that's unfortunate, but at least the interest is there on both sides
Anyone with some ankle-healing snake oil report to Memorial Stadium STAT.
All right, I know this internet rumor stuff is extremely distasteful to a certain segment of the audience, and frankly I'm a little uncomfortable with it, too, because the consequences if I say something strident and I'm wrong will be bad. Last year I reported that Morgan Trent had broken his hand and would miss the Minnesota game. Rivals' Inside The Fort column-type substance pooh-poohed this as patently ridiculous. I vacillated back and forth before just laying my cards on the table and stating what I thought: Trent was out and Rivals was wrong. Those 24 hours before Michigan took the field sans Trent were nervewracking, but eventually I was proven correct. I'll do the same here.
- Hart limps off against Purdue, doesn't play the rest of the game, seems fine, teammates guarantee he plays.
- Carr circumspect.
- Mom says if he's 80% he'll play and will definitely play against Minnesota.
- Carr circumspect.
- Yesterday a guy with an insider rep posts that Hart is a no-go for Illinois on GBW; this is widely reported in the McGuffie liveblog/chat thing. I can't evaluate this for myself.
- Carr circumspect.
- Yesterday afternoon the line on the game moves from -3 to a pick-em, maybe because of this "Doctor Bob" guy and maybe not.
- Other message boards have conflicting information: Tuesday/Wednesday reports are that he will play. More recent updates are skeptical, with one definite no-go report.
- I receive an email from a tipster like 45 minutes ago stating 1) Hart will not play and 2) expect more Hemingway ISQDs. This tipster is a Class C tipster: no track record but has emailed me before (a year ago) and is unlikely to be looking to perpetuate a hoax. Especially what with the ISQD thing. I mean, seriously, you can't make this stuff up.
Fin. You can evaluate all this as you please and come to your own conclusions.
My conclusions: there are at least three recent, separate indications from insiders ranging from purported to (apparently) established and a big line swing. Previous optimism about his play has not been updated since Tuesday/Wednesday. I think Hart is either out or extremely limited. If I see an ISQD early, I will swear quietly and pray for Carlos Brown ball security. Caveat: if Michigan finds itself in trouble I would not be surprised to see Hart pull a Willis Reed, even if it's just to stone J Leman blitzes.
I am now off to Champaign and will not be able to update this further tonight; I'm sure the commenters will keep everyone abreast of developments. Please subtract four points from my projected Michigan score in the preview.
The fourth down stufficus. Some protest in the comments and from The Conquering Heroes about the non-condemnation of Les Miles calling Rock x 4 against Kentucky in the third overtime. TCH:
I attempted to make the point on MGoBlog that Brian and many others would have raked Lloyd over the coals had he run on 4 straight downs and not picked up the first down.
It seems odd to defend myself from criticism for a hypothetical criticism I never actually made, but I will make an effort.
First: the effusive praise in this space was for Miles' willingness to go for it time and again against Florida, pulling out a win he may otherwise not have had. Nothing in the Kentucky game changes that. LSU found itself down in the third overtime and had to go for it.
As for rock x 4 -- we'll call it the Super Avalanche -- this is Matt Flynn's line for that game: 17 for 35 for 130 yards. Several of his completions were little swing passes that went for first downs. That's a line worth of Jimmah Clausen. The guy was awful, his receivers weren't much better, and Early Doucet was basically unavailable (he did come in to be a decoy during the Super Avalanche). Meanwhile, LSU was averaging 5.5 YPC when the first rock was called, and that gained six yards. In these circumstances, pounding ahead in an attempt to get the first down is eminently justifiable. Just last Wednesday, the Wannstache got raked over the coals for taking the ball out of Lesean McCoy's hands in overtime and throwing fades with his crappy quarterback despite all evidence indicating he should grind ahead. Given the relative vectors of LSU's ground and air games, it's hard to fault Miles with pounding the ball, even if it didn't work.
This is different from the fervent criticism of Debord leveled in this space because Debord took a look at the #114 pass defense and ran and ran and ran even when it had become clear that Justin Boren and Michigan's third string right guard were totally unable to handle John Gill. The resuls were a 16-7 halftime deficit that Michigan was fortunate wasn't 28-7 and an extremely dangerous situation. The key distinction here: Miles was doing something that made sense. I like it when coaches make goddamn sense.
TCH's post is worth going over, as it contains fourth down go-for-it and conversion numbers for a wide array of coaches. The numbers are interesting, though I don't know how well they actually reflect a coach's aggression. There's a big difference in going for it when you have to, like at the end of the UK-LSU game, and going for it when you have other options, like the Florida game. One point of contention:
Did Miles go for it on fourth more often just because he has brass balls? Not entirely:
LSU's field goal kickers were 64.3% last year. Their primary kicker was 8 for 13 â€“ a mere 61.5%. On the other hand, Garret Rivas was 16 for 19 -- 84% last year.
----------------------0-19 --20-29---30-39---- 40-49----50+
Garrett Rivas: 16 for 19 84.2------0/0---6/7 ---8/8----2/4 ---0/0
David Colt: 8 for 14 61.5%--------0-0---4-4----1-2----3-6---0-1
Those kicker lines don't scream "vast difference" to me even if Rivas had a much higher percentage. (Also, it's Colt David.) From 40-49 both were 50%. Inside 40 they both missed a single field goal; Rivas had many more attempts.
Also, though the "brass balls" thing has gotten a lot of play here and elsewhere, there is a key point of clarification: each decision to go was statistically and situationally valid. Miles had the balls to do the smart thing. This is different than Weis doing stuff like calling a QB draw with 12 seconds left in the half and no timeouts, which is stupid look-at-me-I'm-a-genius bravado. Mindless aggression is no better than, say, punting from inside the opponent's 40 when a moderate gain salts the game away.*
*(Uh... actually it probably is, but it's still not good.)
No, not FUPA. Field Position Advantage, or FPA, is a stat being tracked by Brian Fremeau over at Football Outsiders. It's simple: your average starting yard line minus the average opponent starting yard line. Michigan is currently ninth among I-A schools at +7.8; Ohio State is second at +10.4. Not sure how useful this statistic is, since the leader is 4-3 (now 4-4) TCU and Vanderbilt, East Carolina, and Maryland appear in the top ten, but it's an interesting thing to consider. Teams that suck at FPA do tend to be awful, though.
Etc.: Beilein fluff from Rivals; Purdue managers mock Michigan, get what they deserve; OSU is a money machine; UM Tailgate interviews Tyrone Wheatley; Shooting Blue reviews the McGuffie performance from last night.
If you hung around last night's McGuffie-centered liveblog/chat you probably came across the following hot rumors:
- Hart won't play.
- Juice Williams won't play.
- Arrelious Benn has a separated shoulder.
The latter is not a rumor, it's just true. He injured it before Iowa, reinjured it against Iowa, and continued to play with the injury. As for the former two, well... Bodog isn't accepting bets for the game any more, and other books have moved the line from Michigan -3 to anywhere from -1 to +1. That lends the rumors some credence beyond your standard internets panic.
I expect Hart will travel and dress; I would not be surprised if he was limited, or tried to go but found he could not a la a couple of 2005 games. I would also not be surprised if he was fine. Nothing surprises me!
Update: It moves. Covers.com's line history for Michigan-Illinois:
|10/15/07 3:12:05 PM||3/-110|
|10/15/07 4:22:05 PM||2.5/-110|
|10/17/07 2:17:07 PM||2.5/-110|
|10/18/07 5:07:06 PM||2/-110|
|10/18/07 5:57:08 PM||0/-110|
|10/17/07 1:50:46 AM||3/-115|
|10/17/07 10:35:47 AM||3/-120|
|10/18/07 3:00:48 PM||3/-120|
|10/18/07 6:00:48 PM||0/-110|
|10/18/07 6:40:51 PM||0/-110|
|10/19/07 12:45:48 AM||0/-105|
|10/17/07 1:50:46 AM||3/-115|
|10/17/07 10:35:47 AM||3/-120|
|10/18/07 3:00:48 PM||3/-120|
|10/18/07 6:00:48 PM||0/-110|
|10/18/07 6:40:51 PM||0/-110|
|10/19/07 12:45:48 AM||0/-105|
|10/17/07 1:49:57 AM||3/-115|
|10/17/07 10:24:57 AM||3/-120|
|10/18/07 2:55:02 PM||3/-120|
|10/18/07 5:55:01 PM||0/-110|
|10/18/07 6:19:58 PM||0/-110|
Something happened yesterday afternoon that caused a three-point dip in the line. At most places it's rebounded to Michigan -1, but unless there's another explanation these tables strongly point to Hart's absence.
I think he's out or limited.
Update Update: Email and comments suggest that immensely powerful and all-knowing wiseguy "Dr. Bob" is responsible for the line shift:
I wanted to let you know about that something that happend yesterday to shift the line. The line moved 3 pts not because of injuries, but because of a Vegas handicapper named Dr. Bob (who, incidentally, was on ESPN a couple of days ago). He has BOATLOADS of big-money clients, and he releases his plays on Thursday. Sportsbooks were immediately flooded with money on Illinois and had to drop the line down to a pick'em so as to get more Michigan money. So, while the guys you mentioned could be out, that's not the reason for this line movement. So, I wouldn't count on any of those injuries quite yet.
So... I don't know. If you can stand the vertigo, here's the ESPN segment. Take it FWIW.
First, Alan Weymouth on the last game and the upcoming one:
People saying this was our most complete game of the season are spot on. I also have to say, DeBord called a pretty darn good game on Saturday. Run game showed a few new wrinkles...not many, but enough to keep Purdue off balance. The thought the passing game was very, very sharp and the staff adjusted quite well here.
Run Offense vs. Illinois
Mike Hart's availability is in question, and even though Carlos Brown showed some speed and the ability to not fumble every other carry last week, losing Hart would be a hammer blow to the team. There is no replacement for him, whether it's in terms of leadership, ball security, tough yards after contact, or thumping blitz pickups against potential All-American linebackers.
Illinois, of course, features J Leman and some other guys as part of a decently stiff run defense currently 27th in the country. A closer look shows they crushed Missouri and gave up slightly more than 4 YPC to the tailbacks of Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. No long runs distorted those stats; neither did quarterback sacks factor in. This is a better than average, but not great, run defense.
One thing to look for: in this morning's VEQ Iowa blogger Oops Pow Surprise indicated that the Illinois defensive tackles were two-gap sorts of guys keyed on occupying blockers and allowing J Leman and company to flow to the ball unimpeded. That won't work against Michigan's stretch plays, as on them the very idea of a double is forgone for a sure attempt at the second level. Illinois will have to adapt its strategy to cope. These are untested waters and there's a chance the Illini DTs find themselves lumberingly ineffective, paving the way for an unexpectedly robust Michigan ground attack.
If Brown plays, Michigan figures to go to a pass-first offense with Brown as a secondary option (at least... you'd imagine, right?); I would look for a lot of draws to get Brown in space and a lot of plays with a lead fullback to help cut down on his occasionally questionable vision. One more item to look for given Brown's sojourn as corner this spring and his iffy blocking against Purdue: the deployment of someone else in obvious passing downs. It might be Moundros. It might be Hart -- even if he can't cut he can pick up linebackers.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus Angry Michigan Running Back Hating God. In comparison, little else matters. We'll also throw in a bonus key matchup: Illinois DTs versus Their Ability To Penetrate. Michigan has struggled with quick (relatively) little bastards thus far.
Pass Offense vs. Illinois
Illinois is blitz-mad and seriously iffy elsewhere. Colin chips in observations from the Iowa game:
Jake Christiansen was clearly not that good, but shredded the Illinois pass defense any time his offensive line figured out their blocking schemes, which they are clearly not good at doing. They blitz all the time, presumably because they figure 6 and 7-man zones aren't going to do much better. Behind these blitzes they play soft zone, I'd guess cover 3. They do blitz with some ingenuity and they do have the athletes to get to the quarterback, but they can't usually get pressure with the front four without some kind of snafu up front.
Shooting Blue provides some encouraging numbers:
- Andrew Robinson, Syracuse - 17/26, 208 yards, 8 yards/attempt
- Kellen Lewis, Indiana - 26/51, 263 yards, 5.2 yards/attempt
- Anthony Morelli, Penn State - 21/38, 298 yards, 7.8 yards/attempt
- Tyler Donovan, Wisconsin - 27/49, 392 yards, 8 yards/attempt
- Jake Christensen, Iowa - 17/25, 182 yards, 7.3 yards/attempt
Yes, 4/5 games averaging 7.3+ YPA is an indication of some seriou
s suck in your secondary, especially when quarterbacks from Penn State, Syracuse, and Iowa are featured. Chad Henne is way better than all these guys. The Michigan receivers are way better than everyone on those teams save James Hardy. Illinois' top corner is Vontae Davis, a freshman All-American a year ago but still just a sophomore; past Davis they've gotten little contribution
from an array of lightly recruited players.
Henne, meanwhile, has rebounded from an atrocious opening game and a half to pick apart secondaries in three consecutive games. He was nearly perfect against Purdue and is finally rounding into the form Michigan fans expected/hoped for going into the year. Obviously this is not a stable equilibrium yet -- there is always the chance for inexplicable regression given Henne's career to date -- but if there's an aberration in the last two years of Henne's career, stretching back to just before the 2005 Ohio State game, it's the poor play, not the good play.
Add in Mario Manningham's return to deep form, the emergence of Adrian Arrington as an all-around threat who can leap out of the stadium, and Greg Mathews establishing himself Avant 2.0, and there is a clear opportunity here to put up huge numbers here.
Key Matchup: Boren, Brown, and Butler versus Various Blitzers. Pick up the blitzes and there is no way -- no way -- Illinois covers Manningham, Arrington, and Mathews.
Run Defense vs. Purdue
Oh, the terrible danger. Illinois is basically the Appalachian State offense with an NFL-caliber running back and a faster, bigger quarterback. The Illini are eighth nationally in rushing offense, deploy the spread option to devastating effect, and are playing Michigan. Woe is very much a possibility.
Meanwhile, Michigan has recovered from its opening debacles to become a respectable defense, though the only spread option attack they've faced since was Northwestern's and the Wildcats racked up 300-some first half yards and sprung a 50-yard touchdown run from a slow backup running back.
The hope here is that the Appalachian State game was an anomaly borne of incredible arrogance on the part of the Michigan coaches -- the odd hopes we have -- and that Illinois won't be able to threaten the devastating passing game Oregon used to shred Michigan by air and land. Oh, and that the reinforcements on the defense will help it suck considerably less.
Expect a ton of zone from Michigan. It won't matter much if Michigan tips off its coverages like that because the Illinois receivers aside from Benn suck and so do the quarterbacks. If Illinois wishes to throw on first down, Michigan will welcome it.
Zone allows the cornerbacks to look into the backfield and react to the option. Iowa deployed its traditional 4-3 despite going up against 3 or 4 wide receivers much of the day; Michigan may choose to go with something similar, dropping Crable back to be a linebacker or, more likely, bringing in a full four-man defensive line and deploying Crable as a standup DE. Containment will be key: Crable has blown contain several times the past three weeks by collapsing on zone read fakes, allowing the quarterback to get outside of him. This cannot happen against Illinois.
Key Matchup: Chris Graham, Obi Ezeh, and Shawn Crable against Mental Implosion. As Alan says, option football is assignment football. Michigan has the athletes to keep up on the edges, but they are prone to mental breakdowns that will be deadly against Illinois.
Pass Defense vs. Illinois
Juice Williams is the worst quarterback Michigan will play this year unless his freshman backup Eddie McGee enters the game, in which case it'll be a close runoff between the two. Williams is completing 55% of his passes this year -- up from last year's incredible 39% -- but is averaging just 5.2 YPA and has five interceptions to five touchdowns. Every once in a while they'll run play action and try to hit Arrelious Benn deep, but other than that Illinois mostly passes only when they have to, and that poorly.
Meanwhile, the Michigan secondary has shaped up considerably since the post-apocalyptic Oregon game, with a major assist from Brandon Graham and a newly slavering defensive line. Michigan held down CJ Bacher and the suddenly unstoppable Northwestern offense, forcing a quartet of second-half turnovers, and completely destroyed Curtis Painter and Purdue. Neither of these teams is exactly... uh ... Kentucky (it's a weird year in college football), but then again neither is Illinois.
Michigan will probably sit back in a soft-ish zone much of the day and zone blitz heavily, attempting to confuse whoever's chucking ducks into interceptions and bad reads. Benn will get several shots at long receptions; Michigan will be playing off; the big danger is that the powerful Benn pulls a Braylon on one of the jump balls hurled skyward.
Key Matchup: Morgan Trent versus Arrelious Benn. Historically, Trent has been very difficult to beat deep. If Michigan can rely on him to deal with Benn without a safety bracket, things get much easier up front.
Benn returns kicks for Illinois; the winning margin against Penn State was a kickoff return score. Meanwhile, Michigan's kick coverage has been atrocious and its attempts at mitigating said atrocity have been equally atrocious. With opponents generally starting at the 30 or beyond and a dangerous returner to deal with, expect popups and squibs. Heck, kicking it directly OOB doesn't seem like such a bad deal these days.
Kyle Hudson is averaging under 8 yards per punt return and is no threat to do anything except catch a punt and run into a nearby player.
Illinois punter Anthony Santella sucks; Illinois is 98th nationally in gross yards an 111th in net. Greg Mathews is unlikely to get any return opportunities, as he'll usually be fair-catching 34 yarders. Kicker Jason Reda is a perfect 9 for 9 on the year.
Key Matchup: Kick coverage versus Benn. Or kick coverage versus upbacks.
- Hart's on the sideline, obviously.
- Our defensive tackles are as ineffective as they were in the first two games.
- Mendenhall gives you flashbacks to Jonathan Stewart.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Illinois blitzes don't get there.
- Illinois is consistently in second and long.
- Henne is on.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Ack Spread Option, +1 for Ack Ack Run-Heavy Spread Option, +1 for Oh, God, What About Hart, +1 for And It's A Road Night Game, -1 for They Throw Like Jimmah).
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Win This And We Play OSU For The Rose Bowl, Basically, +1 for Hart Can Win The Heisman If That Happens, +1 for I Am Going And Don't Want To Ruin What Should Be A Nice Weekend)
Loss will cause me to... be not at all surprised that we got shredded by a spread option team.
Win will cause me to... consider going to Wisconsin. But probably not.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
Two competing historical
trends with Lloyd Carr teams are at war: 1) Michigan can't stop the option to save its life, especially if that option comes from a spread shotgun, and 2) one dimensional offenses die against Michigan. This is a defiantly one-dimensional spread option attack; I don't know what to do with this.
Michigan seems somewhere between Wisconsin's suddenly nonexistent run defense and Iowa's traditionally responsible, veteran unit and will probably cede yards in chunks but get enough stops to put Illinois in passing downs regularly. I figure Michigan gives up one or two big plays, allows one distressingly impressive touchdown drive, and otherwise gives up a first down here or there, maybe a push into field goal territory, but mostly forces punts. The Illinois passing game is just too awful to have sustained success against a team that is probably not going to get run over like it's Indiana.
On offense... urg. At this point I believe Hart will be considerably limited. I do have enough faith in the common sense of the Michigan coaches to take one look at the last scholarship running back on the roster, the Illinois secondary, and Manningham/Arrington/Mathews/Butler/Henne and decide that without Hart they will put the game on their senior quarterback. They did not do this in the awful first half against Northwestern because they did not have said senior quarterback; they faced a similar situation last year at Penn State -- also a night game -- and came out slinging. I believe they'll do this again, and have much more success against a team with a secondary much flimsier than Penn State 2006 and much more reliant on blitzing to get pressure. I do expect them to try out the stretch a few times early to see if those two-gap tackles can adapt; we are not likely to see a ton of running unless it's effective early.
The quarterback numbers above indicate Michigan will have success doing this. If Michigan picks up the blitzes effectively, they win comfortably.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Hart does play a bit, mostly on third downs as a blitz pickup guy.
- Henne busts 300 yards and hits a season-high in attempts.
- 31-21, Michigan.