chance of bowl: 13.6%
God, Penn State's coaching staff is retarded. Remember when they'd waste downs by bringing in Robinson to run an ISQD*? They managed to get away from that habit when Robinson became the starter and said quarterback draws were no longer Incredibly Surprising. Well, they're back. Derrick Williams must have blown a half-dozen snaps running into the Incredibly Surprised line; the one time they tried to run trickeration off of it the play design was totally different than the plays they'd "set up" Notre Dame with and was so Incredibly Surprising that Williams was leveled by Ndkuwe when he tried to throw the ball. Lloyd haters take heart: there are dumber staffs out there.
And that compares not at all to what they did on the defensive side of the ball. Their gameplan against ND -- basically "if we drop all eleven guys into coverage it'll take them a really long time to score" -- tripped some sort of Herrmann-fuse in my brain. When I came to I was on the floor of Dunkin Donuts covered in coffee and what I really hope was frosting. Thanks for nothing, Penn State! Undeterred by Quinn freakin' torching them in the first quarter, they persisted in this until the touchdowns fell like rain. Penn State, thy name is Corky.
And then the grand bull-moose of horrific error: that insane option. Someone's been playing too much NCAA 2004. Just because everyone from John Navarre on up makes a dandy option QB in the game does not mean that Anthony Morelli will do anything except explode when you have him do it in real life.
I no longer fear this game much. Penn State's defensive ends have court orders to stay 50 yards from the quarterback at all times. Their blitzes are telegraphed, mistimed, and pitifully slow. Evidently they're terrified of their secondary, since their gameplan was hell-bent on preventing anyone finding themselves in single coverage, like, ever. Morelli has a nice arm and a tendency to throw into double coverage. Tony Hunt is the very definition of pedestrian.
*(Incredibly Surprising Quarterback Draw.)
Quinn was better. Two throws on seam routes to TE John Carlson stand out. They were real and they were fantastic. Never really saw the OMG NFL buzz on Quinn, but those throws give some indication of what his proponents see. They had to be placed in a two-foot window twenty yards downfield and were. Pure "wow" throws. Also, when Penn State's feeble attempts to get pressure failed (basically every time Quinn dropped back -- dude had Navarre-ian time to sit back and evaluate the field) he sliced and diced like Ginsu.
...but not exactly great. Those eight-man coverages in the redzone prompted two throws from him that should have been picked off. One was a horribly thrown ball that would have been a touchdown if accurate; a safety stepped in front of the other. There were also a couple overthrows on somewhat difficult passes.
Notre Dame cornerbacks haven't exactly repaired that Fiesta Bowl thing. Penn State had a couple opportunities to bomb it deep but could not. Once Derrick Williams dropped it; another time Morelli underthrew a ball that would have been a Ginn-Fiesta-style touchdown if accurate. I have a sneaking feeling that you can just run by these guys no problem toot sweet bingo, especially if Notre Dame brings an eighth guy into the box to staunch the bloodflow in the run game. Can Michigan block long enough to make it matter? Can the wide receivers actually get under and catch the hypothetical bomb? Eh... seems doubtful.
The linebackers can be had. We've had some problems getting guys blocked and keeping 'em blocked in the first couple games, but from what I saw against Penn State once these guys get engaged they're done. Their SAM linebacker has been iffy and both middle and weakside guys are undersized. That's mitigated somewhat by Zbikowski and Ndukwe, both outstanding in run support, but I can foresee a lot of 5 to 8 yard runs against ND.
Some Irish fans are theorizing that their mildly undersized line is good for dealing with the zone game, but that depends entirely on how committed they are to stopping the run. Seven in the box or even eight in the wrong position == death. That gives the Michigan line the freedom to shove undersized guys into sealed positions with their momentary doubles ("scoop" blocks in the parlance of our times), then get out to the linebackers and turn them into green goo. Lanes a-plenty. If, on the other hand, they guess correctly and force adjustments that remove the scoop possibility, Michigan will be trying to deal with one on one blocking while moving laterally across the line of scrimmage against theoretically penetrating linemen: bad news. Hart can probably turn some projected losses into decent gains, but Michigan won't be able to sustain drives on zone alone.
Victor Abiamiri is going to be a problem. He's good and he's lining up against Riley. I was hoping House Rock Built was engaging in a bit of homer fantasy when he described Abiamiri as a monster in our little tete-a-tete, but I regret to inform you that he isn't. Whatever sap is playing right tackle for PSU got izzowned** by Abiamiri all day... and it would have been worse had the refs decided to call two or three really obvious holds on him. Given Riley's ugly performance against Bazuin I think you're going to see an awful lot of chipping and support given to ol' Rueben. That'll harsh our routes a bit and potentially tip our plays: TE over Long == run, TE over Riley == pass.
**(Like "owned," only to such an extent that you can mention Michigan vs. Michigan State basketball as a potential comparison and be taken seriously.)
- I understand why teams are swarming Samarjajeixkia but not McKnight. McKnight's had several opportunities to make tough catches in ND's first couple games and come through rarely. Whenever you put the ball within five yards of Samarjaexxxxo, he catches it. I hate him.
- If we get aggressive we resign ourselves to two or three forty-yard completions downfield. It's just going to happen. We blitz, it gets picked up, and Quinn hurls it towards one of the aforementioned receivers, both of whom have major height advantages on any cornerback you care to name.
- I'm fine with this. I prefer this in lieu of what happened to PSU.
- Darius Walker is a poor man's Mike Hart. The similarities are downright eerie.
- PSU probably did us a major favor by playing stupidity guinea pig. The stark contrast between GT's approach, PSU approach, and their respective results should be obvious to all. We're coming after Quinn.
- If the other defensive end is as much of a problem area as HRB implied, Long should have a field day against him in the run game. He's been driving guys into the secondary so far this year.
- A large portion of the game's outcome rests on exactly when we have paper to their screen scissors and vice-versa. I often think that football is essentially a very violent poker game; this game will live up to that theory more than most. This worries me, as I don't think there's a person on the planet who would bet on Carr in a heads-up hold'em duel.
Quickly, quickly, must return to ND curse machine.
1. Troy Smith, OSU
I don't want to talk about it.
2. Calvin Johnson, GT
Still 240 pounds of righteous anger.
3. Dan Bazuin, Central Michigan
Sorry, Garrett, but my MAC vote goes to this guy from now on. Rueben Riley is somewhat supect as a RT, but he did hold Tamba Hali relatively quiet a year ago. Not Bazuin. He was driving into the backfield on every play, for what little good it did there rest of CMU's defense. A terror. The only thing that stopped Michigan's offense all day. Also: he's from McBain, Michigan, so you know he's bad.
4. Lamarr Woodley, Michigan
As SMQB notes, he's on pace for 30 TFL and 24 sacks. Uh... probably not going to get there. But a disruptive force.
5. Jeff Samarajdajziakkiaia, Notre Dame
I don't want to talk about this, either. Yes, yes, slow start but that's because everyone is covering him. Almost literally.
Programming Note: UFR this week is Wednesday/Thursday.
This week's subject is House Rock Built impresario Fightinamish, also named Brian. This will be relevant later. We sat down for an IM-chat thing; the transcript is below. Note that all capital letters from HRB were forcibly inserted by me, so I may have missed a few. Accursed non-shift-using leprechaun!
House Rock Built: Personally, I feel like I'm a different person the week before the Michigan game than I am the other 51 weeks of the year. I'm short-tempered, angry, and on the edge of my seat. There's something weird about this rivalry that brings something out in me that no other game does. what exactly goes through your mind in the week leading up to this game, both in general and specifically this year?
MGoBlog: Er... I kind of got in a lot of trouble with Notre Dame fans answering a similar question last year in a fashion I thought was respectful but not obsequious. Evidently BGS readers disagreed. Anyway, what I tried to express was the pure hell this rivalry has been for Michigan fans over the past, oh, 13 or so years. Notre Dame has been terrible for the vast bulk of this time but we've managed to piss away what in retrospect has been a huge talent advantage by doing tons of dumb, dumb stuff. Getting to hear all about ND's latest return to glory in the following weeks is constant salt in the wound.
I dread this game. For so long there's been no upside and plenty of painful folly. At least this year ND is going to destroy all comers Da Bears style so the humiliation level after a loss is much lower and the reward for a win much higher. And given our previous performance, Michigan seems about as likely to win.
Why are you so edgy? I would think ND fans would welcome their next defeat of hilarious 3-L Lloyd at the hands of Robot Genius?
House Rock Built: I think it's something unique to this specific rivalry. There are two things that really characterize the Notre Dame-Michigan series. One is a bitter hatred between the fanbases and the other is a guarantee that the game will be settled under cruel and arbitrary circumstances. A wobbly 50 yard field goal, a blocked kick, a fumble on the goal line. no matter what the circumstances are leading into the game, it always seems like you can throw records and talent levels out the window when it comes to this game.
MGoBlog: Except that one year. Don't take that away from me.
House Rock Built: Right. I drank that one away. Aggressively.
Anyway, the Irish have come out on top with this recently (except for 03, thanks for reminding me) despite being outmatched on the field and between the headphones. It's a little unsettling being on the other end of the hype and expectations, especially seeing how badly it went for Michigan. I can't even remember the last time Notre Dame was favored in this game
MGoBlog: I can't either, which probably means it was 2002 or something embarassing.
House Rock Built: Ha. where's my trusty stat boy?
MGoBlog: Probably waxing his eyebrows. Pretty boy. So you're no doubt expecting something in the 40-17 range, right?
House Rock Built: Most definitely not. I've always erred on the side of excessive worrying, and the last eight years of coaching has really helped that develop into an obsession. I think Michigan is a lot different than Penn State, and sportswriters who are predicting a repeat performance of last week are experiencing clouded judgement from robot-genius love.
I have a surprising amount of confidence, but knowing how ugly and sloppy this game typically is, i get the feeling it will be close all the way to the end.
So it sounds like you're pretty gloomy. Are you just downgrading your expectations to avoid pain or are you actually that down about your chances this weekend?
MGoBlog: I'm not all that down, actually. I will probably predict narrow victory at the end of the week because I think the game is very even and I may as well predict what makes me happy. There are a lot of unknown variables. So let's get down to brass tacks or orange julius or whatever the kids call it these days.
CMU defensive end Dan Bazuin owned M RT Rueben Riley last game. Just crushed him. He's the big flaming weakness on offense. Have anyone capable of exploiting that?
House Rock Built: Let's see, right tackle, so he'll probably take most snaps against our strongside end, Victor Abiamiri. Short answer: yeah. Abiamiri is a monster who is very capable of terrorizing an offensive backfield. the reason he hasn't become a household name is because he is always, always double-teamed and is the main point of focus for opposing offensive lines, which most teams have been able to get away with in the absence of another dominating force on the Irish d-line.
I'm guessing Michigan will take the same approach and make sure there is as much meat as possible between him and the precious football, especially with such a shaky situation at RT.
MGoBlog: Probably see a lot of chipping and TE doubles. Bazuin isn't chopped liver by the way -- he made my MaxwellPundit ballot this week -- but are you getting any penetration from other players on the line? I didn't see much against Georgia Tech.
House Rock Built: That has been a struggle. Derek Landri is an undersized tackle who thrives on quickness, but really can't bowl anyone over or plow through a lineman. Trevor Laws is a bit bigger, but seems to be more of a run stuffer and Chad-Henne-sidearm-pass-deflector extraordinaire. coming into this season, i was hoping that this unit would turn into a pass-rushing nightmare, but it hasn't really panned out yet. the best pressure we've gotten is bringing our speedy linebackers on blitzes.
MGoBlog: And the other end?
House Rock Built: It's a rotation right now between Ronald Talley and Chris Frome. Talley spent most of the Fiesta Bowl being thrown to the turf. Frome is coming off knee surgery and seems to have lost a step from last year. On passing downs, Weis is using freshman Morrice Richardson as a pass-rushing specialist and actually had some success. Hopefully between the three of them we can find a pass-rusher who can cause some havoc from the blind side, which should hopefully take some attention off of Abiamiri. Time will tell on that one.
Update: Check Part II over @ House Rock Built.
...by which I mean GT-ND tape review. Not exactly a full Armageddon-style UFR, but I did go back and re-watch the Georgia Tech game with a critical eye to see what was there to be seen. As follows.
Brady Quinn was ass. Is this good news or bad news? I have no idea. The prevailing theory re: only 14 points was that Quinn was under seige and rattled. I buy the rattled part. He was indecisive, inaccurate, and all-around bleah. He displayed signs of hennebriation on many simple, chain-moving throws that were winged yards wide of the receiver. After the game Notre Dame fans were forced to wax poetic about his incredible determination on quarterback draws and scrambles and stuff.
But it wasn't really Georgia Tech's doing. For the most part Quinn had time to find receivers even when GT blitzed. There were very few instances of unblocked players bearing down on him, though when they did it was ugly: intentional grounding on a screen followed by a near-safety on another screen on one series. For the most part Quinn killed ND's first half drives with inaccuracy or indecision all by himself.
He was a bit better in the second half and even in the first there were a couple impressive throws mixed in, including a critical third down throw made with a GT player's helmet in his chest, but if Chad Henne turned in a performance like that Michigan fans would start calling for Carlos Brown.
I'm not overjoyed by this revelation: I think I'd rather have a clear distinction between GT's attacking defense destroying ND and Penn State's passive one being destroyed. Quinn committing largely unforced errors is something Michigan has no control over, and those errors can be attributed to first game jitters, especially on the road and double especially in this era of impossibly high expectations for Notre Dame.
Notre Dame got its points in a distinctly Lloydball fashion. The resemblance between the Notre Dame offense in this game and Michigan's 2005 abomination was eerie at times. They weren't that effective running the ball, the quarterback was incapable of converting a third and four, and the wide receiver screen was the most effective weapon available. Notre Dame did have better pass protection and two guys who you can just hurl jump balls to, FSU style.
And! And! When Notre Dame found itself in a hole following penalties in the red zone they basically went to a series of give-up plays -- Walker draws and screens -- that worked because Robot Jesus commanded them to. Then when they had the lead they decided to Lloyd it up some more, pounding the ball into the line. (Incidentally, this worked much better than relying on temporarily-unreliable Quinn.)
I don't think anything ND's defense did is particularly relevant. Tiny, ethnic, mobile Reggie Ball is the platonic opposite of a Michigan quarterback. They can't cover Calvin Johnson: we don't have any 6'5" pirate-ninja receivers. They got lost sometimes defending GT's all-finesse running game: finesse running game? Pa-fooey, we spit on finesse. Now finesse all gooey. What are you going to do about it? That's right, run another quarterback draw.
Some things I did notice:
- Zbikowski and Ndkuwe -- no doubt the only starting safety combo in the history of football to feature the letters N, D, B, and Z in the first two letters of their collective last names -- are big hitters but sometimes don't wrap up. There's a potential there for a missed tackle and Mike Hart trying desperately to stay away from pursuing secondary members.
- The corners had much trouble containing the few WR screens GT threw. I've come around on the WR screen -- most of the problems we had the first week were caused by poor throws or missed blocks and not defensive preparation -- and expect to see it deployed effectively.
- There was very little penetration from ND on running plays. It resembled Michigan's hold'em up and let the linebackers flow thing. Interesting thing you might want to look for: is Michigan getting the seal on these guys and getting to the second level quickly enough to plow the undersized linebackers?
- ND's performance was greatly aided by stupid GT playcalling on second and short. Three or four times during the game GT found themselves in second and one and instead of doing something reasonably safe and reward laden (like, say, hurling one skyward to Calvin Johnson), they did stuff like run speed options that lost four yards. They killed many of their drives by screwing up second and one.
- Chan Gailey: go for it on fourth and one from the ND forty! What, do you think your mighty offense of offensive might is ever going to get there again?
Conclusions from this in the preview Friday. For now, chat amongst yourselves.
Note: please keep it civil. Last year the run-up and aftermath of the ND game was extremely ugly in the comments section; this year I'm going to torch things to prevent an unmoderated Rivals-free-board-style free-for-all. Yes, I love oppressing Irish speech. It's what gets me up in the morning.
- Steve Breaston's Traitorous Hands: Eh... did okay.
- Tom Deinhart's Last Brain Cell: we've got a new media whipping boy.
- Pass Protection: now seems far too general.
- Rueben Riley: ...is clearly the one who needs the harsh wakeup call only seeing your name on the dread board can provide.
- Kick Coverage: Obvs.
- Vodka Drenched Monkey: AKA Cory McCartney, who either typoed his way into the VDM designation or just plain changed his prediction once its overwhelming stupidity became clear. More @ AOL, check the comments for the revision.
- PUNTING (THE CONCEPT): as opposed to the execution of same.
This is probably of faint interest to most, but I may as well give my side of the story in this minor BlogPoll brouhaha, since I'm getting comments claiming I'm a pre-emptively sore loser or something:
San Jose State, whose inclusion on BGS' ballot for last week's blogpoll (long story) got us kicked out of the poll by Brian at Mgoblog, did what most of the top 25 did not do. They beat a school in a BCS conference, the second one they've played in as many weeks. Mgoblog threw out our ballot because he thought we were not taking the poll seriously enough and that we were screaming for attention with our unconventional Week 1 approach in which we rewarded teams that played well in week one, regardless of reputation or previous years' performance. Well, whatever. Mgoblog's preseason #2 (five spots ahead of Ohio State) and current #5 (one spot ahead of Ohio State) Iowa somehow managed to derail Syracuse (1-10 in 2005) in overtime. Mgoblog PRESEASON #2 IOWA scored 10 points in regulation against the Orangemen, who have won 1 of their past 13 games. They're just that daggone good.
Oooooooh... so... irritated. Let's leave aside Drew Tate's abdominal strain and my preseason research to focus on the matter at hand. This is a horrific misrepresentation of what happened. The bottom half of the BGS ballot was filled entirely with week one losers. So they "played well" but lost narrowly, and not necessarily to the cream of D-I. Other strong winners who featured high up in their preseason ballot disappeared entirely.
As a matter of course I review ballots that show up on any of the lists. That's what they're there for: to keep an eye on outlying ballots. Occasionally I'll come across something that's goofy and remove the ballot. For instance, YAYSports submitted a ballot after the deadline for the first week and then didn't update it for week two. His poll -- which still had Cal over Tennessee -- was clearly a preseason one; it got removed.
Also getting the boot last week was that wack ballot from Blue-Gray Sky. To my eternal regret I did not save a copy of it, but remember how SMQB's ballot was declared the BOLDEST(!) in the history of the poll? Well, BGS's ballot was fully two points higher on average deviation than SMQB's ballot, which is a huge margin. It also beat SMQB's ballot in the swing category by more than 100 points. When you have a devation that high it's less a matter of what's wack about your ballot than what isn't, but I remember two outstanding features of the poll that were foremost amongst the many reasons it got killed:
- Ohio State dropping from #1 to unranked after beating NIU 35-12 and being up 28-0 in about ten seconds.
- San Jose State... San Jose State... rocketing from unranked to #12 after a loss to Washington.
When SJSU entered the ballot they were 0-1, having lost to Washington. Washington features nowhere on their ballot and never did, but because they had a "good loss" against a BCS team they were inserted into the poll; UW was not. It was beyond the bounds of reason. My initial reaction was one of regret -- I assumed that the ballot entry form had developed some horrific, obscure bug and that I was going to be forced to kill BGS's ballot because of my own coding failures. I sent an email to that effect. I got this response, reprinted in full, from Jay:
No, believe it or not, I filled it out with some care. I was hoping we'd make one of the titled lists so we could talk about the folly of first-week polls in your comments section. If you notice, the first half of the poll are teams with what we deemed were good opening-week wins, and the second half are mostly teams that had close losses to otherwise "better" opponents. This is not an attempt to sabotage the blogpoll -- we think things will shake out to a more "sensible" ranking once more games are played -- but much like you vaulted Tennessee from unranked to #1, we figured we'd go nuts on the conventional rankings and just focus on teams that we thought played well against good competition.
This didn't change my mind, as it seemed an admission that the ballot they entered was not an attempt to rank the teams in order of projected competence but rather one to get on a List of Wacky to make a statement. I'll accept honest ballots no matter how deranged and perhaps even submit some deranged-ness myself, but there is a line and BGS crossed it. It was a cynical attempt to game the poll. I said as much, they responded, and I left it there.
So, moral of the story: if you do crazy things for attention I'll spike your ballot. BGS is welcome to submit ballots in the future, but they'll probably go on hunger strike instead. Dylan from BGS has anger management issues. A just and right God will smite Notre Dame this weekend.