and paradoxically one of the most revered.
Time of possession is revered because it's really easy to look back at past years, check the TOP charts, and see that the top performers there are also the top performers in win-loss. Because a lot of craggy old coaches swear by the thing. Because football broadcasters are specifically prohibited from saying anything that hasn't been said since the 1940s, they will approvingly cite a teams massive first-half advantage in time of possession, say something about "keeping the ball away from your opponent," and then cut to the studio. Meanwhile, my fists clench and unclench spasmically as I restrain myself from doing something rash and stat-related.
Time of possession is a fraud. It is a fraud for these reasons:
- You cannot "keep the ball away from your opponent" any more than a basketball team can keep the ball away from their opponent. When you score or turn the ball over, they get the ball back, no exceptions. Unless you attempt an onside kick, your opponent is getting the ball back after you're done with it. They will have the exact same number of possessions you do, plus or minus one depending on end-of-half and end-of-game hijinks.
- It describes the actions of teams after they acquire a big lead and not what they do to get said lead. One of the primary reasons Michigan is #1 in time of possession: they've jumped out to massive leads in many games and cruised home. Opponents like Michigan State and Notre Dame have spent entire halves in a spread hurry-up emphasizing quick movement of the ball. Meanwhile, Michigan leisurely pounds the ball into the line until the game is over. Result: in the second half Michigan three-and-outs can take more time than 80-yard touchdown drives by the opponent. This is hugely distorting and tells us nothing more than "Michigan has a big lead."
- It places undue emphasis on the run game. Michigan features a crushing ground game and a crushing run defense. Result: lots of Michigan runs and very few opponent runs. This naturally helps TOP, but the reason Michigan is good isn't because they possess the ball for relatively large amounts of time but rather those crushing units. Time of possession obscures the real reasons for Michigan's success.
The reason TOP is historically significant is that before, passing was losing. The game was on the ground and even Anthony Carter was a freakish sideshow to the real meat of the game in the trenches. As passing attacks have gotten more efficient, the relative importance of running has come down.
There is still a kernel of truth in TOP: if you have a dominant run game and a dominant run defense you're going to be a good team because you'll hardly ever find yourself in third and long and your opponents will with frequency. Passing is fundamentally higher variance (more incompletions, more 15 yard gains, fewer three yard gains) than rushing and if you are very good at something low variance you will be very good -- consistently good -- indeed. But the amount of time you have the ball doesn't matter. It's what you do with it when you have it.
Basketball is slowly moving away from raw numbers in favor of rates. John Hollinger, Ken Pomeroy, Big Ten Wonk, Dean Oliver, and others have brought forth a Moneyball style statistical revolution, producing stats that encompass more of the game and reflect it more accurately. The fundamental theorem of basketball, as I understand it, is this:
If you score more points per possession than your opponent, you win.
That's obvious, right? It's a tautology. The possession is the atom of basketball. But why, then, are people so often judged by what they do per game when one game may have 60 possessions and another 80? When stat wonks changed the focus from the game to the possession, stats became more illuminating.
Football is a much more complex game, but this is the fundamental theorem of football just as it is for basketball:
If you score more points per possession than your opponent, you win.
The possession is the atom of football, as well, and they can vary even more wildly than they can in a basketball game. Michigan and Minnesota had eight meaningful possessions in their recent game; last year against Northwestern they had more than double that number. And yet the yardage totals ceded were added up in a raw state and presented plainly even though Michigan's defense had twice the opportunities to fail and bend and cede points. And no one ever notices this. In football, the play's the thing, but it's just an electron or a proton or whatever. The possession is the atom.
Wow... uh. Right, this went somewhere far away from TOP. But there you go.