"The power of marketing, mercifully, is not unlimited. Stephen A. Smith's Quite Frankly, which premiered in August with as much fanfare as ESPN could muster, came into a 6:30 p.m. ET time slot where a hodgepodge of stuff had averaged 0.3% of TV households. Not exactly big shoes to fill. And yet humble hodgepodges don't always get the credit they deserve: Smith's show is averaging 0.2%."
I do miss Trick Shot Magic, now that I think about it.
You are also breaking my heart. Deadspin is also all over this ESPN thing, pointing out this Business Week article that will probably have the staunchest capitalists wondering about maybe applying that communism thing to certain sections of the economy having to do with large people running fast. I mean, if you had asked me to choose the most depressing sentence in the English language, this would have been a strong contender:
All around it, companies are imitating ESPN's cool and edgy packaging of sports.
As Dr. Z says, "Broadcasters should remember the play's the thing."
Breakin' the law! I claim fair use on this snippet from Joe Schad's weblog ($):
HARRIS POLLING: Traditional powers Notre Dame, Penn State and Alabama are all back in the polls. The bad news? This week, one Harris Poll voter wrote in the same team twice. Another didn't vote at all. Baffling BCS commissioners now is the revelation that the company monitoring the poll can add points for teams they believe were inappropriately left off ballots. Penn State coach Joe Paterno said this week: "We lost the last good Pole with the Pope." Funny.
Emphasis mine. They don't have a web entry form? The freaking BlogPoll is more sophisticated than the Harris Poll? I'm speechless.
Cato June, NFL Star is definitely the most surreal thing going for Michigan fans at the moment. June was the first guy to don #2 after Woodson (hallowed be his name) but spent large portions of his career standing over an opponent someone else had tackled after he whiffed, looking fierce. A severe knee injury as a sophomore may have had something to do with it, but Cato June turned into the canonical Clueless But Good At Lookin' Durned Fierce safety by the time he graduated, so when someone says this...
"Bill comes back and says, 'Boy, I saw a strong safety at Michigan. He really looks like a heckuva player, and I like him. He might not be fast enough to play safety, but I think he could be a weak-side linebacker,' " [Colts HC Tony] Dungy recalled.
...you look around for the Candid Camera people. "Did I just read that in the newspaper? This is verified voracity? Is this a put on?" Yes. Yes. No. Good on yer, Cato, and congratulations, but I swear I'm hallucinating whenever I see you in a Colts uniform. No offense intended.
Some clarification on the pass designations, which now accompany every throw:
- DO: Dead On; reserved for downfield throws that are perfectly placed and are either fit into a tough place or require a lot of leading and provide a good opportunity to run after the catch. Generally should be reserved for fairly badass plays. (Note this is a major change. Expect far fewer DOs than I've been charting previously.)
- CA: Catchable; Standard downfield completions that are a little off--behind or tall or in front--that still don't pose a huge difficulty to the receiver or bombs that are reasonably well thrown even if slighly off. All successful screen and very short throws max out at this level.
- IN: Inaccurate; balls that are misthrown and give the receiver little or no chance of catching without a spectacular play or massive adjustment. Some completions are "inaccurate" if the catch made involves some eye-popping. Completed screens that are delayed by a poorly thrown ball and therefore stopped also go here.
- TA: Throwaways; balls that are not intended to be caught.
- BR: Bad Reads; Balls that are thrown into coverage or thrown away when there are open recievers.
- BA: Batted; Balls batted at the line or inaccurate because the quarterback was hit while throwing.
|1||10||M2||Run||Hart||1||Eight in the box and we choose to run anyway. Thompson gets no block.|
|2||9||M3||Pass||Tabb||8||Nicely designed play attacks one area of the zone and Henne diagnoses the right guy to throw to (primary read, it appears, since the other routes head straight into the local zone cover guys and force them to react). This happens all day. It's the same stop route Edwards used to run all the time. (CA) New designation == Tabbroute.|
|3||1||M11||Run||Hart||45||They've brought a safety down for eight in the box again. Thompson gets juuust enough of the LB filling the hole between Kraus and Lentz and the safety coming up takes a Shazor angle, misses a weak arm tackle and it's races time. This is a hole, by the way, that Grady/Martin just don't fit through. Hart has to leap through the tiny crack in the line.|
|1||10||O44||Pass||Manningham||18||Long handoff. MSU corner couldn't have played this worse. (CA)|
|1||10||O26||Run||Hart||1||Hart is forced to cut back here as MSU's DE gets penetration. Eight in the box.|
|2||9||O25||Pass||Ecker||9||Ecker sits in the hole in the zone and Henne finds him quickly. (CA)|
|1||10||O16||Pass||Avant||Inc||Sailed well over Avant's head. He was open. Bad Henne! (IN)|
|2||10||O16||Pass||Avant||5||Good diagnosis of the blitz and Henne finds his hot read, but the throw pulls Avant out of bounds else he can get another 3-4 (CA)|
|3||5||O11||Run||Bass||9||QB Draw. How does this work? In any case, a great seal block by Hart gets the first down. GREAT.|
|1||G||O2||Pass||Avant||2||Perfect fade for the touchdown. (DO)|
|Drive Notes: 7-0, 9 min 1st. Upon viewing you get a glimpse of how good Hart is. The 45 yard run is probably 2 with someone who isn't him and the critical third down conversion was due to Hart darting up and sealing the hell out of the MSU linebacker who would have filled the hole otherwise. Henne's sharp on this drive too, save for the one overthrown ball that's shades of UW.|
|1||10||M48||Run||Hart||9||Sweep gets the corner here as Michigan overloads one side of the line and they outnumber at the point of attack.|
|2||1||O43||Pass||Manningham||43||Sweet Jesus, Manningham has to slow up because the throw is a little behind him and he's still open by like three yards. Danielson points out the free safety bite. Quit doin' my job! (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 14-0, 7 min 1st. Yes, if you're wondering, I am detecting a certain buoyancy not found in previous editions of UFR. The touchdown here is a thing of beauty, with the safeties biting hard on the play action (how do you bite on second and one play action?) and Manningham rolling his hips a little bit like he's running a flag then cutting to the post instantaneously and breaking Jaren Hayes. You got served, Hayes!|
|1||10||M30||Pass||Manningham||3||Long handoff played better by Watson this time. Dangerous of him to be so aggressive, though... if Manningham breaks the tackle to the outside he runs a long way. (CA)|
|2||7||M33||Run||Hart||2||Toss sweep. Either the pulling guard Lentz is late or there's an extra guy in the box.|
|3||5||M35||Pass||Massaquoi||Inc||Maybe he gets the first down if he catches this, but he's got that cast on his hand. I seriously question playing a guy who can't catch. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 14-0 M, early 1st Q. Two good plays by the MSU D and then a drop by the cast-wearing Mass.|
|1||10||M13||Pass||Avant||25||Avant's as wide open as can be. Ball is a little overthrown and Avant makes a nice catch. (CA)|
|1||10||M36||Pass||Hart||Inc||Screen that MSU reads well and Henne's forced to throw it over a defensive lineman. Better that was incomplete; would have been a loss if caught. (TA)|
|2||10||M36||Pass||Ecker||29||A seam route between two defenders that is timed and thrown perfectly. Could not have been done better; an NFL throw. (DO)|
|1||10||O35||Run||Hart||1||Massey the Younger is in at TE and gets killed by the DE. The play's blown up and Hart does well to not lose 3.|
|2||9||O34||Pass||Avant||14||Nice throw but the coverage here is EMU level. The CB had bailed out almost before the play began. (DO)|
|1||10||O20||Run||Hart||0||Like two guys are totally unblocked. Again Hart does well not to lose 3 or 4 yards.|
|2||10||O20||Run||Hart||8||Draw. Ecker gets a nice seal block and Hart gets three while being tackled by like three guys.|
|3||2||O12||Run||Hart||1||Again Hart is trying to deal with an unblocked guy right a the point of attack.|
|4||1||O11||Penalty||RTK||5||This call is also a joke, especially called as roughing. A cheap call. Officials == tards.|
|1||G||O5||Pass||Avant||Inc||Avant runs the fade as Henne throws the slant. Who's right? Avant. The DB was clearly taking inside position. (BR)|
|3||G||O5||Pass||Thompson||5||Uh, yeah... you might want to cover that guy. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 21-7, 10 min 2nd Q. Danielson's been harping on Michigan running too much and I'm with him. Just look at this drive. Throwing is stealing candy and they're stacking 8 in the box and the runs go 1 0 8 1 0.< /td>|
|1||10||M20||Run||Grady||0||Both guards fail to block their men and there's nothing for Grady.|
|2||10||M20||Pass||Massaquoi||7||Stop route in the zone. The Carl Tabb route. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 21-7 4 min 2nd Q. It's like a little piece of me dies whenever Avant drops a pass. I think I need therapy.|
|1||10||M28||Pass||Tabb||8||Carl Tabb runs the Tabbroute. There's much better coverage this time but Henne slides it in there. (DO)|
|2||2||M36||Run||Hart||4||I believe this is a zone-stretch type play that we'll see to great effect in the fourth quarter. Michigan makes a note of this.|
|1||10||M40||Pass||Avant||18||So easy, says Danielson, and I agree. Out route again taking advantage of the MSU Cornerback Terrors. Avant makes some yards afterwards (CA)|
|1||10||O42||Pass||Hart||6||Hart runs a little flat route that Watson reads well and comes off the single WR on that side to make a good tackle, else Hart had a ton of room. (CA)|
|2||4||O36||Pass||Massaquoi||5||Almost dropped again. I know he's a fifth year senior, but come on--he can't catch with that cast. (CA)|
|1||10||O31||Pass||Avant||7||Long handoff. (CA)|
|2||3||O24||Run||Hart||-4||Herron makes a really nice play, slicing up into the backfield, but the big issue here is Ecker getting shoved back at the LOS, opening up the slicing-avenue.|
|3||7||O28||Pass||Avant||6||CA. Same Tabbroute but just a tiny bit short.|
|4||1||O22||Run||Hart||10||Little man keeps running, making eight of these yards after he should have been tackled.|
|1||10||O12||Run||Hart||4||I don't like this playcall very much, because if you're going to run it here you have to have a second play called in the huddle so you don't waste a down here. The clock spike was planned by the offensive staff and is throwing away a down; it's a horrible call.|
|3||6||O8||Pass||Tabb||4||Why even throw this? It's short of the sticks and if Tabb doesn't manage to squeak out of bounds they probably don't even get a FG attempt. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 24-21, Halftime. The clock management on this drive is very bad.|
|1||10||M20||Pass||No one||Sack, -4||I don't understand why Henne pulls this down, since he had his guy on a stop route. (BR)|
|2||14||M16||Run||Hart||2||Again the interior of the offensive line simply fails to properly block the defensive tackles.|
|3||12||M18||Pass||Dunno||Int||A terrible read against fairly vanilla zone coverage. (BR)|
|Drive Notes: 24-21, 13 min 3rd Q. No excuse for the interception.|
|1||10||M20||Run||Hart||6||Finally an effective run between the tackles.Good block by Kraus.|
|2||4||M26||Run||Hart||1||Nowhere to run again.|
|3||3||M27||Pass||Manningham||2||A flanker screen that Manningham screws up. If he just runs it straight upfield, he gets the first down. (CA)|
|Drive Notes:24-24, 9 min 3rd Q. Again you've got the offense operating on the edge of annihilation here early in the second half; again these appear to be execution issues.|
|1||10||O46||Pass||Avant||5||Long handoff. (CA)|
|2||5||O41||Pass||Avant||Inc||A deep ball to Avant, wonder of wonders. Very nicely placed by Henne, who puts it where Avant, who's running step for step with the DB, has a chance but the DB does not. (CA)|
|3||5||O41||Pass||Hart||0||Unfortunately, McKinney stunts right into the screen. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 24-24, late 3rd Q. MSU called rock to our scissors on the screen.|
|1||10||M20||Run||Hart||64||Strange aligment here for MSU. They have a huge gap between the DE and DT on the right side of the formation. This is a draw action and Thompson finds that gaping hole to seal the linebacker as the overloaded side of the line blocks off the Spartan defenders--there was no reaction to the TE going in motion here. This play was going for 20 before the ball was even snapped. I mean, seriously, there's no one within two yards of Riley.|
|1||10||O16||Run||Grady||5||(Note to this point that Hart has 109 yards on the two long runs and 49(!!!) on all his others.) Grady makes 3-4 after contact here.|
|2||5||O11||Run||Hart||7||More draw action right at the gaping hole between the DT and the DE. Hart gets three with like three guys on him.|
|1||G||O2||Pass||Penalty||1||Pass interference on Ecker in the back of the endzone. Incomplete only because Ecker bobbles it (and shouldn't have this been reviewed) but he has an excuse. (CA)|
|1||G||O1||Run||Hart||1||How the damn hell does he get this in there? Does he levitate into the endzone? Neither Paul nor Riley gets anything approximating a block but Hart does it yet again. YOU ROOLZ.|
|Drive Notes: 31-24, 11 min 4 Q. Amazing that we run this into the endzone given the fact that our run blocking is basically nonexistent unless State lines up with ridiculous gaps between their DL.|
|1||10||M46||Run||Hart||2||Could have gone for more but Hart trips up making his cut. There was actually a hole (draw action again).|
|3||1||O44||Run||Hart||3||They go on a quick count for this play and it catches the Spartans off guard.|
|1||10||O41||Pass||Hart||Inc||Henne throws this in the dirt as the screen is diagnosed and well covered. (TA)|
|2||10||O41||Pass||Tabb||5||Again a litte route against the zone. Tabb sits down. (CA)|
|3||5||O36||Pass||Avant||11||Long handoff to Avant. How do you allow this on third and five? It is the mystery. (CA)|
|1||10||O25||Run||Hart||0||Riley gets shoved three yards into the backfield and Hart runs up his back.|
|2||10||O25||Pass||No one||Inc||Henne can't find anyone and Henne tosses it off into the sideline. (TA)|
|3||10||O25||Pass||Hart||Inc||Unless you really think that the worst call since Hitler decided to attack Russia should have stood, in which case get off my blog, Sparty. (BA)|
|Drive Notes: 31-31, 7 min 4th Q. We just can't run the ball. Hart's yards are almost entirely due to one Shazoresque screw up and then a really strange presnap alignment. We can't line up and block anyone.|
|1||10||M40||Run||Hart||4||Draw; Thompson falls and only gets a small piece of his man, preventing the play from going further.|
|2||6||M44||Run||Hart||8||The previously mentioned zone stretch cutback. MSU aggresively overpursuees and the backside is wide open. Hart IDs and cuts.|
|1||10||O48||Run||Hart||7||Draw; Hart picks his hole outside and cuts up smartly to get all he can.|
|2||3||O41||Run||Hart||2||Ecker cannot block the DE, who holds the corner and makes the play on a sweep.|
|3||1||O39||Run||Grady||1||Grady is like an inch short.|
|1||10||O36||Run||Hart||5||Lentz gets a weak block and his man makes the tackle. At this point there are holes opening up but Michigan can't get that last block.|
|2||5||O31||Run||Hart||4||McKinney grabs Hart's shirt and manages to drag him down. Well blocked.|
|3||1||O27||Run||Hart||0||Again an unblocked guy at the point of attack, and he's joined by another player.|
|4||1||O27||Run||Hart||9||They do actually get the POA knocked back this time. Looks like the unsuccessful 4th and goal versus Wisconsin except the pulling guard gets to the hole.|
|1||10||O18||Run||Hart||2||All jammed up and Hart does not immediately identify the correct hole to pick. Again he runs into the back of Riley.|
|3||7||O15||Run||Hart||5||Burrows his way upfield.|
|Drive Notes: Missed FG, 31-31, 1 min 4th Q. The line finally starts getting it together on this drive, though there are points where execution is still lacking. Coming to the conclusion that Ecker is just not much of a blocker (hell of a receiver, though). Riley has gotten pushed back several times but he is playing out of position with injured thumbs.|
|1||10||O25||Pass||Avant||6||Long handoff. (CA)|
|Drive Notes: 34-31, EOG. Taste the sting of defeat! Lord knows I'm used to it.|
THE OFFENSE IS BACK BABY!
Unfortunately, I have to break this out: not so fast, my friend. Nearly 500 yards and 34 (should have been 40) points is something to get excited about, certainly, but there are a lot of parallels between this game and the Eastern game, save for the fact that the opposing offense was sweet instead of nonexistent. Henne's accuracy radically improved but we ran that long handoff play a lot. It was something that we relied on to keep our drives chugging down the field and it's something that the OSUs and PSUs of the world will take away.
More concerning is the run blocking, which was awful. Yes, awful. It was possibly the worst run blocking coupled with a 200 yard day from the accused team's running back in the history of NCAA football. Hart's first 45 yard scamper saw him literally hop through a nearly nonexistent hole and was aided by SirDarean Adams (I think) pulling a Shazor on his attack angle and badly missing. The 64 yard run was a really strange draw that MSU was completely incapable of defending from the start. There was no one within two yards of the RT when the play started and all Riley had to do to leave the massive hole open was casually step to his right and wall off the Spartan DE. While Michigan did well to take advantage of the situation, rest assured that said situation will not repeat itself against Ohio State. If we are being wholly honest with ourselves (and we are), Michigan State gave us those 109 yards almost in full.
All right, yes, you're looking for good news: Hart really is that damn good, a complete back who gives like 300% effort on every play and has the incredible ability to make three yards he shouldn't on almost rush. I had forgotten what an amazing player he is in his absence. If we can get halfway competent blocking, look out.
The second piece of good news is the Hennechart:
|Team||Dead on||Catchable||Inaccurate||Bad Read||Throwaways||Batted|
I meant to bring the "DO" numbers down but not that much--I'll have to work on it. Obviously the big 25 and the leetle 1 jump out at you. That is at least partially due to the incompetence of the Spartan DBs, since a lot of those CAs are little stop routes against the zone or long handoffs, but when you try to pass 37 times and get four execution errors from your quarterback, you are in the business, as they say.
Michigan only went deep twice and neither throw was perfect, but one was a 45 yard touchdown and the other was placed so that Avant had a chance but no one else did. The 15 yard outs and little zone stops were all thrown accurately. There were a couple instances of miscommunication on option routes, but, man... 36 throws. One inaccurate. That's night and day.
So what does it mean in the larger scheme of things?
I don't think we're going to be able to run against teams that can deal with our OL effectively and have the linebackers to back it up. This appears to be PSU and OSU. Hart doesn't have the pure speed to beat guys like Connor or Hawk and the UM running game is sadly dependent on him making guys miss. Tom, you were right: the offensive line was way overrated in the offseason. Mea culpa. (Though I wonder if we'd be saying the same thing with Jake Long at RT. We'll never know.)
However, the pieces for an effective passing game complemented by a finesse running game are certainly in place. When Manningham figures out what the hell he's supposed to be doing on a regular basis he is going to be #1 in spirit if not in jersey; he's spec-QEDMFer-tacular, like a Steve Breaston born to be a wide receiver. The route he ran on his touchdown was thing of subtle beauty, all Scarlett Johansson curves from him and all my grandmother's busted hip from Jaren Hayes. Avant's shown that he is mortal when it comes to dropping the occasional ball but he's also shown that he's not merely a possession option with a number of nice episodes of YAC and an awful lot of being open (being hit has oftentimes been another matter). He is very, very good. The Chad Henne panic should also be subsiding somewhat.
In my opinion, they k ey to this offense is going to be establishing Manningham as a guy you have to bracket with a safety. The combination of Hart, Michigan's run blocking issues, and their draw-adeptness means that the running game will suffer extensively with eight in the box but will be somewhere between adequate and great if the opposing safeties have to play off. Note that Hart's huge game against Purdue last year was against a very good run defense coupled with an awful pass D that could not afford to put their corners in one-on-one coverage with Edwards, et al.
So you're telling me...
We can conclusively say at this point that the preseason expectations for the offense (propagated by me, yes, but not just me) were excessively optimistic. We have a good pass-blocking line but not a great one. Our run blocking is good only in a finesse sense, which is to say that it is not good. Breaston has been invisible but largely replaced by Manningham. Henne's accuracy has been erratic, though it's trending to the good.
So what does this mean for the Gophers?
Probably not much, despite the fact that I've been relentlessly negative considering we just racked up 500 yards. The Gopher D is about as bad as the MSU D, especially without Brandon Owens and his backup. They're going to have a tough time stopping Michigan's offense--I mean, they gave up 44 points to a team that completed about a third of its passes. They'll have a tough time stopping anyone.
Watch out for Penn State, though. They have the cornerbacks and (evidently given 48 for Maroney) the run defense to put a serious damper on our offensive forays and, even though I still hold to my belief that Michael Robinson is a better ninja space admiral than quarterback, the game is going to be a tight, ugly one.
You know you've arrived when you get profiled in Slate. Thus the inescapable conclusion is that Bill Simmons has done arrived. Like many Slate articles, this particular column explains something new that you always thought you thought:
Simmons' columns are highly partisan and, in the best sense of the word, unprofessional. They scrape up against the ethic of newspaper sports columnists, who love nothing more than talking about their professionalism. ... Despite the unruly passions all around him, the columnist maintains heroic objectivity. If he roots for anything, he says, it is for hard-luck cases, big comebacksâ€”in other words, "a good story."
Sports fans tend to view this neutrality as highly bogus and slightly implausible. As Simmons writes in an e-mail, "That reality created a void where fans couldn't really identify with many of the visible columnists writing about sportsâ€”we had nothing in common with them." ... Simmons' writing is distinguished not by its Olympian distance from sports but by its almost tender intimacy.
Anyone doubting the voracity of this particular piece need only stop by a couple threads on SportsJournalists.com for confirmation that borders on self-parody. Check "Fanboys in the press box, or who's a real Sports Journalist?" for a heaping helping of objectivity crowing:
As for covering my alma mater, I cover State U. basketball after graduating from there a lot of years ago. It has never been a problem - I wasn't a fanboy when I covered them for the school paper back then, so I'm not now. Have I enjoyed a couple of their big successes in recent years? Sure, but you would never know that from watching me react or reading my copy.
Mainly, I've lost my ability to cheer, unless it is a sport I don't cover. Soccer, yes. Anything else? I'm just an observer, even when I'm watching on TV.
and then you've got your spiteful desire to bite the hand that feeds:
Those people to whom you explain that you don't get to root for anybody, that your job isn't to support the home team ... what's their response? Do they just stare at you blankly, not getting it? Are they that far away from us? Or do they learn?
I find it strange that these guys are surprised when they learn that the rest of society thinks it's strange that they work 80 hours a week for peanuts to cover games that they don't care about, and that the real reason they're in it is to "get the story"--generally about some parapalegic Green Beret punt returner who huggles kittens (NTTAWWT)--when the real story has just unfolded on the field for all to see. The idea that the story of sports comes from canned, generic post- or pre-game quotes or treacly human interest profiles that only the mainstream journalism torchbearers can offer to the public is delusional. Simmons success defies that delusion and drives the ink-stained freakin' nuts.
The reason Simmons is so popular is that he writes the real story about what happened on the field, the one that has nothing to do with the phony quotes that Rasheed Wallace encapsulated perfectly when he answered every question with "Both teams played hard," the one that has everything to do with--here's Rasheed again--"The GAME! THE GAME!"And hell yes he annoys the crap out of me sometimes, but you could take all the World Series columns produced by your ivory tower objective types and have Anubis weigh them for genuine, compelling emotion against one feathery Simmons piece and the latter would win.
My life is filled with cynicism. It's a part of whom I am. It's also tiring, hollow, and ultimately a great way to fritter away a lifetime being angry at useless things. I've had my fill of it; I don't need it from sports. So you can take your jaded neutrality and stuff it. I'm with Bill.
(Wow. That was not supposed to be that, er, long and, well... that. Carry on.)
Duuude. Iowa got OMG punk'd. The following is a picture of the Kinnick turf:
Yes, in fact, it is too goddamn long. Check the Michigan Blogs section of the sidebar for some new additions and see if any pique your interest. Special commendation to Ron Bellamy's Underachieving All Stars for getting one despite having an irritatingly long name that spills over onto a second line and disrupts the delicate feng shui I've established. But, yeah...
It's hard to watch either of Mike Hart's 40+ yard runs without picturing an 8 year old running from the cops after stealing something
... what am I supposed to do? Thumbs up, keep it keepin' on and such.
Safeties... good? Toledo Blade story on Willis Barringer.
(note the apparent W: UFR O, Th: UFR D, F: Preview schedule has been re-arranged due to technical difficulties (forgetting to record the State game). Arrangements have been made and UFR will show up on Friday. Now: preview, though I feel naked trying to do this without having watched the tape. This is how Matt Hayes feels every day, I guess.)
Run Offense vs. Minnesota
Mike Hart! Yowza!
Or maybe not so really? Not that Hart isn't the sweetness, but Michigan's persistent inability to create holes on first down or pound out third and short is disconcerting. Hart had two long runs and singlehandedly ground out an impressive regulation-closing drive but was otherwise responsible for a lot of second and eight. Michigan State's tendency to pile players in the box and aggressively fill holes limited the average Hart run of the day but also allowed him to break a career-long 45 yard run and a new career-long 64 yard run when the Spartans let him through the first line of defense.
Those two long runs appear to be the difference between Hart and his backups--the little man has the vision and cutting to burn a defense dead set on aggressively shutting off the planned avenue of attack--and that combined with the re-emergence of a competent (and maybe even good!) Chad Henne makes the offense hum to the tune of nearly 500 yards.
The hum should continue. Good Henne and the return of the man with a plan (canal, Panama) should mean that the offense continues the trend of not sucking it started against the Spartans. The opponent on Saturday has yielded over six yards a carry to its two Big Ten opponents (newly spread-option happy Purdue and Penn State), neither of whom feature a back as good as Hart. As a result Minnesota is 85th in the country against the run despite playing Tulsa, Colorado State, and Florida Atlantic. They are ripe for the picking.
However, it's time to deal with the harsh truth: our offensive line can't run block consistently. Hart will make a lot of yards on his own, but too often he'll be turning zero into three instead of three into eight. Expect the running game to disappoint relative to Minnesota's previous impression of roadkill.
Key Matchup: Mike Hart versus The Hamstring of Woe. Yes, he is just that damn good, as they say, and if he remains healthy he should have another good day that would be better if he only had some blocking.
Pass Offense vs. Minnesota
Chad Henne stopped channeling the spirit of Hellen Keller for a game, though the Spartan defensive backs undoubtedly had something to do with the light that suddenly flooded the young man's eyes. The good news is that Minnesota, fresh off giving up 44 points to a Penn State team that regards such a number as a decent season total, takes a decidedly Spartan approach to pass defense: it prefers not to have one. Though their numbers to date are quite good (27th efficiency), they haven't played a team that has a quarterback half as good as the version of Henne we saw against MSU.
I have discovered the secret to not sucking at football!
Whether or not Henne's improved performance was due to the magical powers of Mike Hart redirecting his throws, a mechanical adjustment to his throwing motion, or having Terry Malone on the sideline saying things like "throw it at the guy! The guy with the open and the running and the hands, ng-hey," 25 for 36, 258 yards, and three touchdowns is pretty good. Yes, the coverage was virtually nonexistent all day long, but that was also the case against Wisconsin and Henne did not take advantage. Michigan State was a step forward.
Henne should take another against a Gopher secondary that was looking creaky to start the year and is now absent both starting strong safetyBrandon Owens--plowed by Michael Robinson against Penn State--and his backup. A true freshman will likely replace Owens. That sound you hear is likely the licking of chops. Michigan will continue to run the "long handoff" play where Henne steps back and immediately fires a ball out to whichever receiver happens to have a ten-yard cushion on a particular play, since I doubt any of the Gopher defensive backs are relishing the prospect of pressing Mario Manningham, but given the struggles the run game has undergone Henne's continued accuracy on the underneath routes Michigan will be running with frequency on third and five is critical. The opportunity for another 60-70% completion day will be there. Execution must occur.
Key Matchup: Chad Henne versus His Evil Twin II: Return To Splash Mountain. Michigan has played five games so far and in each game they have had receivers open time and again. Minnesota does not have the defensive backfield or pass rush ability to prevent this from happening again. Henne's accuracy returned to him against Michigan State. It has to settle in and get comfortable against Minnesota.
Run Defense Vs Minnesota
This section was going to be filled with accolades and a deep respect for the monstrous Gopher ground machine, but before that little encomium can proceed someone is going to have to explain 16 carries for 48 yards for one Erstwhile Heisman Candidate Laurence Maroney. Is it possible that the Big Ten has begun to figure out the Gopher ground attack? Maroney ran wild in the first half against the Boilers but was held largely in check in the second half save for a couple runs. He went nowhere against Penn State. Last year outside of a Mundy/Shazor "here's an 80 yard touchdown" gift the Gophers racked up just over 100 yards on 38 carries. The end could be near.
The Gophers run a scheme very similar to that of the Denver Broncos and their plug-whoever-in-and-go approach with light, athletic linemen who are suited to pulling across the formation and plugging linebackers in space. Greg Eslinger, Minnesota's perennial All-American center, is the rare man at his position who can pull effectively and lead the way for his tailback on sweeps. His ability to lead the play often means that defenders are outnumbered at the point of attack and Maroney is free to run. Speed, agility, and disengaging from your blocks are at a premium against the Gophers instead of brute force. The contributions of the defensive tackles are minimized and a premium is put on the ability of defensive ends to penetrate into the backfield and slow the play enough for the linebackers to converge.
Fortunately, Michigan has two defensive ends who plain kick it at this sort of thing in Lamarr Woodley and 330-pound Alan Branch. Woodley's been effective all year in run support and Branch is going to be a star by the end of the year. Both are complete players capable of holding up at the point of attack and potentially pushing it back on a semi-regular basis. If they can win the battle with the very good Gopher OTs, Maroney will have his moments--I wouldn't expect 48 yards--but won't be able to grind out five and eight yards on a consistent enough basis to really light up the Wolverine defense. Michigan returns the core of the defensive line that largely shut the Gophers down last year plus a much-improved Alan Branch. Michigan should be able to keep Maroney contained, which should be enough to win.
Key Matchup: DEs Lamarr Woodley and Alan Branch versus Gopher OTs Joe Ainsile and Tony Brinkhaus. The key to stopping the Gopher run attack is getting penetration on the edges. Woodley and Branch have to stay upright and dangerous.
Pass Defense vs. Minnesota<
Brian Cupito is much the same quarterback he was last year when he was sporadically effective, excellent throwing deep, and tended to toss 2-3 balls a game into sextuple zone coverage. Michigan's secondary has been a pleasant surprise but is certainly not all world. Minnesota's passing game is so intertwined with play action that you may as well just repeat the previous section here. If Maroney is running effectively and the safeties have to creep up into the box, Cupito will have the opportunity to hit his fast and large wide receivers deep. If Maroney is running effectively and the linebackers are forced to bite heavily on play action, tight end Matt Spaeth will be all alone on a sea of green with regularity. If Michigan knows when Minnesota is going to pass they're dead meat. The Gopher passing game is only effective in the context of its running game.
So, expect Cupito to complete a share of 20-yard daggers to unbelievably wide open guys downfield because of the respect that Maroney commands. When Michigan guesses right, though, Cupito will be hard pressed to figure out where he's going with the ball before Woodley and company are upon him.
Key Matchup: QB Brian Cupito versus DC Jim Herrmann. Herrmann's going to have to guess right on play action and use various zones to confuse the confusable Cupito. He'll throw a couple into coverage if Herrmann is doing his job.
Neither team has shown any tendency towards breaking long returns on a regular basis. One item of note is that Rhys Lloyd replacement Jason Gianni seems competent, having hit 7 of 9 field goals in his nascent career.
Key Matchup: Michigan Punt Coverage versus Please Don't Screw This Up.
The kitten god Gorgoroth is powerful but, like full frontal nudity in children's television, is best used sparingly so that when he is invoked he/she/it will not complain of a headache and fail to viciously smite the fetid opponents of our
warrior-poets players. He/she/it will not be invoked this week, lest his/her/its power wane.
- We get outnumbered outside and Maroney starts off like he did against Purdue.
- Henne's inaccuracy returns.
- Our offensive line can't push around a Minnesota defense that yielded six kajillion rushing yards to Penn State's unhurculean offense.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Hart exists.
- Minnesota ends up in a lot of third and six-plus early on.
- The Gopher cornerbacks appear as petrified of our receivers as the Spartans were.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for Maroney Is Good, -2 for 6 YPC Yielded(!), +1 for Despite The Independence of These Trials They're Still Due, -1 for Henne's Back, +1 for But Is He?, -1 for Well I Can Tell You That Mike Hart Is Goddamn Back, That's For Sure.)
Desperate need to win level: 8 out of 10. (Baseline 5; +1 for We're Back In This Now, +2 for No Margin Of Error, +1 for The Jug, -1 for Dreams Already Dashed)
Loss will cause me to... shudder at the prospect of playing spoiler to Penn State; start scouting the sixth place Big Twelve and Pac10 teams for a potential WackySponsor.com Bowl match up in beautiful Chernobyl, Russia.
Win will cause me to... open up a table at the nearest gun & knife show to get rid of all this weaponry I probably won't be needing.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict: What to do? I pick a Michigan win, they lose. I pick a Michigan loss, they win. This is what I think: this is Woodley, Watson, and Branch's game. Minnesota will attack the outside consistently but Maroney, despite being awesome, isn't the kind of back who can suck our guys inside and break contain like Walker or Calhoun. If we jam up the intended lanes of attack he will go relatively meekly aside from three or four plays when he scares you to death. Cupito will make a number of good throws but also screw up consistently enough so that Michigan doesn't have to worry extensively about him. Minnesota's offense will score from 14 to 24 points.
Offensively Michigan should have their way with the Gophers much like they did last year when they racked up 518 yards but they have to avoid the killer mistakes that end long drives with no points which plagued them in the 2004 game and cost them the Notre Dame and Wisconsin games this year. Michigan should clear 30.
However, I am officially predicting that somehow Minnesota scores an extra 3,000 points, probably via lasers, and wins this in crushing fashion.
Finally, three opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Henne is back for real.
- Maroney gets 123 yards.
- 3,017-30, Minnesota.
This one's abbreviated as I haven't found much to link of late.
The second is more dangerous -- the diehard pessimists. The pessimists weasel in close to the players, talk on the call-in shows and post their blogs wherever possible. They harp on the facts as they see them. And they only see bad, as they moan, "You know, this coach should not be here. We don't like him at all. We have not beaten a real football team, and we never will. All these folks that get excited have not been around here very long. We always lose."
I for one, am outraged. You cannot post a "blog." You can post ON a blog, but an individual entry in a blog is not a blog. It is an article or a post. This is akin to calling a slice of bread "a bread" or an article in a magazine "a magazine." It's a sin against the langauge. Curry's not alone in this unfortunate usage--it must be stopped.
What, I was supposed to be outraged about something else?
Coverage map: here.
A kindred spirit! Wonkdown.
Look! I can be nice to media! John Walters has an interesting piece on holding this week in which he proposes the extremely wacky idea of outfitting offensive linemen with gloves that prevent them from grabbing opponents and then gets this response:
"The gloves idea is thrown out there every year," Gaston says. "It just never gets passed."
Sweet fancy Moses! Seriously? One problem that leaps out at me is that there are certain situations (fumbles, mostly) where an offensive lineman has just as much of a right to the ball as anyone else on the field and in said situations the gloves or whatever would be detrimental. A corner case, granted, but one to consider.
There is also some discussion of the MSU game I'll offer my own comments on:
5. Can anyone explain to me why former Michigan QB Tom Brady's fumble against the Oakland Raiders back in 2002 was not a fumble and yet current Michigan QB Chad Henne's fumble against Michigan State on Saturday was? I don't want to hear about the tuck rule, I want to hear common sense. Clearly Brady was less in the act of throwing the ball than Henne was. If we're on the playground, the calls are reversed.
Well, in answer to your query, "no." But the NFL and college games have different rulesets so your rationale here is something of a strawman.
7. Great, great, great information from ABC's Brent Musberger during the Michigan-Michigan State game on Saturday. ... Musberger (and it was likely a researcher or an associate producer who scored this info for him) noted that a Spartan assistant coached with the Wolverines last season, so Lloyd Carr was concerned that Michigan State would steal Michigan's offensive play calls from the sideline. For that reason Michigan had three backup quarterbacks stand side-by-side, each one flashing a play call in to Henne. Two of the calls were decoys. Cut to photo of three Wolverines in baseball caps gesticulating toward Henne. That, and not another Big and Rich music video, is what a true college football fan craves.
Er... point taken on your last sentence and I agree with the spirit of your comment, but it's laden with irony since it's Michigan defensive line coach Steve Stripling who's the turncoat in this rivalry and unless Sargeant Slaughter was replaced by a robot spy Michigan had no reason to worry about signal stealing. Deeper analysis (like Lynn Swann pointing out that Manningham's post route was preceded by Michigan WR coach Erik Campbell screaming at him to decrease his split) is sadly lacking in televised coverage and excites me to no end when I hear it, but thees ees not the example to cite.
OVERTIME: You cannot please everyone, of course, but one way to make sure that you do not, ABC, is to switch away from a fantastic Michigan-Michigan State game after the first overtime because you are obligated to show fans (in my particular case, for example) Minnesota at Penn State in its entirety.
I have a bitch about the other end of the Minnesota/PSU game, which was in the late stages of a 30-point blowout when I got back from the MSU. Across the country, #1 Southern Cal was trailing Arizona State. I, sitting in Michigan, continued to get the mind-numbing garbage time of the Gopher game while something that did not suck was happening elsewhere. Why do you torture me so, ABC?
Also on SI.com: Dr. Z. I have absolutely no way to link this to anything but it's an interesting column on blitzing in the wake of the Michigan State game in which (I believe) we did it very infrequently, tried to contain the Spartan offense as much as we could, and won despite giving up 455 yards. People would be screaming from the rooftops about it had we lost. FTR, I think it was probably the right decision but would have liked to see more blitzes off the slot guy designed to prevent Stanton from rolling out constantly.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
The big story this week is 'Bama's vault into the top ten after doing something radioactive to Florida on Saturday. 'Bama's ascendancy proves that the key to winning college football games is having your bigshot mainstream media alums be nice to bloggers--note that Skip Bayless and his beloved Sooners are both struggling to explain... well, anything. (And blogging phoenix SMQB... Oklahoma? Really?)
We have some consensus at the top, where the three lowest-deviation teams all reside (this is unsurprising due to math), but it's cats in a bag once you get past Team Albuquerque at #3.
Welcome back to Michigan (left the poll last week), Auburn (left after week 1), and Penn State (left sometime after the Nixon Administration). This year's trend appears to be Big Ten whack-a-mole wherein whoever pops their head up and looks like a decent team immediately gets throttled shamefully, so watch out Wisconsin and Penn State.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
The deviation makes a lot of sense this week: tops is played no-one-really (unless you count Kansas--iffy) Texas Tech, followed by are-they-for-real Penn State and what-do-I-do-with-these-guys Arizona State.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is boifromtroy, who has ND at #5 (plausible, but I think what we're finding out is that ND's schedule features a sampler plate of the most overrated teams in the country: Michigan, Pitt, Purdue), Cal at #7, Florida State and Miami down a ways at #15 and #16, and Rutgers at #24... Rutgers? That's not exactly Idaho... but if BFT wants to convince me that he'd bet on the Scarlet Knights versus #25 Penn State I'm listening. One thing: 3-2 Michigan at #18 and 5-0, Michigan-beating Wisconsin at #19 seems specifically designed to send Bruce Ciskie into a cheese-destroying rage.
Mr. Numb Existence is Bruins Nation, even though they're one of five voters with Texas #1. The metric doesn't weight top slots heaviest--should it? Input desired.
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
The CK Award goes to Georgia Tech bloggers Golden Tornado, but I think this more on us than on him. Tech gets nuked by Virginia Tech and the Special Teams Spectacular, has an off week, we all neglect to consider that the Jackets beat Auburn pretty handily earlier in the year, and just shove the Tigers up because we forgot all about week one. As a result, GT's GT ranking of #18 nets it the top spot in this category because the rest of us screwed up.
The Straight Bangin' Award goes to... er, yeah. Straight Bangin', who left Michigan out of his poll after the MSU victory. It's not unreasonable to have a 3-2 team with two MAC wins out of the poll and I had 'em at #24 (and finished #5 in the increasingly tight confines of these categories) so I won't bash him too hard.
Swing is essentially the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Mr. Manic-Depressive is Bruins Nation again, largely because they weren't 'Bama believers and had to run them way up the line from #20, liked Penn State enough to debut them at #16, and punished MSU heavi
ly for their loss.
Mr. Stubborn is... still broken. Apologies. Blogpoll related work is going into a project that needs to be up and running by November (3... 2... 1... duh!).
Wait! Before you go, there are nefarious plans in the works. The blogpoll is a community, and what's a community unless you can't hand out provincial awards to each other? The night of the Rose Bowl will also be the night another Mythical National Championship gets handed out, but this one will go to one of our foot-blog brethren. Awards will be handed out. However, other than a few obvious categories (Best Blog, Best Contribution To The Lingo, Best Recurring Feature, Best Writer, etc...) there's a big empty spot. Please leave suggestions for various accomplishments we can celebrate at the end of a productive year in our little Interniche.