Something's been missing from Michigan gamedays since the free programs ceased being economically viable: scientific gameday predictions that are not at all preordained by the strictures of a column in which one writer takes a positive tack and the other a negative one… something like Punt-Counterpunt.
By Heiko Yang
Things have been getting a little heavy and off topic here. Let’s go back to feelingsball, shall we?
The last time Michigan played Penn State, most of us were sorting through some complicated feelings about whether we wanted to keep or fire Rich Rod. According to John U. Bacon’s Three and Out, the loss in Happy Valley sealed Dave Brandon’s decision, but I don’t think the outcome of the game cleared anything up for many of us. On the one hand, 423 yards and 31 points against Linebacker U! On the other hand … we made Matt McGloin look like Tom Brady. Granted, McGloin ended up being pretty good, but we didn’t know that yet. All we saw was this:
In the soul-searching (binge drinking) that followed, many of us wondered how the Michigan defense would ever dig itself out of this mess. Keeping Rich Rod’s staff wouldn’t guarantee defensive improvement, but firing him would mean several more years of coaching change awfulness that we thought we were finally putting behind us. Neither solution appeared to be a quick or satisfactory fix. Without any idea we were only a year away from being 11-2 and a BCS bowl win, it sucked to be a Michigan Wolverine.
Looking back, I wonder how Penn State fans felt after that game. Cathartic for beating Michigan three years in a row? Probably. Pity for Michigan, a once-proud program that had descended into turmoil and mediocrity? Maybe. Were they immensely thankful for the stability of their own program? I don’t know. When your coach has more all-time wins than many teams do, it’s not something to really think about. Without any idea they were only a season away from suffering the worst scandal in college football history, I bet it felt great to be a Penn State Nittany Lion.
Three years later, here we are again. Michigan vs. Penn State in Beaver Stadium. This time Penn State is spiraling downward while Michigan is (hopefully) on the uptick. The line favors the Wolverines by single digits, but anyone I’ve talked to thinks Michigan should and will win by multiple scores. I tend to agree. As much as we criticize Al Borges for lack of imagination in the run game, the unbalanced lines and heavy packages Michigan ran with impunity against Minnesota were just a preface to more elaborate and nefarious schemes to come. To stay competitive, the undersized, inexperienced backups that the Nittany Lions are running with these days on defense will have to do what we hoped Michigan’s defense would do back in 2010: Overachieve. Just this one time. For the love of God. On the other side of the ball, Michigan suddenly finds itself being more linebackery than Linebacker U, and I’m not even sure it needs Jake Ryan back for that to be the case.
This feels great, doesn’t it? To focus on the plays, not the people calling them. To worry about crowd noise, not media noise. To scrutinize where the quarterback is throwing the ball, not where the program is heading. It’s a familiar feeling now, but once upon a time we believed this to be a foreign luxury.
If Michigan does indeed win by a large margin, we can feel cathartic for ending a three-game losing streak, and we can feel pity for a once-proud Penn State team that is descending into mediocrity. Most importantly though, we should take a step back and appreciate the stability of our program, the foundation for winning that is so easy to get used to and thus so easy to take for granted. After what both teams have been through the last few years, I think we’ve all learned this lesson the hard way.
Michigan 41, Penn State 31
By Nick RoUMel
Hey, kids! See if you can identify the nine all-time Michigan at Penn State football games from a snippet of a news article. Name the year, the score, and the coach’s nickname. Answers at the end of this column!
(a) In what is simply known as "The Snow Bowl," a surprise 18-inch snowfall three days before the game made it necessary to use hundreds of paid volunteers to clear the field. But with snow piles all around them, 80,000 freezing fans watched holder Joe Nastasi score a two-yard touchdown off a fake field goal with 2:40 left to secure the Lions' second of three consecutive victories over the Wolverines.
(b) Michigan's defense can help give any opponent a confidence-boost - even one led by a former walk-on making his first career start.
(c) The scene was ripe: it was the 1,000th game in Penn State football history, played before the largest crowd in Beaver Stadium history, against the titan of a new conference, Michigan of the Big Ten, on a beautiful autumn afternoon. But there was no pleasure in Happy Valley. Penn State spoiled too many opportunities of its own and never could stop Tyrone Wheatley, the Michigan tailback, who rushed for 192 yards on 32 carries. The Michigan defense contributed a four-down goal-line stand in the second half that denied Penn State the 6 inches it needed.
(d) The loss marks the first time that Penn State has ever been shut out at home under Joe Paterno and the 0-4 start is the worst ever in the 115-year history of the program.
(e) Rondell Biggs flew in off the edge for one of Michigan’s seven sacks, then flexed his biceps to celebrate his mighty deed. The Wolverines’ defense provided plenty of muscle, Adrian Arrington and Mike Hart each scored a touchdown and Michigan stayed unbeaten with a win on Saturday night.
(f) Michigan still has Penn State's number, and that adds up to another late-season collapse for the Nittany Lions. Tom Brady's 11-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Knight with 1:46 left gave the No. 16 Wolverines a victory over No. 6 Penn State on Saturday, their third straight over the Lions.
(g) Michigan came in a 23 1/2-point underdog. Never before had the Wolverines been so lightly regarded by odds makers. Behind the running of Evan Royster and a few momentum-shifting plays by the defense and special teams, the Nittany Lions withstood the Wolverines' early flurry and snapped a nine-game losing streak to their Big Ten rivals.
(h) By the time fourth-ranked Michigan's 34-8 rout of No. 2 Penn State ended Saturday afternoon, Beaver Stadium was nearly deserted. Most of the school-record crowd of 97,498 had fled the world's largest Erector set for the warmth of their cars. But a wet, wild throng of Michigan fans in the northeast corner of the grandstand screamed and waved at their conquering heroes. "I'm just so proud," senior tailback Chris Howard said. "Defense, offense--we played the best game of our lives. We had to come out and make a statement. We made it."
(i) The undefeated Wolverines came in as 3 point favorites against a Penn State squad with a high-flying offense but a suspect defense; yet the Nittany Lions stymied the visitors on this overcast October afternoon. Devin Gardner threw a pair of interceptions and coughed up a fumble as Michigan was driving for the go-ahead score, while Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg found Allen Robinson for 2 touchdown passes, while running for another in the third quarter, that gave the home town team a lead it would never relinquish.
(a) 1995, W 27-17, Llo
(b) 2010, L 41-31, R. Ro
(c) 1993, W 21-13, Mo
(d) 2001, W 20-0, Llo
(e) 2006, W 17-10 Llo
(f) 1999, W 31-27 Llo
(g) 2008, L 46-17, R. Ro
(h) 1997, W 38-8, Llo
(i) 2013, L 21-19, B. Ho
[ED: That is a PENN STATE 21, MICHIGAN 19 from esteemed Counterpunt.]
Best part of the pic: Devin c-walking across the goalline? Minnesota defender flailing? or Minnesota coaches looking on hopelessly? (Fuller)
1. The Six Factors
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
Minnesota scored 13 off of field position of 17 and Michigan scored 42 off of field position of 23. Take out the pick six and field position was even to go along with early conversions. Michigan had an edge in bonus yards but struggled in both setting up third downs and converting them. None of the six factors swung heavily to Michigan. The field position helped but didn’t make a big difference.
This is another data point to say that the Akron second half was a fluke on the defense’s part. Michigan is just pushing the bend but don’t break style big time this year. Another game with almost no bonus yards allowed, when you don’t give up big plays, the opponent keeps facing more times against the chains. Michigan has been decent at forcing third downs and not allowing a lot of short distances and they have actually been pretty bad at third down itself, but the quantity of downs they are forcing opponents into by not giving up big plays is driving their success. Sure sometimes a team is going to converting 10 third downs and take up a whole half on a drive, but most of the time things are going to flame out. Not giving up big plays on defense is going to be all that Michigan needs to be in position to win for most of the games on their schedule.
2. Individual Performances
Opponent adjustments now in effect
Devin Gardner +13.6 EV+, +37% WPA 6th best QB of the week
Fitzgerald Toussaint +1.6, +13%, 46th best RB of the week
Mitch Leidner +7.5, +17%, 26th best QB of the week
Devin Funchess +14.7, +24%, 5th best receiver of the week
A solid performance from Gardner that will almost certainly be downgraded over the course of the season as Minnesota’s adjustment begins to reflect a tougher slate.
While Toussaint’s numbers certainly aren’t amazing, if he can consistently perform at this level it should be adequate to maximize opportunities in the passing game.
Last week was loaded for pass catchers as the Funchess to WR experiment was 5th best of the week but was one of the top 15 of the season. Funchess joins Jeremy Gallon versus Notre Dame to give Michigan 2 of the top receiving games of the season. Only Mike Evans against Alabama put up as high of a score as Funchess on 7 or fewer catches.
3. Game Chart
6. +4.0% – Leidner incomplete on 3rd and 5 midway through the second quarter
5.+5.3% – Toussaint scores from 8 yards out to open the scoring
4. +5.8% – Gardner to Funchess for 21 yards setting up 1st and Goal at the 2
3. –8.1% – Minnesota gets their sole TD of the day on 3rd and 7
2. +8.6% – Michigan forces a fumble on Minnesota’s opening possession
1. +10.8% - Gardner hits Funchess for a TD on 3rd and 14 to give Michigan the lead going into halftime
Not very swingy, that game. The first two plays had a bit of a big play feel to them but man did that game lack drama or excitement. I kept double checking the numbers for #6 because it didn’t feel like a top swing play and then I realized that would have been about #25 in some games earlier in the season. Lack of big plays + lack of turnovers + lack of second half drama = boring swing plays.
4. Ron Zook Dumb Punt of the Week
NC State and the ghost of Tom O’Brien punted on 4th and 1 from the Wake Forest 35 yard line. The Wolfpack got their Romer Karma as the punt went for a touchback and Wake Forest went on to win. Most weeks, this would be enough to win dumb punt of the week but this week has a honoree.
Southern Miss which hasn’t won in what seems like years and at least 3 coaches, faced a 4th and 7 at the hapless FIU 40 yard line. There were less than 6 minutes down and the Golden Eagles trailed by 1. What do you have to lose at this point? You have lost a million games in a row, go for the freaking win. Southern Miss was something like a touchdown favorite despite being awful. Don’t be scared, go for the win.
Southern Miss coach to be fired is your dumb punter of the week. Special bye week honors go to Gary Andersen of Wisconsin, for punting to Ohio State down two scores late. The best case scenario happened and Wisconsin had the whole field to drive for a touchdown to force overtime with a minute left and no timeouts. You might think that sounds dire, but the Badgers own late game time management and their fans saw no fear, mostly just the bottom of the beer from the bar they bolted to after the punt.
5. State of the stats
The Six Factors are now available for all 125 FBS teams. I’ll do my best to update these on Sundays so you can check out where other teams fall in different categories.
Other notes from around college football:
- Devin Gardner is currently ranked #18 among all quarterbacks with an EV+ (opponent adjusted) of 7.1. Currently Bryce Petty of Baylor and Aaron Murray are the two players ahead of the +14 mark.
- Jeremy Gallon is at 6.4 value added for the season, putting him at #30 in the country.
- Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin and his insane YPA are leading the nation among running backs with a 5.9 EV+, nearly a full point above any other back.
- Devin Gardner is currently the most valuable player in the Big Ten, if you replaced Gardner plays with the expected value from all non-Gardner plays, it would have cost Michigan nearly 60 points so far this season. On the flip side, Fitzgerald Toussaint’s plays have been an overall drag on the offense, replacing his carries with average plays would add 24 points to Michigan’s total. Only Duke Johnson of Miami has been a bigger loss to his offense as a running back.
- Baylor’s offense has been absurd. Their opponent adjusted offensive EV is +23.7, over 6.5 points ahead of second place Texas A&M nearly double third place Miami. They also have not had a single play charted in the second half. Last week against West Virginia they put 327 bonus yards, in the first half. That’s as many yards past the line of scrimmage in one half than 15 teams are averaging for a game.
- On the flip side, Missouri held Vanderbilt to just 6 bonus yards in the first half while building a 23 point lead.
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Mich O||26.8 (60)||53% (37)||154 (43)||7.3 (102)||0% (59)||6.0 (15)|
|PSU D||30.7 (107)||44% (14)||129 (50)||6.7 (41)||-8% (17)||4.3 (26)|
|Exp Score||Early Conv||Bonus Yds||Avg 3rd Dist||Adj 3rd Conv||Red Zone|
|Mich D||28.4 (83)||46% (23)||94 (15)||6.6 (44)||+14% (120)||3.9 (17)|
|PSU O||25.2 (80)||49% (79)||137 (62)||7.9 (112)||-3% (78)||5.0 (68)|
I’m a little nervous about this one. Some people are blowing off Penn State as a team that got blown out by Indiana, but I see them as a team that almost beat UCF, a team that killed a dangerous Akron team.
As for the numbers, when Michigan has the ball it should be a fairly even matchup. Michigan’s biggest opportunities might come from big plays as Penn State has been a very good third down defense and putting together long drives should be a challenge.
When Penn State has the ball, Michigan should have a solid advantage. Much has been made of Penn State’s third down woes but that is more a story of being bad at early downs than bad at third down. Michigan has been great at not giving up bonus yards and if they can continue that trend, Penn State will have a very tough time putting together drives. Freshman QB Christian Hackenberg is –1.6 EV+ on the year and ranked 132nd out of 169 quarterbacks on the season. As noted everywhere, if you stop Allen Robinson (#15 ranked WR, #2 in Big Ten) you stop the Penn State offense.
The Penn State defense keeps the game close, but I see this a game that goes back and forth between a 1 and 2 score Michigan lead, never put away, but never that much in doubt.
Michigan 24 Penn State 20
State College, PA
|WHEN||5 PM Eastern
October 12th, 2013
|THE LINE||M –2.5|
|WEATHER||partly cloudy, mid 60s dropping to 50s, 10% chance of rain|
I ADMIT IT, AND I'D DO IT AGAIN, SEE? YEAH, SEE?
Penn State enters their game against Michigan reeling after their first-ever loss to Indiana, that by a whopping 20 points. While Penn State's attempts to get back into the game created a bit of a point avalanche for the Hoosiers, Indiana racked up almost 500 yards in a decidedly non-fluky victory.
With a 37-34 loss to UCF that wasn't really that close also in the rear view mirror, Penn State is teetering on the brink of a sanctions-imposed abyss. A win against Michigan forestalls that for a while yet. A home loss to go 3-3 with two gimmies and spirits will deflate.
Run Offense vs Penn State
Glenn Carson tackles will hit double digits
Penn State's rushing defense has been schizophrenic. They've obliterated Eastern Michigan and Kent State. Those teams are really terrible at offense, sure. Syracuse is actually decent-ish and Penn State held them under a hundred yards; their main backs combined to acquire 3.5 yards an attempt on 28 carries.
In their other two games they've been shredded.
- UCF got two runs of 40+ yards and averaged 6.7 yards an attempt, quarterbacks excluded.
- Indiana was a bit less prolific but also ripped off a 40-yarder and averaged 5.2 a pop, team and QB rushes excluded.
Ace hopped on Google Talk to describe with wonder IU's backbreaking 75-yard touchdown drive to go up 28-17, because it was all rushes and screens. Vintage Penn State defense this isn't.
Sanctions have started to bite heavily, especially in the linebacker corps, where Nyeem Wartman and Ben Kline have been knocked out of the lineup and Mike Hull has been playing hurt, visibly. He missed EMU and Kent State and has limped through the last couple games. That leaves senior returning starter Glenn Carson, a fringe NFL prospect, as the only fully healthy starter. Hull's making do at one spot and 5'10" converted safety Stephen Obeng-Agyapong is operating as a permanent nickelback at the other. Against Indiana, PSU used Carson and Hull as the ILBs; against Michigan they'll have to hope all three guys can read and react in the box, because if you think Michigan sees 5'10" linebacker and 250 pound SDE and isn't going to manball faces you've got another thing coming.
Given Michigan's success at reducing turnovers with a grinding style, expect them to continue that until Penn State proves they can stop it—and I mean stop it, not just reduce it to 3 or 4 yards. This is actually a situation in which you may be able to "wear down the opponent," because the opponent is operating with 61 scholarship players. Penn State has a tough task against tackle over: shift under and Lewan's blowing your DE off the ball. Shift over and you're asking a lot of Obeng-Agyapong.
The cat-and-mouse game will play a large role in success here, as Michigan's overload is susceptible to a similar overload from Penn State and counters were limited and not particularly effective against Minnesota. They had a couple of weakside isos and one honest-to-God counter; only one of those plays was particularly successful.
With Fitzgerald Toussaint obviously instructed to get upfield fast and hard on threat of pudding bath, Michigan will grind out another low-TFL, low-YPA, lots of third-and-short running performance, leaving big plays to relatively infrequent passes.
Key Matchup: Kerridge, Butt, and Kalis/Bryant against Penn State linebackers. Yeah, I'm taking it for granted that the Red Sea will part on these power plays, whether it's by playing straight up for Lewan adjusting to slant games PSU comes up with. That'll leave the lead block convoy against PSU's hallowed but flagging LB corps.
[Hit THE JUMP for Come to Penn Shhhhhhtate!]
Today's recruiting roundup is a bit short and punchy since the MGoCar departs for Penn State early this afternoon. Also, there's just not a lot to talk about right now.
Noah Furbush Is Rather Tough
Self-reminder: Find a new stock picture of Noah Furbush.
Noah Furbush has racked up some pretty impressive tackling numbers this season, and he's done so while playing through a broken wrist. How did that happen? Well... he's not entirely sure, per Scout's Kyle Bogenschutz ($):
In true tough guy fashion, Furbush doesn’t even remember how he broke the bone.
“It happened a few months ago, I think during basketball maybe,” Furbush said. “I’m not even 100-percent sure when but we got it diagnosed after the second scrimmage and I’ve been easing up on it since.”
"Negatives: use of hands, ability to feel pain."
Talk About The Hand
Jabrill Peppers discusses his thoughts on Da'Shawn Hand in his latest blog for USA Today:
OK I know you guys want to know about me trying to bring my boy D Hand (DaShawn Hand) over to Michigan with me, and I'm still feeling really good about doing that.
His announcement date is Nov. 14 and it's getting closer and closer. I feel like we've got the upper hand because he visited us during the Notre Dame game and that was the perfect game for him to be at. The atmosphere was crazy and we got the win.
I hit him up every once in a while to see how he's doing so I know he's doing his thing in his last year like me. I'm feeling like we'll probably be doing our thing on the field together next year too.
But, at the end of the day, that's my dude; wherever he goes he's got a fan in me.
Over at Rivals, Mike Farrell broke the five-stars into high-, medium-, and low-risk categories based on their skill set and how likely they are to hit their potential at the next level. The first two players in the coveted low-risk category are, you guessed it, Jabrill Peppers and Da'Shawn Hand ($):
DE Da'Shawn Hand: Hand is an elite pass rusher with great balance and agility and an amazing work ethic. While he's also a guy who could stand up or play down like Carter, he's not a high-risk guy because he can do it all and could even hold his own inside if needed.
DB Jabrill Peppers: Peppers could play cornerback or safety in college, and he will be successful at either. Heck, he could even play running back, although that would make his risk factor much higher. It's hard to see him failing on defense.
We'll take both, please.
[Hit THE JUMP for a few quick-hitting recruiting notes, including high early interest from the son of the former heavyweight champion of the world.]
This is the first 5-0 when I've ever felt like "I'm pretty happy hoops/hockey season is starting." Part of that is me being a worry wart about Gardner vs. Road Performances (scroll down). Part of it is the basketball team practice reports are a ticker tape of "youguysyouguysyouguysyouguys!" The last of it is something happened last night that didn't get the proper treatment it deserves. Let me rectify that now.
We Beat Beantown Muppets
And you can't have one without the other...
National title contender Boston College came to Yost last night for the hockey season opener and Michigan beat them 3-1. Washes away last year? Not at all. Changes the likelihood of coming out of a brutal non-conference schedule with enough tournament credentials to make up for a relatively eh Big Ten? Definitely. From people who've gotten to see it I'm hearing Compher is something between a second Copp and a god. Next step is revenge on R.I.T.
HTTVHoops/Hockey contributor MGoBlueline is probably running around in circles after last night. BEFORE last night however they dropped an exhibition 2-1 to Waterloo and that was harrowing.
His response was to experiment with Corsi, a stat named for the guy who came up with it that measures the carry of play by tapping blocked shots and misses as well as shots on goal. It's a think brought up a lot in games Waterloo and every Red Wings loss from 1995-2012, where one team carried the play for two periods and probably earned a draw on the other, but were done in by more than just bad puck. You can make it a % too to come away with an idea of defensive performance:
Theory: fewer pucks end up on goal if the defense is getting in their way.
Weeklies. Best and Worst by bronxblue was effusive in its praise after two weeks and a bye of things to be mad about. At first I didn't get the part about Mitch Leidner being mini-Tebow, but now that I've seen the broadcast oh man: my Sparty brother isn't an RCMB'er but even he was like "wow these announcers just hate your guys." Inside the Box Score by ST3 had about 12 Blues Brothers/Belushi shirts that might have been better than my PSU excuses one. LSAClassOf2000 is just trolling Purdue now. Turnover Analysis says not turning it over=good. Jonvalk went there with the weekly wallpaper, is probably going there for it. Program.
Etc. Bill an I agree: Ohio State and Northwestern only made each other look terrifying.
[Jump: Best of the Board, Zen]
|Road Gardner has been rough Gardner. [Fuller]|
I'm putting this here because it's been brought up a few times on the board and the discussion was getting too long for dear diary. Gardner's (admittedly limited) stats in road games are not great:
We're really just going on three starts plus spot duty. But later today and tomorrow you'll see some Penn State preview posts that claim the depleted Lions are more like their basketball and hockey squads than the typical PSU outfit, so let me be on record that Michigan in that stadium is not a great matchup given Gardner's season so far and his history in away games. In fact I've got a UFR database open right now so let's show that by yards per play on called passes (includes scrambles/sacks):
|2010-'11||9.85 (BG, Minn, Pur)||6.75 (Ill, MSU, NW)|
|2012||9.78 (Iowa, NW)||7.35 (Minn, OSU)|
|2013||9.34 (CMU, ND, Akron, Minn)||4.06 (UConn)|
Before you say "why is his sophomore year…?" there aren't very many attempts there so the weight is mostly on the 10 starts this and last season. That seems pretty stark. The UFR charting bears this out.
Devin in Blue Chart:
Devin in White Chart:
Forever in Blue Jeans Chart:
|Money||talks||sing, dance, walk|
|Honey||is sweet||compare to baby's treat.|
UConn was an all-time low in YPP but part of a trend. The short history of Devin road games read:
- Pre-2012: 3 inaccurate balls, 2 CA+ for 20-yard gains, a PA hitch for 2 yards against MSU and the Yakety sax, and a 4-yd scramble on a Denard Jet.
- Minnesota 2012: Took most of 1st half to warm up, got bailed out a lot by WRs
- OSU 2012: Sacked a few times and lots of late IN's from unset throws out of the pocket.
- UConn 2013: Terrible horrible no good very bad day.
It's a small sample size with little good to recommend it. PSU's defensive backs, meanwhile, are kind of like Michigan in 2010 in that they have one safety-corner hybrid they trust and three they don't. However they've been pretty game so far; the two offenses that torched them were Indiana's Air Raid-like thing that is pretty respectable, and getting Bortles'd. Including their five sacks they're giving up just 5.81 YPA. They're about 40th in every category; 29th in passer rating. That doesn't seem so hard until you consider Gardner's opponents to date are 62nd (ND), 63rd (UConn), 93rd (Minnesota), 108th (CMU), and 117th (Akron). You can save discussion until Brian gets to this part of the preview but count me as nervous here.