The internet appears to be looking out for me, as the only Illinois game readily available was their 31-16 loss at Nebraska a few weeks ago. This prevented me from going over more recent games against Purdue and Rutgers. Thank you, internet.
The Illini managed intermittent success on the ground against the Huskers in a game that was close until midway through the fourth quarter. Their lack of a downfield passing game doomed them; that has been their biggest issue on offense with Wes Lunt at quarterback.
Of course, we're not sure who Illinois will play at QB on Saturday. Lunt exited the Purdue game and missed last week's Rutgers game with a back injury. He's back at practice; replacement Chayse Crouch would provide more a dual-threat, spread-option look if Lunt is benched or can't go.
Personnel. Seth's diagram [click to embiggen]:
Another week, another pair of stars added to the Michigan defense; this time around, Ben Gedeon and Delano Hill add theirs. Only Dymonte Thomas and Mike McCray to go, and to be honest, neither is too far off.
The Illinois lineup can only be a guess. Lunt is questionable, three different tailbacks have started, and the offensive line has had five different starting combinations in six games—though they've at least kept this look for two straight weeks.
Spread, Pro-Style, or Hybrid? Hybrid. Illinois spent a lot of early downs in a three-WR I-form, a lot of passing downs in the gun, and they mixed in their fair share of Ace and pistol looks. It's hard to pin down an offensive identity for them.
Basketball on Grass or MANBALL? Mostly zone blocking in this game, with a couple interesting wrinkles, one of which will be covered later.
Hurry it up or grind it out? A slow grind. Illinois is 124th in adjusted pace. They don't huddle that often; they do stand around forever staring at the sideline.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the breakdown.]
News bullets and other items:
Devin Bush Jr. is acclimating himself well at LB. Sounds like he could step in with little drop off right now.
Kenny Allen would have kicked FGs at Rutgers, but the competition is still ongoing. No decision has been made this week since it’s just Wednesday.
Partridge added that the issues Allen has had have been mechanical, as it’s difficult to adjust your swing plan when you’re doing three different things.
Quinn Nordin’s healthy enough to participate in the kicking competition
I highly recommend reading what Partirdge had to say about Peppers’ attention to detail and drive, as well as his summation of the program’s culture.
Your thoughts on Jabrill’s [punt] return? There was an awful late flag that came in there. What did you see on that play?
“Phenomenal play by Jabrill, obviously. Kind of jumped in the air and then spun and ducked somebody at the same time, so phenomenal play. Questionable. Questionable. But, you know what, it happens. We’ve got to be real careful. I tell those guys all the time, let’s just get him to the dance. Get on your blocks as long as possible and just know if it’s ever questionable peel off and go find somebody else and let him make a move. We’ve got a phenomenal player back there, so we’ve got to get him the ability to make a play. Frustrating that we didn’t finish it, but we’ve got to learn from it and move on.”
Several of the veterans had some downtime last week. What did the kickers do? Were they going right along?
“Yeah, they continued to work, but we had to be smart and give them some downtime, too. We scheduled their kicking early in the week and then the young guys continued to work throughout the week, improvement week, just like the rest of the players.”
Coach said the competition’s always ongoing, but is it maybe a little bit more settled than it was coming out of the game before Rutgers?
“No, I don’t think it’s ever going to be settled here. I think we’re always going to compete and challenge those guys, and they know they have to perform at a high level or there’s going to be someone ready to perform. We’re still competing. About equal reps and keep working. About equal reps for the next few weeks.”
You can evaluate it in practice, but if they’re not kicking in a game, even the Rutgers game, is it hard to simulate what that experience is like?
“Yeah. I mean, of course I’d like to get a try there in a game to have that pressure, but we’ve got to just try to do our best in practice to be ready for the game when it comes. But yeah, of course. There’s nothing like game reps.”
[After THE JUMP: Partridge evaluates Peppers, JBB, what it’s like to work for Harbaugh, and his own coaching]
[Eric Upchurch – MGoBlog]
Despite finishing behind Indiana in the regular season Big Ten standings, it feels inarguable that Michigan State had the conference’s best team a year ago (their NCAA Tournament seed – a two, and the next highest Big Ten programs were three five-seeds – certainly suggests that). They were led by Denzel Valentine, the best player in the Big Ten, a senior who dominated college basketball in his final season, as well as two other seniors: steady big man Matt Costello and three-point sniper Bryn Forbes. Throw in talented 5* one-and-done power forward Deyonta Davis, and it was considered by many to be a national title frontrunner.
It came as somewhat of a surprise that MSU didn’t receive a one-seed. Perhaps it was the scheduling: the Spartans had three sub-300 opponents in the non-conference portion of the season and a season series against Rutgers helped drag down their RPI. They had a week mid-January where they lost three straight – routed by Iowa at home, lost at Wisconsin and at home against Nebraska, each by a single point. They destroyed Indiana in the teams’ only meeting and won the Big Ten Tournament after close victories over Maryland and Purdue. So it came as a bit of a surprise when State found themselves on the two-line with a first round matchup against 15-seed Middle Tennessee St.
[More on the Spartans after the JUMP]
Jim Harbaugh's NFL connections add to his recruiting appeal. [Bryan Fuller]
Ed-Ace: Recruitnik extraordinaire, regular podcast guest, and noted darts enthusiast Steve Lorenz of Wolverine247, aka The Artist Formerly Known As Aquaman, is back with his weekly recruiting mailbag. If you aren't subscribed to 247 and want to read more from Steve and the gang, they're running a free trial through New Year's Day.
Caesar asks: What makes Michigan under Harbaugh good at recruiting and what does it do to distinguish itself from other programs?
There are a few noteworthy things Harbaugh has that other programs don't:
1. He has strapped on the helmet and played at a high level for the program he is coaching at. He's come as close to the top of the mountain as anyone for Michigan has, and with that comes a natural love and desire to bring the program to the top. That's not to say that other coaches aren't super effective in how they recruit and how they pitch their programs, but there's a natural aspect to how Harbaugh specifically can recruit kids because of a love for Michigan that most (if not all) coaches can't replicate for the programs they're currently at.
2. There isn't another coach in college football who can utilize success and connections in the NFL like Harbaugh can. Early on in Cesar Ruiz's recruitment, he mentioned that going to Michigan would give him a network to the NFL that he wouldn't find at any other program when you consider who Harbaugh knows in the league. I want to say he was on campus sometime around the time Michigan held their Pro Day, and mentioned tons of NFL teams being there despite the fact that they only had a handful of pro prospects last season. On top of that, Michigan utilizes NFL schemes both offensively and defensively so often that it helps acclimate their players to the pros while they're still in college. This stuff is truly valuable on the recruiting trail.
3. He wins. Obviously Michigan is far from the only program winning, and they haven't done it consistently for a long time, but he's already proven he can do some big things, and that stuff resonates with kids.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the mailbag.]
Derrick Walton did most of his offensive damage from beyond the arc.
Michigan learned a difficult lesson about the importance of the point guard position in John Beilein's system two years ago. Unfortunately, they learned the same lesson again last year. From the 2015-16 season preview:
As Michigan learned the hard way in 2014-15, it all starts with the point guard in John Beilein's system. Derrick Walton is healthy again after a foot injury derailed and then prematurely ended his sophomore season; now he's poised for the patented LaVall Jordan second-year leap a year later than expected. Spike Albrecht is recovering from surgery on his hips but should be a full go early in the season, giving the Wolverines a starter-quality backup.
Despite returning to full health, Derrick Walton had many of the same issues that were initially blamed on his foot injury—most glaringly, he remained woefully inefficient as a scorer inside the arc. Walton's support vanished when Spike Albrecht, not fully recovered from his hip surgeries, was shut down after nine games. For the second straight year, John Beilein was compelled to pull a redshirt off Andrew Dakich to provide spot minutes.
Walton has one final go-round to break into that elite tier of point guards. While Spike is off to Purdue, there's still good reason to hope point guard depth (finally) won't be an issue this year, as Ohio's Mr. Basketball, Xavier Simpson, joins the squad.
[Hit THE JUMP for in-depth player previews.]
Previously: We drafted teams.
As is tradition, in lieu of a short hot-takey preseason all-conference list, this past offseason the MGoBlog staff drafted entire teams from the pool of Big Ten players. This provided interesting content to those who tend to watch the rest of the league, and generated ire from those who’ve convinced themselves these are fantasy teams.
We check in at the midpoint to see how our expectations have fared.
1. MGoBlog’s Mid-Season All-Big Ten team:
|RB||Barkley (PSU)||Barkley||Samuel (OSU)||Barkley|
|WR||Darboh (M)||Carr (NW)||Godwin (PSU)||Godwin|
|TE||Butt (M)||Butt||Kittle (IA)||Kittle|
|OT||Gates (NE)||Ramcyzk (WI)||Ramcyzk||Ramcyzk|
|OG||Price (OSU)||Price||Feeney (IN)||Price|
|OG||Kalis (M)||Roos (PU)||Price||Kalis|
|DT||Replogle (PU)||McDowell (MSU)||Replogle||GodinHurst (M)|
|RUSH||Watt (WI)||Watt||Watt||Charlton (M)|
|MLB||McMillan (OSU)||Gedeon (M)||McMillan||Gedeon|
|WLB||Cichy (WI)||Cichy||Cichy||McCray (M)|
|SAM||Scales (IN)||Peppers (M)||Peppers||Peppers|
|CB||Conley (OSU)||Lewis (M)||Lewis||Lewis|
|FS||Hooker (OSU)||Hooker||Hooker||Hill (M)|
|Honorably mentioned: Godwin Igwebuike (S-NWern), Josiah Price (TE-MSU), Jerome Baker (LB-OSU)|
Seth: It seems we mostly agree on things. In choosing between Godwin and Darboh I knocked Darboh for some badly timed drops, though his Wisconsin TD is Michigan's most important catch of the season. I wanted to include so many more TEs: Kittle added scary downfield threat to his great blocking, Josiah Price is playing like an All-American, and Troy Fumagalli is Wisconsin's best offensive weapon. McDowell or Replogle was a tough decision for everyone.
Ace I take it you put Peppers at safety to get out of splitting hairs between Igwebuike, Travis, and Delano Hill. But I'm surprised you put Scales above Jerome Baker, who's been a huge part of Ohio State's tough run D.
Ace: I put Peppers at safety more because there are a bunch of linebackers I’ve liked so far. I seriously considered Baker, Ben Gedeon, and Josey Jewell. What I’ve seen from Scales has been really impressive, though. He leads the conference in solo tackles to go with 7.5 TFLs, two sacks, a pick-six, a forced fumble, and a couple pass breakups. The Indiana defense has improved quite a bit, and he’s the player that leaps out to me from that unit.
Brian: I regret nothing.
BiSB: You hired Ace.
Seth: Godin over Hurst?
Ace: I’ll admit I tried not to come off as too homery and the defense made that exceptionally difficult.
Seth: I mean I'd argue but Mathlete just put this in our slack chat:
If you're standing on Michigan and use a telescope you might be able to make out an average Top 10 defense.
Ace: @brian just saying, you’ve got some honorable mention slots for D-linemen 6-9.
Brian: Seriously though
[Hit THE JUMP for more SERIOUS THINGS]