this may be of some local interest
Woo! This one is going up early because I'm in lovely Davenport and am about to go off the grid. At 7:30 tonight, Tim and others lead you through a magic wonderland of liveblogging. Enjoy or die. If you don't know why your posts aren't appearing, or have other questions, check the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post.
I'm headed out to Iowa City soon, so somewhat abbreviated today.
Get a bracelet. Phil Brabbs has just started his chemotherapy, which you can read about on his blog, and he's also offering up these stylish "cancer kicker" bracelets for the impossibly low suggested donation of $2:
You can get them by donating the funds (and possibly, you know, another five bucks or so to defray the costs of freakin' cancer) to [email protected], or you can just click the donation button to the right. It should donate to the right place and either ask for or confirm your shipping address with PayPal. Consume! I will repost this Monday!
Elsewhere, MGoTalk has posted an interview with Brabbs.
Hey, wow, this might be a good idea. Jay Bilas says the NCAA basketball committee is thinking of getting rid of limits on phone calls:
The NCAA is on the way to getting something right through a proposal to allow unlimited phone calls to recruits during contact periods. I have long been a vocal opponent of the phone call restrictions on college coaches in recruiting.
While well-intentioned, the rule prohibits coaches from normal contact with recruits while the rest of the free world gets unfettered access to them. The unintended consequences from the rule swamped its good intentions, by making those outside of the NCAA's reach more powerful and criminalizing normal communication.
As per usual when Jay Bilas is not talking about Tommy Amaker, I agree. They'd have to get rid of the limitations for all sports, right? And then texting limitations seem archaic and silly. Ron Zook is walking around looking like that creepy Enzyte guy and has no idea why. On the other hand, Kelvin Sampson knows exactly why he wants to punch a baby seal.
Yuck. This quote from Trevor Anderson is decidedly Carr-esque:
"They did everything that we practiced this week,” Anderson said. “When they decided to put in (Denard Robinson), we knew they were going to run the ball. They couldn’t throw it with him. As far as Forcier, we knew about his little stutter step, he’s going to jab to the outside and come back in. Everything that they practiced, we did."
Evidence for the mania. The point on Robinson is very duh, but the rest of it suggests Michigan did not pull new stuff out against State. Also—and this is a point Tim made on the podcast—with Forcier limited in practice on Monday and Tuesday, Michigan probably couldn't get confident enough in fancy new stuff that might, say, require option pitches and whatnot, to run it. It's probably hard as hell to install a new package when your freshman quarterback has his arm in a sling. That's probably not great for this weekend since Forcier was apparently limited early this week as well.
Next year, I expect Rodriguez will have a bunch of new stuff for MSU; if he doesn't I'll be disappointed.
Hockey weekend. Yost Built has your ten things for Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage this weekend. Here's my one thing:
White pants? You know, I did ask Bruce Madej if he could confirm or deny that Michigan would wear white pants this weekend. He said he could not confirm or deny, which seemed like sort of a confirmation. Mark Ortmann hopes it isn't:
Against Iowa, the Wolverines may complement their white away jerseys with white pants, but an Athletic Department spokesman told The Michigan Daily last night he had “no definitive answer.” The uniform change would include everyone, even the 300-pound linemen.
“I can’t imagine,” left tackle Mark Ortmann said with a laugh. “We already have some pretty self-conscious offensive linemen. I don’t know if that will help out."
The strangest thing about all this is that no one will say yes or no about it, as if it's a state secret. The pants! They are white! We all must die!
I'm out. Wish me luck.
|WHAT||Michigan @ #12 Iowa|
|WHERE||Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA|
|WHEN||8:00 EST, October 10th, 2009|
|THE LINE||Iowa -8|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
|WEATHER||Rain early but clear later,
temp starts in 40s but dips to 20s
Run Offense vs. Iowa
This looked pretty awesome on Michigan's part until the State game, when it looked like early last year. What to make of that? One of two things: Michigan's early-season proficiency was built on a lot of erratic big plays that are not necessarily replicable, or Michigan State's got some sort of bead on the Michigan rushing game akin to the one they drew last year, when the Michigan State game was an outlier amongst a five-game sea of excellent rushing offense.
A couple things are clear. David Molk's absence is a big deal, and the scorching early success of the play this site termed the "zone counter dive"—as in a counter dive to the zone play, not a zone blocked counter—is not likely to be replicated now that backside defensive ends are warily sliding down the line looking for it. Michigan didn't have a response for that, nor did they have much of a way of getting the quarterback in a position to exploit that sort of coverage.
Compounding matters are health issues for Michigan's top two backs. Carlos Brown, the #1 so far this year, is likely out with a concussion. Brandon Minor, the thunderous force behind Michigan's second-half renaissance last year, has a total of 35 carries in the first five games, as he's been hampered by an ankle sprain all year. Minor is likely to start; sophomore Mike Shaw will be thrust into a prominent role in a tough situation.
As far as Iowa goes, I'd been operating under the assumption they were fierce beyond reason but the numbers aren't that great:
In five games against what seems like a largely unthreatening slate of opponents, Iowa's giving up 4.6 YPC. A closer look at Iowa's opponents reveals some shocking numbers, though: Iowa State is #20 in rush offense and Arizona(!) is #11. Both other I-A opponents are above average, and UNI is running around taking a machete to the rest of I-AA.
So that may be understandable. It's still not quite as dominant as you'd expect given the hype train building behind the Iowa rush defense. Your ESPN-approved mostly meaningless stat of the week: Iowa hasn't given up a rushing touchdown in 33 quarters. Woo! They gave up over 5 YPC to Iowa State with no carry longer than 17 yards! Not so woo!
This won't be an Eastern or Indiana romp but it shouldn't be a reprise of the Michigan State game. Michigan's got to pull some extra stuff out of the playbook; last week Michigan State was well-prepared for Michigan and Iowa's last game, though close, was against Arkansas State. That game prep week probably spent a day or two on Michigan; Iowa will be ready for the stuff Michigan's already shown.
Assuming some new looks (veers? options? Florida-esque triple option shovel to Koger? lots more Robinson and Forcier in same backfield?), Michigan should get its yards at a steady, but not amazing, clip. This may be foolish but I think the Iowa State YPC numbers are attainable. Penn State is clearly a mess on the OL, and proved that with weak rushing performances throughout the conference schedule. Michigan has proven itself on another level on the ground this year.
Key Matchup: Rodriguez and Magee vs the Same Old Stuff. This might be problematic because of Forcier's injury. I assume that Michigan wanted to provide some new looks against State but with Tate limited in practice last week (and this week) they were not confident in new packages that require option pitches to run them.
(Side note: last week's key matchup was Michigan guards vs Jones, which was termed the difference between six yards and a touchdown; argh argh argh.)
Thanks to the generosity of Austin Arnaud and Darryl Clark, Iowa sits an intimidating fourth in pass defense efficiency. It's not just the interceptions that got them there. Doing this to a senior who probably should have been the conference's preseason offensive player of the year…
…is frightening, shaky offensive line or no. And that goes double when a 79-yard touchdown on a bust was the first play of the game. Iowa's got two excellent cornerbacks, a safety with some crazy ability to intercept deflected balls, and a marauding defensive line that causes the hizzies in Iowa cizzie to lose their damn minds.
Michigan, meanwhile, has Tate Forcier, a middling set of receivers, and an offensive line with serious problems on the right side. This is where the thousand-year tenure of Iowa's Norm Parker hurts: Iowa knows what it's supposed to do and is the sort of team that has discipline above all, which should keep Forcier in the pocket, where he's uncomfortable, and not on the perimeter, where he waves his unicorn wand and conjures fourth-quarter touchdowns out of glue and beetle wings.
One thing to look for especially is some sort of counterpunch to team's successful deployment of the 4-3 against Michigan and the bubble screen. Both of the last two weeks opponents have used the safety as a kamikaze downhill defender against bubble screens, which has allowed them to stack the box, keep contain, and remove all three options in Michigan's triple option zone read. Steve Sharik suggests some alternatives in a diary post that involve 4-wide formations with double slots and run plays that zip into the secondary, which now has no safeties, for big gainers.
My take on that topic: man, turning that bubble route into a wheel and pairing it with a skinny post is almost guaranteed to get a guy wide open for a big gainer. We'll have to see whether Iowa plays it the same way; if they do and Michigan doesn't take advantage of the opportunities presented by that freakout, it'll be hard to see Michigan having a ton of success against an Iowa pass defense that has rocked so far. Michigan will get some yards because it's 2009 but this promises to be Forcier's worst day of the year.
Key Matchup: This is obvious but: getting some pass protection. Michigan was 37/57 last week, which is really bad.
Run Defense vs. Iowa
Iowa's been pretty meh here. Jewel Hampton's season-ending knee injury momentarily thrust Paki O'Meara panic back to the forefront in Iowa City, but the Paki Bomb was quickly supplanted by a couple of freshmen who are splitting carries about evenly because they are statistically indistinguishable from each other:
Wegher is an oddity in many ways: he's a white guy from Iowa who was given four stars by Rivals. Robinson was recruiting non-entity whose only offer was an Iowa grayshirt (IE: come in next January, kid, when we have room). Insert recruiting debate we're not having here.
Iowa has gone up against three good rush defenses in Arizona (19), Penn State (11), and Arkansas State (30) and has been juggling the offensive line due to injuries. Star tackle Bryan Bulaga missed three games with an illness and returned for the ASU game, which resulted in this:
“We were not very happy with our performance as an offensive line,” guard Julian Vandervelde said. “I suppose it’s good to have that sort of performance and still come out with a win. That’ll motivate us this week to work a lot harder at the things we need to improve on. We’ll spend a lot more time in the film room and on the practice field focusing on the details this week.”
… They always say the film is never as good or bad as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes, that’s just not true. It’s every bit as bad as you thought it was going to be. This was probably one of those weekends.”
The Red Wolves (why does every team that replaces their offensive Indian nickname put "red" in their new nickname? discuss) held Iowa to 124 yards on 33 carries, 3.8 per. That was Iowa's second-worst game of the year on the ground. The worst? The 87 yards they put up against Northern Iowa. Suggestion for Michigan: join the SWAC temporarily.
This will be an interesting test for Michigan's possibly-competent-when-aligned-correctly nouveau run defense, which crushed Michigan State's primitive attack to the tune of less than 3 YPC for the running backs. And Michigan State's pitch touchdown run was another instance of a badly misaligned defense similar to the 85-yard doom run by Indiana. Expect one or two of those against Iowa.
Outside of that stuff, Michigan's rushing defense was dominant. This is thanks in part to Brandon Graham (who actually graded out better in Steve Sharik's evaluation of the game than he did in his record-setting day in UFR):
And it's thanks in part to Michigan saying "screw it, we're an eight-man front" and dropping Jordan Kovacs into the box on almost every play:
That worked well and I expect Michigan will continue to do it, as they have a number of players with limited skill sets that they can take advantage of in very specific ways. For one: Jonas Mouton is a talented blitzer who's struggled with coverage and whatnot and Michigan decided they'd just blitz the hell out of him against State, to good effect. More of that will probably happen against Iowa.
The other aspect of the "run" defense to watch may not be run defense at all: Kirk Cousins averaged 10 YPC on 7 carries last Saturday despite his well-deserved reputation as a pocket passer. Stanzi's even more of a pocket passer—he's got –50 rushing yards on the year—but anyone can run up into the great wide open Michigan was graciously providing Cousins. Dollars to donuts Michigan spent a lot of time working on maintaining rush lane integrity; Stanzi's not likely to replicate Cousins's feat. Obi Ezeh is a lock to get dragged out of his zone, opening up at least one key, frustrating third down conversion.
Key Matchup: Ryan Van Bergen vs Iowa Interior OL. Van Bergen's emergence the last couple weeks has been the hidden secret to the run defense. He was able to prevent himself from getting sealed or blown back by MSU's OL and this removed just about the last weak spot on the line against the run. A reprise against Iowa's line would be very good for this game and the next two and a half seasons.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
Here, again, Iowa has been fairly meh. Ricky Stanzi has thrown two pick-sixes in the last three games and is currently 70th in passer efficiency. That's a severe drop from last year, when Stanzi was the better half of a two-headed QB (recruitin' bust Jake Christensen was the other) and finished 34th. Stanzi's completing only 58% of his passes, has 7 interceptions to 8 touchdowns, all of which were against UNI, Iowa State, and Arkansas State, and averages 7.1 YPA. None of these marks are particularly good, and the rotating line has given up two sacks a game. There is some potential for Michigan to not soil themselves here.
Injuries have hampered Iowa here as well. Obviously, the line's been an issue. Iowa's also missed TE Tony Moeaki and WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, a man whose name is so long the NCAA's official site gives up somewhere in the middle of his second last name, for chunks of the season. With both those guys tentatively healthy and Bulaga back, Iowa figures to be a bit better than they have been so far. The prospect of Moeaki, who's been an excellent receiving tight end in the rare instances when he's healthy, against Michigan's dodgy linebacking crew is not a tantalizing one.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has thrown a walk-on in as a full time starter and is thinking about moving once and future cornerback Troy Woolfolk from safety in an effort to shore up the corner spot opposite Donovan Warren, where virtually all opponent passes go. Mike Williams will slot in at free safety in that situation, leaving Michigan more vulnerable to long gainers but hopefully less likely to give up 130 yard, ten minute drives. It's ugly. I said there was little chance this went well against Michigan State and that was borne out; there is a chance it goes better against Stanzi and company but to get the horrible interception Michigan is going to have to cover some guys. Maybe Woolfolk can do that and maybe Michigan's linebackers can remove the head from the butt in the zone coverage; I'll remain doubtful about that until I see it.
Here, as always, the key is to get pressure on the quarterback. Dead donkeys cannot be covered, etc.
Key Matchup: Graham versus The Idiotic Idea You Can Single Block Him, or Brian Bulaga. I assume Iowa won't make the same mistake State did and let Graham run wild against single blocking unless they try it a couple times with Bulaga and it works out. Sharik notes that Michigan's gone to a strictly field-boundary scheme in the aftermath of the 85-yard touchdown run—ie, no flipping the line when Iowa realigns, so if Iowa wants to they'll be able to get Bulaga on Graham whenever it's not an obvious passing down. If Graham can win that battle and demand a second blocker, or just win that battle and cause Stanzi to do his usual interception thing, Michigan's in it.
During my podcast interaction with Oops Pow Surprise of Black Heart Gold Pants, he blasphemously asserted that Iowa's punter, whose name is something like Boring Smith, was the Big Ten's finest. I inadvertently uttered an expletive—as opposed to the intentional, if somewhat stammered ones earlier in the podcast—in reaction. And it is blasphemy. Boring Smith and the Hawkeyes are 31st in net punting. Michigan is fifth. Michigan should pick up an extra four yards every time punts are exchanged.
Michigan should also have an advantage in kick returns, where Iowa is 98th and Michigan is 25th; punt returns, which Michigan just doesn't bother with anymore (107th!) probably won't be relevant because opponents have only returned 7 of Zoltan's 26 punts and those have gone for five yards each because the opponents has invariably been surrounded by spread punt gunners of all varieties.
In the kicking game, Jason Olesnavage is now 5/6 of the season with proven range in the mid- to high-40s, though his one miss was a chip shot. Iowa's Daniel Murray has more of a track record but it's not a great one: he's 6/9 this year, was 6/9 last year, and was 7/10 the year before that. Tentative advantage here goes to Michigan.
Key Matchup: Can I cease saying CATCH THE DAMN BALL? I think so. How about field goal kickin'. Iowa's guy seems more likely to miss one and that could be a BFD.
- The right side of the line reprises their Swiss cheese impression from the State game.
- Tate looks out of sorts because of the cold.
- Stanzi's finding open receivers alll over.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Iowa fails to crease the Michigan DL and has to put a lot of the game on Stanzi…
- …and Stanzi responds with his traditional festive interceptions.
- There are a lot of punts because Boring Smith sucks.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 9 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Hello Iowa City Night Game, +1 for Probably Best Team M Has Played So Far, +1 for Spread Nearing Double Digits, +1 for M OL Vs Iowa DL Looks Like Not Fun Things That Are No Fun, –1 for But There Is The Tate Hulk Up To Account For, +1 for Dammit We Rushed For 28 Yards Last Game).
Desperate need to win level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for This Is Not One That Anyone Expects To Pick Up, –1 for And The Fanbase Isn't Even Annoying, –1 for And No One Even Knows An Iowa Graduate, Right, +1 for The Battle Of Mary Sue Coleman, +1 for Man, 5-1 With A Road Win In Iowa City Heading Into Delaware State Sounds Like A Recipe For New Year's Day )
Loss will cause me to... not be particularly surprised.
Win will cause me to... probably get kidnapped and stuck in the Black Heart Gold Basement.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I'd like to walk back some of the negativity I've offered on the radio and podcasts of late. I hadn't taken a close enough look at Iowa and seen how mistake-prone Stanzi's been or that the run defense looks fairly permeable, at least for Iowa. I still don't think Michigan wins but I was offering up 8-10 point margins earlier this week, and I now think Michigan will be closer than that, not least because of Tate Forcier's late-game heroics.
The prediction below is weird: it builds in what appears to be a 50-50 shot at Iowa having one more game-crippling mistake than Michigan. I think if M gets that game crippling mistake they will be in it at the end with a chance to win, possibly attempting to defend and Iowa game-winning drive. If they don't I think they end up in a hole and threaten to break out of it from time to time but never actually do so, with the cold and the crowd and the Iowa defense finally reining in Forcier when the game's on the line.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Minor has like 90% of the carries.
- Michigan finally pulls something out of the bag of tricks.
- Woolfolk moves to corner and Iowa gets a big play because of safety error because of it.
- Iowa, 20-17.
Editors note: press release.
For the Iowa Game (Saturday, Oct. 10)
Zac Johnson (shoulder)
David Molk (foot)
In addition, head coach Rich Rodriguez announced the game captains for the game against Iowa: linebacker Stevie Brown, offensive lineman Tim McAvoy, offensive lineman David Moosman and defensive end Tim North.
/end press release. Also, Carlos Brown was held out of practice yesterday because of a concussion and is probably not going to play Saturday.
The Mealer item. E:60's report on Mealer:
Return of the FORK. Troy Woolfolk is at least getting a tryout at cornerback:
Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez did not address the possible position switch in his pre-practice meeting with the media, and it’s unclear where Woolfolk will play Saturday against Iowa.
I'm not sure if I like that or not. Woolfolk might allow the corners to press up more, but can Williams play deep centerfield?
The Ill-Fated Punt. MVictors has an excellent clip from Rodriguez's press conference in which he explains what happened on that punt. It is as suggested: Michigan has a rugby call, which they made, that always has a read element, which Mesko botched. A couple emailers suggested that Rodriguez's honesty about the call constituted throwing Zoltan under the bus, but if you listen to the clip it's clear that he's doing nothing of the sort. He does sound pretty baffled by the whole thing, as was everyone.
Get on the bus. A hockey version of the Maize Rage has/is forming and intends to use its power for invasion:
According to co-founders of the group, juniors Jamie Fogel and Chuck Boyer, organized trips to games in East Lansing, Madison, Sault Ste. Marie and Toledo are in the works. The group also plans to have buses available for the Great Lakes Invitational tournament at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Dec. 29.
"Some of this will obviously depend on how involved people get and whether or not people want to take the initiative," Fogel said. "But this is also something that will eventually grow, because it’s only the first year."
The Madison game is the outdoor one. I'm all for Michigan becoming a team that travels to reasonably nearby places and takes over. Munn should be deliciously empty this year, ripe for someone to come in and make any noise whatsoever, shocking all in attendance.
It will always be in Florida. It will always be against the SEC. When the bowl realignments were tentatively announced in late August, the Gator Bowl entered our lives. The Big Ten #4 was supposed to get the ACC #3, and everyone kind of shrugged. Everyone above .500 in the conference plays on New Year's Day, the Big Ten plays up, annoyingly, everything's the same lalala.
OH NO LEE CORSO!
WHAT'S GOING ON LEE CORSO?
The Konica Minolta Gator Bowl is on the verge of announcing a deal that will bring a Southeastern Conference team vs. a Big Ten team to the New Year's Day bowl game at the Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, from 2010-2013.
Out goes the ACC. In comes the SEC, and everyone groans at Yet Another Big Ten-SEC New Year's Day In Florida matchup. One twist: the Gator still gets the Big Ten #4, but it's stooping all the way to the SEC #6(!), which means that for the first time the Big Ten is playing down in a bowl game instead of up. So there's that. Last year Northwestern would have taken on Vanderbilt, which sounds like a horrendous New Year's game but a fantastic opportunity to buff up the ol' bowl record.
(HT: Doc Sat.)
Breakin' ankles. Via UMHoops, some tantalizing highlights of Darius Morris:
He is now Angerererererererery. Starting Iowa linebacker and obviously fake person who only exists in a movie script Pat Angerer has torn ligaments in his thumb and will wear a cast on Saturday. This (very) marginally increases Michigan's chances of victory. If Tate Forcier throws a ball at Angerer or Robinson darts into him, the folk in question may escape with their lives. But really I'm just mentioning it for this:
"You don't need thumbs,'' he said. "My best friend is my brother's dog. He doesn't have any thumbs and he's doing fine.''
That is all.
"Watch out, Sydney Crosby" is a bit much but daaaang.
Etc.: Daily notes that Michigan's hockey game at Camp Randall is actually exempt by the NCAA(!). Michigan will get in 37 regular season games this year with the trip to Alaska. Do you need bizarrely swarthy Forcier-as-Link wallpaper? Sure you do.
This week on the podcast we talk about the Michigan State game (bleah!) with Tim, the Iowa game with Oops Pow Surprise of Black Heart Gold Pants and Buster Sports, and the Big Ten with Jamiemac of Just Cover. At some point, Tate Forcier gets compared to Hulk Hogan. Convincingly. Ultimate Hawkeye, we are coming for you. Warning: there is a small amount of swearing on this podcast, which comes from me but is necessary to describe Iowa safety Tyler Sash.
BONUS: in a stunning display of incestuous behavior, I was the guest on this week's BHGP podcast.