- Tate suffered a minor concussion on his last play against Iowa. It was not the reason he sat out the last two drives, however. That was a coaching decision. He is still expected to start against Delaware State, but that's up to the team's medical staff. Both Tate and Denard are still pretty small guys, so the coaching staff is trying to limit the contact that they have to take. People need to remember that they are just freshmen, so a mental mistake here and there is inevitable. Most freshmen, especially QBs, have the luxury of redshirting. Part of what makes Tate and Denard so good is their ability to improvise. Like Pat White, Rasheed Marshall, and Shaun King, they need to be able to improvise within the system.
- The outside receivers are doing a good job blocking, but the team needs to do a better job of getting them the ball as well. Inside receivers are also doing well. Martavious Odoms is very physical despite his size, and Kevin Koger is probably on pace to get a record number of receptions for a tight end under Rich Rod.
- The offensive line played solidly, but they didn't have their best game. That's understandable, because Iowa is one of the best defensive fronts they'll see all year. There are some technical and fundamental things that need to be improved still. The trainers will let Molk run a little this week to evaluate his discomfort.
- Moving Woolfolk down to corner enabled Jordan Kovacs to move to strong safety. Rish first thought about the move after the MSU game, though the defensive coaches may have already been giving it some thought.
- Boubacar Cissoko's suspension is to due academics and other things. He's only practicing with the scout team at this point. He knows what he has to do in order to get back on the field.
- There's still no guarantee of a redshirt for freshmen who haven't seen the field yet. There are 6 more weeks to go, and you never know what can happen. The Cissoko suspension will leave the door open for Justin Turner, in particular.
- It's hard to keep the team emotionally prepared for the Delaware state game, especially coming of a the primetime showdown with Iowa. They need to remember that they'll get DSU's best shot. The reason for games like Delaware State is to get the 8th home game. Hopefully in the future, Michigan will be able to get a bit better competition for that game - though they'll probably stay within the 1-AA ranks. Rodriguez would probably rather have a bye week.
- Moosman and the entire offensive line were "great, but not perfect" against Iowa. The snaps have improved, and Moosman feels like he's finally in a groove at the center position. Moosman is a less intense player at center, and that intensity is what makes Molk great.
- Young QBs are going to make mistakes. They just need to remember that they aren't the only ones: "everyone makes mistakes, they're just in the spotlight."
- Halfway through the season, you'd prefer not to have the two losses, but they've come out and played hard in all 6 games. They've already done better than ;ast year, but there's still a lot more work to do. "We're ready to go."
- Zoltan's mom called to make sure he knew he was selected Big 10 special teams player of the week. It's an honor, but he's not too happy about it because he wanted the team to win.
- Zoltan needs to manage his emotions, and not get too high after a good performance (i.e. against Iowa), nor too low after a bad one (against Michigan State). On the fake against Michigan State, Zoltan said he thought he should punt it, but by the time he had made a decision, he was past the point of no return.
- Zoltan doesn't feel good about the team being 4-2, mostly because of the way it happened. Starting 4-0 then dropping a couple games is a damper. everyone would prefer to be 6-0.
- Troy is happy at either corner or safety, whichever will help him get on the field. He's not sure which is his more natural position, but moving from safety to corner is easier, because he needs to only worry about his guy, and not the entire defensive scheme. When Coach Gibson texted him during class that they needed to have a meeting, Troy thought he did something wrong. He was relieved that it was just about a position switch.
- Soup Campbell always gave Troy a hard time when he was coaching at Michigan. He wanted to talk some trash to soup before the game, but couldn't find him. He thought that Iowa would pick on him all game, but was surprised to see they mostly attacked Donovan.
- Cissoko has responded well to his suspension. He's headed on the right track, and he knows what he did. "Boubacar: He's a fighter, he'll be back."
- Minor's health is improving each week. The only thing that's still bothering him is that he's unable to explode out of his cuts. Still, he's getting pretty close to 100%.
- The offense keeps improving from week-to-week. They need to continue fixing the little things to achieve what they want.
- Though he's a skill-position player, Minor savors contact. He likes to deliver the hit rather than receive it.
- Regardless of the situation, Minor talks to the QBs and keeps their heads on straight. Minor has faith in anybody the coaches throw in there. Denard's pick was a common freshman mistake.
- The team needs to be able to play all 60 minutes of a game in order to win. It's tough to think about being just a couple plays from a 6-0 record. They've lost, however, so 10-2 is the new goal.
- Graham has accepted a more vocal leadership position this year. He still sometimes gets nervous about what exactly he's going to say. Gotta go out there and keep leading, keep practicing hard. Leaders can't be down because the team loses. They have to be the ones to keep the guys up.
- RVB and Mike Martin said sorry to Graham: Don't want him to lose another game in his senior year.
- 3rd down defense is kinda bad, but they're trying to get it together. Sometimes, it's just good plays by the opposing offense. "I don't wanna say lucky, but 3rd and 24? Man, luck has gotta be on your side."
10/10/2009 – Michigan 28, Iowa 30 – 4-2, 1-2 Big Ten
This is probably a time to dispense with the fooferah and get right to the heart of the matter. From our vantage point from the endzone of Kinnick Stadium our instant assumption when Denard Robinson came in was that Forcier had gotten hurt on one of two earlier plays. We couldn't see a whole lot, but we saw a lot of Michigan's third quarter—unfortunately because they spent it next to the wrong endzone. Forcier banged his hand on someone's helmet, then later took a wicked shot from some defensive lineman or another moments after launching another incompletion.
When Robinson came out with around six minutes left, we had a debate about the idea, coming down on the side of "not good." Though Robinson was surprisingly effective driving Michigan for a score-tightening touchdown, the run-based nature of the drive stripped more than three minutes off the clock and saw Michigan attempt an onside kick with about 3:20 left and one timeout. This, too, was seen as a sign that Forcier was hurt: surely if you're going to cast your lot with Denard Robinson on a drive to win you need the ability to run the ball quite a bit. Kicking deep with only Robinson available is tantamount to waving the white flag.
So all that fit together and when Robinson came out after Michigan's defense thwarted Iowa on their attempt to strangle the game, it made sense. Forcier was unavailable, and this was the best Michigan could do. And, hell, it was working all right until Robinson eschewed what looked like a wide open Martavious Odoms in favor of Michigan's third or fourth jump ball into safety coverage. This one did not clatter to the turf harmlessly. As we say in UFR, EOG.
So… yeah. The news that Forcier had to be bodily escorted off the field before Michigan's last drive was less than thrilling. I'm sure this will be breaking no new ground after a couple days of checking in on the blog to see just which items raging about the decision needed to be excised, but for the record:
There are a billion comments across the internet calling the decision "indefensible," many of them drawing direct parallels to the last time a Michigan team visited Iowa. John Beilein sat Manny Harris down for overtime, Michigan lost when Iowa hit an array of circus shots and Manny's replacement, David Merritt, continued being a walk-on instead of Manny Harris, and a very large number of people were peeved, livid, or somewhere in between. This space in the aftermath of that decision:
If he thought Michigan had a better chance to win with David Merritt on the floor, he's nuts. More likely he had about reached his limit and sat him in what appears to be a fit of pique. I get that: Harris at the moment is a basketball doppelganger of Braylon Edwards in his afro phase, when he was benched because he and Carr weren't "on the same page" despite his clear superiority to Michigan's other receiving options. Edwards wised up and blew up. Harris? We'll see.
I would have preferred the teachable moment had not come in overtime of a crucial road game, though. You know.
The two incidents are creepily similar, and my opinion about Saturday is about identical to my opinion about the Manny benching: there were a ton of good reasons to make the move that don't come close to outweighing the enormous one that argued against it. If Michigan had gotten that onside kick and Robinson had three minutes to work with, okay. With 1:40 on the clock, no timeouts, and sixty yards to go, no.
So where does that leave us? Michigan's just experienced a two point loss on the road against a top-15 team during which they were –4 in turnover margin. They got outgained again. Forcier was pretty terrible. Robinson displayed both his talent and his limitations. Rodriguez made a poor decision in the heat of the moment, bursting this site's obvious hope that he was Jesus Ferguson. They're 4-2 in the league with three games they should win left, which would leave them at 7-5 if they don't pick off one of Penn State, Wisconsin, or Ohio State. A walk-on has permanently ascended to the starting lineup.
Add that all together and you get… I don't know. A jumbled mess that's clearly not as soul-destroying as last year's merry band of incompetence but not in any respect good. Michigan has been significantly outgained in each of four games against teams outside of the MAC, and mitigating factors like special teams and turnovers can no longer patch those gaps up. After all that at the start of the season, Michigan's settled about where everyone expected they'd be: still digging out from nuclear winter, looking towards the future with hope and the present with tolerance, at best.
The emotions I had coming out of Kinnick were as much of a mess as the team is. Michigan shot itself in a thousand different ways, busting coverages on two tight end touchdowns and a third and twenty-five that was more damaging than any of the five (five!) turnovers they gacked up with little assistance from Iowa. It was really frustrating to walk away feeling that Michigan should have won but for their own errors—errors that at this point are obviously a fundamental part of what the team is—but the memory of last year hovered, suggesting that the mere idea that errors were only a part of the whole this time around represented progress. Clearly, there is a long way yet to go.
- I know I make fun of people in the comments who believe I have some sort of crazy power over the fortunes of Michigan football that I only use for evil, but dammit Greg Mathews, not only did you drop a punt, give Iowa the ball at the Michigan 16, and eventually lead to that short-field Tony Moeaki touchdown, you did it mere hours after I suggested that I should stop typing HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL as the key matchup in the special teams section. It's hard not to feel personally responsible even though that's completely insane.
- Have seen a number of complaints about the timeout with 27 seconds left before halftime. I wanted Rodriguez to call it at the time; after some consideration I think that was probably not a good idea either. Even if Michigan gets a stop on that third and ten they'd have the ball somewhere on their side of the field with 12 seconds on the clock or whatever. In general I like the bent of Rodriguez's decisions; that one was wrong.
- Another TO complaint: Michigan shouldn't have taken one on third and ten from the one and a half. Just take the penalty there and Michigan's got another 40 seconds to work with on their final drive. I understand it's hard to break the natural inclination to take a timeout when the playclock gets way low, though. That's a corner case that doesn't come up much.
- I don't know exactly whose fault the two busted coverages were but if, as rumored, it was Mike Williams I don't know what you do about it. Woolfolk was physically capable at cornerback and Michigan finally went with the press man they've been talking about since Greg Robinson got hired. Williams definitely let an Iowa receiver behind him on third and twenty-fing-five, and if Moeaki was his guy on either of his touchdowns he's directly responsible for all three Iowa touchdowns. Maybe Iowa would have done something with the last drive, but the first Moeaki TD was on third and twelve; a stop there is a FG attempt. A stop on the third and twenty-five is a punt.
- Michigan did break out some new stuff, grinding Brandon Minor into the line from the I on a successful, Bo-pleasing late touchdown drive and debuting a quick pitch to the sideline that never looked like it was going anywhere but also never failed to gain four to six yards. The former is something Michigan could have tried against State; the latter was probably hampered by Forcier's shoulder issues.
- It seemed like after the first interception from Forcier that he refused to throw to receivers who were open. On a couple third downs there were slants available (I think) that Forcier did not take, instead running around as is his wont. I was pretty frustrated by him, and imagine that Rodriguez was ready to strangle the kid.
- Graham shouldn't be rushing the punter on a punt safe, not that it mattered.
Trip Report Section
City. I can tell you about a lovely Econolodge in Davenport, Iowa, but despite driving out Friday and spending about all of Saturday in Iowa City, I can't tell you much about the city itself. My momentary first impression was that this was a foofy college down as I strolled by some organic eatery down one of those cobbled pedestrian streets you see wherever people are trying to create an area for foot traffic. Then we went in a bar that had six things on the menu, asked if you wanted ranch with your waffle fries, and attempted to purvey something called a "walking taco," which the waitress explained was "um, it's like Doritos in a bag with some meat and cheese and onions and taco stuff thrown in." The stalls in the bathroom didn't have doors on them.
So I was a little confused. I was referring to this experience at the Black Heart Gold Pants tailgate, and I was talking about this place we were, and when asked where, exactly, we were I rakishly pulled out my zinger: "the place with no doors on the stalls." The response was "which one? There are lots of those." So… yeah. Iowa City leans towards the no doors on the stalls. I guess. I saw the inside of a bar, a parking lot, and Kinnick. I am not a one-man Yelp here.
Fans. Excellent. There was the usual dose of meathead yellin' at the guys in the wrong colors—sort of, anyway, the difference between maize and blue and black and gold is not drastic—that you get whenever you go anywhere other than South Bend. Other than that everyone was perfectly nice. At no point did I feel like someone was going to hit me, which is more than I can say for the last few trips to Columbus or East Lansing.
I will note that the male student body of Iowa appears to be 80% meathead.
Kinnick experience, in total. Very classy. All brick exterior, looks like I'd like to see Michigan Stadium end up looking like once they figure out what they're going to do in the endzones:
And the interior:
The stadium itself was a bit smaller than I'd expected. Our seats were strange: section "NB," which ended up standing for "North Bleachers" and was not listed on the map or at all familiar to the first two people we tried to talk to about just where the hell we were supposed to sit. An usher had clue, though, and directed us to five rows of makeshift metal bleachers that were literally on the field in the endzone. We stood the whole game, which was fine because from appearances so did the rest of the place.
Despite that, it didn't seem particularly noisy. It got loud on important third downs but I thought it was about on part with Michigan Stadium. FWIW. I am apparently terrible at discerning variable noise levels, given my reaction to this year's addition of luxury boxes.
There's a full gallery by Anthony here.
PIPE IT IN BABY. The Iowa marching band might as well not exist. I don't know if this was a homecoming thing, but they didn't even march pregame—the alumni band did—and had a seriously abbreviated halftime show so that a Hawkeye inductee to the CFHOF could get his due. During the game they hardly played, and when they did play they mostly played marching band versions of songs that had already been piped in over the PA.
This disaster was played incessantly over the PA, and we, not being 14-year-old-girls, didn't know what it was. Friend of Blog joked that it was probably a Jonas Brothers song, and we laughed, and then we thought to ourselves IS that a Jonas Brothers song? It turns out no, but it's by the Black Eyed Peas, which is 95% as emasculating. Hell, this imeem playlist by one Shelby Veppert, who—no foolies—is a 19-year old from Columbus who lists Nickelback(!!!) as one of her favorite bands, has the song sandwiched between two Jonas Brothers songs. If Michigan Stadium ever has anything that can be considered a sort of theme song I'm going to buy out Ann Arbor Torch & Pitchfork, and if it's ever something as terrifyingly fey as that thing, I'll storm the castle myself.
Site note: Michigan's homecoming activities murder Iowa's, chop them up, and put them in a bag. Iowa basically has the alumni band play the fight song and march off the field, then has a tedious announcement of various alumni who helped out and the members of the homecoming court*. And that's it. Michigan has a goofy prohibition-era cheer, awesome flipping 80-year-old alumni cheerleaders, a terrific combined-band halftime show, and that one crazy old drum-major who rips it up every year. I love homecoming at Michigan Stadium, and was excited to get the Iowa version of it. I didn't get it.
*(The homecoming king was a bioengineering (or something along those lines) major named Rohit… Naha… Romin… fromblobololgbogl. The telltale pause from the very Iowan public address announcer after the poorly-pronounced "Rohit" promised three seconds of pure unadulterated awesome, and that promise was delivered upon.)
Woo! This one is going up early because I'm in lovely Davenport and am about to go off the grid. At 7:30 tonight, Tim and others lead you through a magic wonderland of liveblogging. Enjoy or die. If you don't know why your posts aren't appearing, or have other questions, check the Live Blog Chaos Mitigation Post.
I'm headed out to Iowa City soon, so somewhat abbreviated today.
Get a bracelet. Phil Brabbs has just started his chemotherapy, which you can read about on his blog, and he's also offering up these stylish "cancer kicker" bracelets for the impossibly low suggested donation of $2:
You can get them by donating the funds (and possibly, you know, another five bucks or so to defray the costs of freakin' cancer) to [email protected], or you can just click the donation button to the right. It should donate to the right place and either ask for or confirm your shipping address with PayPal. Consume! I will repost this Monday!
Elsewhere, MGoTalk has posted an interview with Brabbs.
Hey, wow, this might be a good idea. Jay Bilas says the NCAA basketball committee is thinking of getting rid of limits on phone calls:
The NCAA is on the way to getting something right through a proposal to allow unlimited phone calls to recruits during contact periods. I have long been a vocal opponent of the phone call restrictions on college coaches in recruiting.
While well-intentioned, the rule prohibits coaches from normal contact with recruits while the rest of the free world gets unfettered access to them. The unintended consequences from the rule swamped its good intentions, by making those outside of the NCAA's reach more powerful and criminalizing normal communication.
As per usual when Jay Bilas is not talking about Tommy Amaker, I agree. They'd have to get rid of the limitations for all sports, right? And then texting limitations seem archaic and silly. Ron Zook is walking around looking like that creepy Enzyte guy and has no idea why. On the other hand, Kelvin Sampson knows exactly why he wants to punch a baby seal.
Yuck. This quote from Trevor Anderson is decidedly Carr-esque:
"They did everything that we practiced this week,” Anderson said. “When they decided to put in (Denard Robinson), we knew they were going to run the ball. They couldn’t throw it with him. As far as Forcier, we knew about his little stutter step, he’s going to jab to the outside and come back in. Everything that they practiced, we did."
Evidence for the mania. The point on Robinson is very duh, but the rest of it suggests Michigan did not pull new stuff out against State. Also—and this is a point Tim made on the podcast—with Forcier limited in practice on Monday and Tuesday, Michigan probably couldn't get confident enough in fancy new stuff that might, say, require option pitches and whatnot, to run it. It's probably hard as hell to install a new package when your freshman quarterback has his arm in a sling. That's probably not great for this weekend since Forcier was apparently limited early this week as well.
Next year, I expect Rodriguez will have a bunch of new stuff for MSU; if he doesn't I'll be disappointed.
Hockey weekend. Yost Built has your ten things for Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Anchorage this weekend. Here's my one thing:
White pants? You know, I did ask Bruce Madej if he could confirm or deny that Michigan would wear white pants this weekend. He said he could not confirm or deny, which seemed like sort of a confirmation. Mark Ortmann hopes it isn't:
Against Iowa, the Wolverines may complement their white away jerseys with white pants, but an Athletic Department spokesman told The Michigan Daily last night he had “no definitive answer.” The uniform change would include everyone, even the 300-pound linemen.
“I can’t imagine,” left tackle Mark Ortmann said with a laugh. “We already have some pretty self-conscious offensive linemen. I don’t know if that will help out."
The strangest thing about all this is that no one will say yes or no about it, as if it's a state secret. The pants! They are white! We all must die!
I'm out. Wish me luck.
|WHAT||Michigan @ #12 Iowa|
|WHERE||Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA|
|WHEN||8:00 EST, October 10th, 2009|
|THE LINE||Iowa -8|
|TELEVISION||Nationwide on ABC|
|WEATHER||Rain early but clear later,
temp starts in 40s but dips to 20s
Run Offense vs. Iowa
This looked pretty awesome on Michigan's part until the State game, when it looked like early last year. What to make of that? One of two things: Michigan's early-season proficiency was built on a lot of erratic big plays that are not necessarily replicable, or Michigan State's got some sort of bead on the Michigan rushing game akin to the one they drew last year, when the Michigan State game was an outlier amongst a five-game sea of excellent rushing offense.
A couple things are clear. David Molk's absence is a big deal, and the scorching early success of the play this site termed the "zone counter dive"—as in a counter dive to the zone play, not a zone blocked counter—is not likely to be replicated now that backside defensive ends are warily sliding down the line looking for it. Michigan didn't have a response for that, nor did they have much of a way of getting the quarterback in a position to exploit that sort of coverage.
Compounding matters are health issues for Michigan's top two backs. Carlos Brown, the #1 so far this year, is likely out with a concussion. Brandon Minor, the thunderous force behind Michigan's second-half renaissance last year, has a total of 35 carries in the first five games, as he's been hampered by an ankle sprain all year. Minor is likely to start; sophomore Mike Shaw will be thrust into a prominent role in a tough situation.
As far as Iowa goes, I'd been operating under the assumption they were fierce beyond reason but the numbers aren't that great:
In five games against what seems like a largely unthreatening slate of opponents, Iowa's giving up 4.6 YPC. A closer look at Iowa's opponents reveals some shocking numbers, though: Iowa State is #20 in rush offense and Arizona(!) is #11. Both other I-A opponents are above average, and UNI is running around taking a machete to the rest of I-AA.
So that may be understandable. It's still not quite as dominant as you'd expect given the hype train building behind the Iowa rush defense. Your ESPN-approved mostly meaningless stat of the week: Iowa hasn't given up a rushing touchdown in 33 quarters. Woo! They gave up over 5 YPC to Iowa State with no carry longer than 17 yards! Not so woo!
This won't be an Eastern or Indiana romp but it shouldn't be a reprise of the Michigan State game. Michigan's got to pull some extra stuff out of the playbook; last week Michigan State was well-prepared for Michigan and Iowa's last game, though close, was against Arkansas State. That game prep week probably spent a day or two on Michigan; Iowa will be ready for the stuff Michigan's already shown.
Assuming some new looks (veers? options? Florida-esque triple option shovel to Koger? lots more Robinson and Forcier in same backfield?), Michigan should get its yards at a steady, but not amazing, clip. This may be foolish but I think the Iowa State YPC numbers are attainable. Penn State is clearly a mess on the OL, and proved that with weak rushing performances throughout the conference schedule. Michigan has proven itself on another level on the ground this year.
Key Matchup: Rodriguez and Magee vs the Same Old Stuff. This might be problematic because of Forcier's injury. I assume that Michigan wanted to provide some new looks against State but with Tate limited in practice last week (and this week) they were not confident in new packages that require option pitches to run them.
(Side note: last week's key matchup was Michigan guards vs Jones, which was termed the difference between six yards and a touchdown; argh argh argh.)
Thanks to the generosity of Austin Arnaud and Darryl Clark, Iowa sits an intimidating fourth in pass defense efficiency. It's not just the interceptions that got them there. Doing this to a senior who probably should have been the conference's preseason offensive player of the year…
…is frightening, shaky offensive line or no. And that goes double when a 79-yard touchdown on a bust was the first play of the game. Iowa's got two excellent cornerbacks, a safety with some crazy ability to intercept deflected balls, and a marauding defensive line that causes the hizzies in Iowa cizzie to lose their damn minds.
Michigan, meanwhile, has Tate Forcier, a middling set of receivers, and an offensive line with serious problems on the right side. This is where the thousand-year tenure of Iowa's Norm Parker hurts: Iowa knows what it's supposed to do and is the sort of team that has discipline above all, which should keep Forcier in the pocket, where he's uncomfortable, and not on the perimeter, where he waves his unicorn wand and conjures fourth-quarter touchdowns out of glue and beetle wings.
One thing to look for especially is some sort of counterpunch to team's successful deployment of the 4-3 against Michigan and the bubble screen. Both of the last two weeks opponents have used the safety as a kamikaze downhill defender against bubble screens, which has allowed them to stack the box, keep contain, and remove all three options in Michigan's triple option zone read. Steve Sharik suggests some alternatives in a diary post that involve 4-wide formations with double slots and run plays that zip into the secondary, which now has no safeties, for big gainers.
My take on that topic: man, turning that bubble route into a wheel and pairing it with a skinny post is almost guaranteed to get a guy wide open for a big gainer. We'll have to see whether Iowa plays it the same way; if they do and Michigan doesn't take advantage of the opportunities presented by that freakout, it'll be hard to see Michigan having a ton of success against an Iowa pass defense that has rocked so far. Michigan will get some yards because it's 2009 but this promises to be Forcier's worst day of the year.
Key Matchup: This is obvious but: getting some pass protection. Michigan was 37/57 last week, which is really bad.
Run Defense vs. Iowa
Iowa's been pretty meh here. Jewel Hampton's season-ending knee injury momentarily thrust Paki O'Meara panic back to the forefront in Iowa City, but the Paki Bomb was quickly supplanted by a couple of freshmen who are splitting carries about evenly because they are statistically indistinguishable from each other:
Wegher is an oddity in many ways: he's a white guy from Iowa who was given four stars by Rivals. Robinson was recruiting non-entity whose only offer was an Iowa grayshirt (IE: come in next January, kid, when we have room). Insert recruiting debate we're not having here.
Iowa has gone up against three good rush defenses in Arizona (19), Penn State (11), and Arkansas State (30) and has been juggling the offensive line due to injuries. Star tackle Bryan Bulaga missed three games with an illness and returned for the ASU game, which resulted in this:
“We were not very happy with our performance as an offensive line,” guard Julian Vandervelde said. “I suppose it’s good to have that sort of performance and still come out with a win. That’ll motivate us this week to work a lot harder at the things we need to improve on. We’ll spend a lot more time in the film room and on the practice field focusing on the details this week.”
… They always say the film is never as good or bad as you think it’s going to be. Sometimes, that’s just not true. It’s every bit as bad as you thought it was going to be. This was probably one of those weekends.”
The Red Wolves (why does every team that replaces their offensive Indian nickname put "red" in their new nickname? discuss) held Iowa to 124 yards on 33 carries, 3.8 per. That was Iowa's second-worst game of the year on the ground. The worst? The 87 yards they put up against Northern Iowa. Suggestion for Michigan: join the SWAC temporarily.
This will be an interesting test for Michigan's possibly-competent-when-aligned-correctly nouveau run defense, which crushed Michigan State's primitive attack to the tune of less than 3 YPC for the running backs. And Michigan State's pitch touchdown run was another instance of a badly misaligned defense similar to the 85-yard doom run by Indiana. Expect one or two of those against Iowa.
Outside of that stuff, Michigan's rushing defense was dominant. This is thanks in part to Brandon Graham (who actually graded out better in Steve Sharik's evaluation of the game than he did in his record-setting day in UFR):
And it's thanks in part to Michigan saying "screw it, we're an eight-man front" and dropping Jordan Kovacs into the box on almost every play:
That worked well and I expect Michigan will continue to do it, as they have a number of players with limited skill sets that they can take advantage of in very specific ways. For one: Jonas Mouton is a talented blitzer who's struggled with coverage and whatnot and Michigan decided they'd just blitz the hell out of him against State, to good effect. More of that will probably happen against Iowa.
The other aspect of the "run" defense to watch may not be run defense at all: Kirk Cousins averaged 10 YPC on 7 carries last Saturday despite his well-deserved reputation as a pocket passer. Stanzi's even more of a pocket passer—he's got –50 rushing yards on the year—but anyone can run up into the great wide open Michigan was graciously providing Cousins. Dollars to donuts Michigan spent a lot of time working on maintaining rush lane integrity; Stanzi's not likely to replicate Cousins's feat. Obi Ezeh is a lock to get dragged out of his zone, opening up at least one key, frustrating third down conversion.
Key Matchup: Ryan Van Bergen vs Iowa Interior OL. Van Bergen's emergence the last couple weeks has been the hidden secret to the run defense. He was able to prevent himself from getting sealed or blown back by MSU's OL and this removed just about the last weak spot on the line against the run. A reprise against Iowa's line would be very good for this game and the next two and a half seasons.
Pass Defense vs. Iowa
Here, again, Iowa has been fairly meh. Ricky Stanzi has thrown two pick-sixes in the last three games and is currently 70th in passer efficiency. That's a severe drop from last year, when Stanzi was the better half of a two-headed QB (recruitin' bust Jake Christensen was the other) and finished 34th. Stanzi's completing only 58% of his passes, has 7 interceptions to 8 touchdowns, all of which were against UNI, Iowa State, and Arkansas State, and averages 7.1 YPA. None of these marks are particularly good, and the rotating line has given up two sacks a game. There is some potential for Michigan to not soil themselves here.
Injuries have hampered Iowa here as well. Obviously, the line's been an issue. Iowa's also missed TE Tony Moeaki and WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, a man whose name is so long the NCAA's official site gives up somewhere in the middle of his second last name, for chunks of the season. With both those guys tentatively healthy and Bulaga back, Iowa figures to be a bit better than they have been so far. The prospect of Moeaki, who's been an excellent receiving tight end in the rare instances when he's healthy, against Michigan's dodgy linebacking crew is not a tantalizing one.
On the other side of the ball, Michigan has thrown a walk-on in as a full time starter and is thinking about moving once and future cornerback Troy Woolfolk from safety in an effort to shore up the corner spot opposite Donovan Warren, where virtually all opponent passes go. Mike Williams will slot in at free safety in that situation, leaving Michigan more vulnerable to long gainers but hopefully less likely to give up 130 yard, ten minute drives. It's ugly. I said there was little chance this went well against Michigan State and that was borne out; there is a chance it goes better against Stanzi and company but to get the horrible interception Michigan is going to have to cover some guys. Maybe Woolfolk can do that and maybe Michigan's linebackers can remove the head from the butt in the zone coverage; I'll remain doubtful about that until I see it.
Here, as always, the key is to get pressure on the quarterback. Dead donkeys cannot be covered, etc.
Key Matchup: Graham versus The Idiotic Idea You Can Single Block Him, or Brian Bulaga. I assume Iowa won't make the same mistake State did and let Graham run wild against single blocking unless they try it a couple times with Bulaga and it works out. Sharik notes that Michigan's gone to a strictly field-boundary scheme in the aftermath of the 85-yard touchdown run—ie, no flipping the line when Iowa realigns, so if Iowa wants to they'll be able to get Bulaga on Graham whenever it's not an obvious passing down. If Graham can win that battle and demand a second blocker, or just win that battle and cause Stanzi to do his usual interception thing, Michigan's in it.
During my podcast interaction with Oops Pow Surprise of Black Heart Gold Pants, he blasphemously asserted that Iowa's punter, whose name is something like Boring Smith, was the Big Ten's finest. I inadvertently uttered an expletive—as opposed to the intentional, if somewhat stammered ones earlier in the podcast—in reaction. And it is blasphemy. Boring Smith and the Hawkeyes are 31st in net punting. Michigan is fifth. Michigan should pick up an extra four yards every time punts are exchanged.
Michigan should also have an advantage in kick returns, where Iowa is 98th and Michigan is 25th; punt returns, which Michigan just doesn't bother with anymore (107th!) probably won't be relevant because opponents have only returned 7 of Zoltan's 26 punts and those have gone for five yards each because the opponents has invariably been surrounded by spread punt gunners of all varieties.
In the kicking game, Jason Olesnavage is now 5/6 of the season with proven range in the mid- to high-40s, though his one miss was a chip shot. Iowa's Daniel Murray has more of a track record but it's not a great one: he's 6/9 this year, was 6/9 last year, and was 7/10 the year before that. Tentative advantage here goes to Michigan.
Key Matchup: Can I cease saying CATCH THE DAMN BALL? I think so. How about field goal kickin'. Iowa's guy seems more likely to miss one and that could be a BFD.
- The right side of the line reprises their Swiss cheese impression from the State game.
- Tate looks out of sorts because of the cold.
- Stanzi's finding open receivers alll over.
Cackle with knowing glee if...
- Iowa fails to crease the Michigan DL and has to put a lot of the game on Stanzi…
- …and Stanzi responds with his traditional festive interceptions.
- There are a lot of punts because Boring Smith sucks.
Fear/Paranoia Level: 9 out of 10. (Baseline 5, +1 for Hello Iowa City Night Game, +1 for Probably Best Team M Has Played So Far, +1 for Spread Nearing Double Digits, +1 for M OL Vs Iowa DL Looks Like Not Fun Things That Are No Fun, –1 for But There Is The Tate Hulk Up To Account For, +1 for Dammit We Rushed For 28 Yards Last Game).
Desperate need to win level: 4 out of 10. (Baseline 5, –1 for This Is Not One That Anyone Expects To Pick Up, –1 for And The Fanbase Isn't Even Annoying, –1 for And No One Even Knows An Iowa Graduate, Right, +1 for The Battle Of Mary Sue Coleman, +1 for Man, 5-1 With A Road Win In Iowa City Heading Into Delaware State Sounds Like A Recipe For New Year's Day )
Loss will cause me to... not be particularly surprised.
Win will cause me to... probably get kidnapped and stuck in the Black Heart Gold Basement.
The strictures and conventions of sportswriting compel me to predict:
I'd like to walk back some of the negativity I've offered on the radio and podcasts of late. I hadn't taken a close enough look at Iowa and seen how mistake-prone Stanzi's been or that the run defense looks fairly permeable, at least for Iowa. I still don't think Michigan wins but I was offering up 8-10 point margins earlier this week, and I now think Michigan will be closer than that, not least because of Tate Forcier's late-game heroics.
The prediction below is weird: it builds in what appears to be a 50-50 shot at Iowa having one more game-crippling mistake than Michigan. I think if M gets that game crippling mistake they will be in it at the end with a chance to win, possibly attempting to defend and Iowa game-winning drive. If they don't I think they end up in a hole and threaten to break out of it from time to time but never actually do so, with the cold and the crowd and the Iowa defense finally reining in Forcier when the game's on the line.
Finally, opportunities for me to look stupid Sunday:
- Minor has like 90% of the carries.
- Michigan finally pulls something out of the bag of tricks.
- Woolfolk moves to corner and Iowa gets a big play because of safety error because of it.
- Iowa, 20-17.