BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND. BROKE THE TREND.
[ED: Ken Walker will be playing the role of Nick Roumel this week.]
By Ken "Sky" Walker
October 25, 2014
I’m sure none of this column’s readers expected to see that by line again – I certainly didn’t. When Nick proposed that I might be a guest columnist at some point in the future, I believe my response was ‘I suppose that could be a possibility.’ Funny how a lukewarm response to a question posed this summer can lead to Nick telling me “I’m going on vacation, you’re writing ‘Punt’ next week.” And that this guest appearance should come for the Michigan/Michigan State game, during one of the worst periods in UM’s football history, well that’s just a bonus.
I’ve got to admit, I haven’t read a single PUNT/COUNTER PUNT since I stopped writing for it. Believe me, it’s been a blessing. The mess that Michigan football has become is heartbreaking. Even the initial Rich Rod season wasn’t this bad. There are so many empty seats in my section I’ve had plenty of room to stretch out nearly every game. My buddy Jim has been to one game this year.
This is a Michigan alumnus, who has on game day, driven from the Ohio–Pennsylvania border to almost every game for the last 25 years! You can hardly give away tickets these days. No long waiting lists now. Television and radio spots advertising game packages are just an embarrassment. And don’t get me started on the ‘Coke’ promotion. This is “Michigan Football”?!
Fact of the matter is, the athletic department has sold its soul to the devil, that devil being the almighty dollar. We’ve got a bunch of marketing guys running this program and all they seem to be concerned with is how much profit they can wring out of the fans. They’ve gotten totally focused on promoting the game day experience. I‘ve got news for you fellas, the game day experience starts on the field. The “Michigan brand” is winning football games. That is what matters above all else.
Alright, I’m done venting. There’s a game to be played in East Lansing (again) and the Wolverines have to find a way to win it. How we feel about the A.D., the coach or the quarterback doesn’t matter Saturday. As Michigan fans, we have to back our team no matter what.
While I doubt that even with two weeks prep, this coaching staff can scheme a winning game plan, here’s hoping they do. Because these repeated loses to the Spartans just suck. But as I have no interest in traveling up I-96 to see the game, maybe I’ll just play a round of golf and catch the second half. It’s supposed to be a great fall day – might as well enjoy some of it.
MICHIGAN - 17 MICHIGAN STATE - 31
By Heiko "My Name Does Not Lend Itself To Nicknames" Yang
Hello, old Punt. Hope retirement has been treating you well. Don’t worry, I’m not completely devastated or anything to know that you haven’t been reading my work. Yeah man, it’s great to see you. I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING.
I HAD A DREAM -- excuse me. Sniff. Ahem. I had a dream last night that Michigan ran power to the left on its first play against MSU. Fitz Toussaint bounced outside and outran the defense 75 yards for a score. It was wonderful. And never mind the surrealism here -- do you know how long it’s been since I’ve had a happy dream about Michigan football? 2011. I started having nightmares in 2012, when I had a dream a few days before the Alabama game that Stephen Hopkins got tackled and exploded into a million bloody bits. It was gross, and I woke up feeling pretty strongly that football is too violent and we should stop playing it. All of my subsequent dreams have been similarly horrific.
Until last night, which is why I think today may be a good day. I’m not saying Michigan is going to win … but I’m saying there’s a chance.
Having a bye week was important. You know your team isn’t doing well when the bye week is the highlight of the season, but I think it was particularly positive for Michigan for several reasons: the wounded got a chance to heal, the shamed got a chance to hide, and there’s still no sign of ebola in Ann Arbor, which helps everything.
Most importantly the bye week was a chance for the team to reflect and reset. Michigan’s problem over the past couple of years has never been a lack of talent or toughness or whatever silly buzzword (“hunger”) people are throwing around these days. It’s a fundamental flaw in philosophy, which isn’t something you fix with more practice. You fix it by taking a break and realizing that you’ve been doing things that are fundamentally idiotic.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not expecting Brady Hoke to suddenly have an epiphany about offensive tempo or spread punting, which is why I don’t expect that he’ll be coaching here much longer. But I do hope that someone like Doug Nussmeier, who has experience with a variety of offensive styles, would take a little more ownership of his position and assert his expertise a little more. And I also hope that the players would be able to identify things they can do within the framework of the game plan to minimize the disadvantages inherent in the game plan. I don’t know if this kind of thinking has happened before, but a bye week before a rivalry game seems like a good time to start.
For the past few seasons Hoke has been captaining a ship that’s drifting towards imminent disaster. Short of outright mutiny, it’s going to take a lot of creativity from the crew to right the course. If the hurricane looming in the horizon doesn’t inspire some sort of change, then nothing will.
So should we all batten down the hatches to be safe? Absolutely.
But I’m saying there’s a chance.
Michigan 21, Michigan State 17
I've never run so fast in my life.
The roar emanated from Stadium & Main and echoed down State Street, where I'd just emerged from the shortcut behind the field hockey, er, field. The year, 2004. I was a junior in high school; as a freshman, I'd run cross country, and specialized in sprinting the last 200 yards of a 5K because puking was absolutely worth not finishing behind the guy in front of me.
On this day, however, I wasn't in a pack of pimple-faced skinny dudes in uncomfortably short shorts. I had not planned on running; sullen trudging, eyes cast down to the sidewalk, was the plan as I, my brother, and my dad's old college roommate headed back to my parents house from a certain loss to Michigan State.
The roar changed those plans.
It was just chilly enough to feel the wind in your bones. DeAndra Cobb broke his second long touchdown run of the evening to put Michigan State up 27-10 partway through the fourth quarter. Dusk settled over Ann Arbor.
They were my dad's roommate's seats. "I've had enough," he said, or something to that effect, and my brother and I tacitly agreed by standing and exiting with him. We were young and polite and stupid, in about equal parts.
If I'd simply believed I was missing one of the greatest Michigan comebacks in history each time I ran a race, perhaps I wouldn't have quit cross country after one unremarkable season on JV. I'd certainly never started a "race" so fast after hearing a cheer that could've only followed a Michigan touchdown. A part of me had wondered if I'd regret leaving; now I knew I regretted it, and I don't remember having to say a thing before I took off. My brother followed. Sorry, dad's roommate, but this was your choice, after all.
Not that I didn't know better. In 2004, you didn't have to know much about football to know which Wolverine would be the one to spearhead a wildly improbable comeback. Braylon Edwards always seemed larger than his listed 6'3", and he always came down with the damn ball, somehow. Growing up as sports junkies, we used to call catching a jump ball over a defender "Mossing" when we played football at the park or in the backyard; beginning sometime in the Fall of 2003, we began calling it "Brayloning" instead.
I ran out of guilt. I ran out of excitement. I ran through the front door and between gasps asked my father, "What did Braylon do?"
We missed the first one, of course. The second one, as I recall, was replayed again and again just after we made it home. We finally got to share in the jubilation of the third, but it felt a little cheapened; we'd bailed, and "it was cold and we didn't think they'd do it" no longer felt like a sufficient excuse.
This year's Michigan team, like the last several, doesn't instill the same confidence that 2004 squad did. There's no Mike Hart equivalent, nor a Jake Long or Jason Avant or Steve Breaston or LaMarr Woodley or Marlin Jackson. Devin Gardner compares far better to Half-Broken 2007 Chad Henne than Fully Operational 2004 Chad Henne.
Unfocus your eyes just a little, though, and you'll swear Braylon is still out there, and he's been spending time in the weight room.
I'll be watching today's game from my couch; I had no interest in making the trip to East Lansing after last year's debacle, especially since a repeat performance appears disturbingly likely. But the television will stay on until all doubt is gone, and even after all that's happened since Braylonfest a decade ago, I'll let that doubt gnaw at me far more than it used to.
Go Blue. Throw it up to
As some of you know, I’m joining MGoBlog to provide various types of basketball coverage, now that we’re a #basketballschool and all that. A brief introduction: I’m an Honors LSA Senior majoring in English (hopefully with a creative writing sub-concentration), I grew up making weekly pilgrimages from the Grand Rapids area to Ann Arbor on Fall Saturdays with my parents—both of whom graduated from the B School before Ross slapped his name on it—and younger brother—an Honors LSA sophomore (who is also named Brian Cook). I am not related to the proprietor of this site, as far as he and I know. We were a football family, but I fell in love with Michigan Hoops in 2009-2010 with Manny, Peedi, Coach B, and the gang. I’ve learned to love the NBA recently as well, but regret that I missed the glory years of my Detroit Pistons. I’m a Lions masochist, I complain about the Tigers’ managing and bullpen all summer, and I recently committed to Everton as my new EPL team (because Tim Howard’s a national hero). It’s a little up in the air as of right now, but Ace and I will sort out who covers what during hoops season. As for non-sports things: I’m a proud native Michigander and spend my summers living on Barlow Lake—Heaven on Earth, as far as I’m considered—I run as quickly as Terrance Taylor and am addicted to Bruegger’s on North U (these things may be related), and if anybody wants to hire me to a full-time job after school, PLEASE DO. If you see me on campus, say hi. I’ll be the tall, skinny-fat guy with curly black hair and light blue headphones.
Follow me on Twitter ( @alexcook616 )
(Freshmen and incoming transfers are not included. They’re very difficult to accurately contextualize with returning players and they’ll be covered next week.)
* * *
For the Big Ten Player Comparisons, I created an algorithm that spits out the most similar statistical profiles for a given player’s. There are 20 unweighted categories—most of which are advanced metrics—but shooting and rebounding are well-accounted for. The database consists of 750 players from the 2008-2014 seasons. This post is already absurdly long, so I’ll have to explain it further at some other time. This system will probably be used pretty extensively.
Considering that the Hoosiers had Yogi Ferrell and Noah Vonleh—the latter was drafted in the lottery of a deep draft—their struggles were perplexing. A stable of uninspiring role players did little to augment the talents of their two stars and their offense was often stagnant and extremely turnover prone. Indiana didn’t shoot the ball well from the field, but the inability to hold onto the ball was crippling—IU finished 330th nationally in turnover rate, easily the last in the Big Ten. Ferrell can be best categorized as a scoring point guard: he’s ball-dominant and often probes the defense with his quickness rather than driving right to the rim, he’s one of the better shooters in the league (40% on a ridiculous 220 attempts, mostly from above the break), and he gets to the free throw line and shoots better than 80% from the stripe over his career. There were a few games that Yogi took over with his scoring ability: 30 points (on just 15 FGA) at Illinois, 27 (including 7 made threes) against Michigan and at Purdue, and 25 and 24 in two games against Wisconsin. With Indiana’s turnover issues and Ferrell’s role as its offensive catalyst, his turnover rate—18.0%—wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t exactly anomalous amongst analogous point guards.
Yogi didn’t have the ball-security of a Jordan Taylor or Drew Neitzel, but it wasn’t bad. Turning the ball over was a collective effort: the entire rotation (aside from Ferrell) had turnover rates of at least 20%. Adding five-star combo guard James Blackmon, Jr. should help out immensely in regard to that issue and it should enable Ferrell to play off-the-ball and distribute a little more this season. Ferrell will likely be the best point guard in the Big Ten and there’s a chance that he could lead the league in scoring.
[After THE JUMP: Caris checks in, others.]
Big playmakers needed (Upchurch/MGoBlog)
1. The Defense
|Season||Expected Pts||Conversion Rate||Bonus Yards||Red Zone|
|2014 Nat’l Rank||97th||2nd||116th||96th|
Michigan State’s team has transformed its identity somewhat so far in 2014. The defense is still dominant and on a down by down basis, they are actually very elite. Over the last five seasons, only one team has held opposing offenses to less than 55% conversions. That team was 2011 National Champion Alabama who held offenses to an illegal in 49 states 42% first down conversion rate. This year both MSU and Louisville are below 55% half way through the season.
The flip side of the coin is that the offense is pushing the game to a much higher possession game, putting the defense in a position to allow a more points, by virtue of field position alone. The 29+ expected points allowed is pushing close to triple digit territory. This has produces some cosmetic changes to the traditional stats without implicating the defense, necessarily.
As confirmed by Ace in the FFFF, this year’s defensive unit is much more prone to allowing the big play. The last three seasons, the Spartan defense has been well below 2 yards per play allowed beyond the first down marker, all three top 10 results. This year they nearly find themselves on the wrong 10 list, ranking well into the triple digits.
What it means for Michigan
As bad as Michigan has been generating big plays, this is the game to throw the “identity” out the window. If Michigan plays for Time of Possession as a key outcome, they are nowhere near good enough to get past this Michigan State defense. If they can actually attempt to get the ball downfield, they could have a puncher’s chance of putting up more than 6 points on Saturday.
2. The Offense
|Season||Expected Pts||Conversion Rate||Bonus Yards||Red Zone|
|2014 Nat’l Rank||4th||10th||23rd||4th|
The flip side to 29 expected points allowed is the 34+ points expected for the offense. The magnitude may be higher than the traditional Dantonio field position stranglehold game plan, but the advantage is just as strong. Michigan State’s 5.2 point per game net advantage in field position is good for 14th nationally.
While the defense has driven its conversion rate allowed down to near record levels, the offense has made the same stride forward. After a pedestrian 62% conversion rate last season, this year’s squad has cracked the Top 10 and improved by over 10 percentage points. I may have been wrong about the Spartan offense this year. Thanks in large part to Tony Lippett, MSU has also been able to stretch the field. Tony Lippett has been worth over 7 points per game himself and is 6th overall among pass catchers in 2014.
What it means for Michigan
Not a lot of weaknesses on the surprisingly potent Spartan offense. Michigan’s defense has shown occasional signs of strength and will need its best performance of the season to keep the offense in the game. A couple of turnovers wouldn’t hurt either. If Jourdan Lewis and company can keep Lippett in check, there is a chance Michigan can slow down the Spartans.
3. Special Teams
Value added on the season (National Rank/B1G Rank)
Punt Team: +1.1 pts (59th/7th)
Punt Return: –3.0 (108/12)
Kickoff Return: +0.5 (54/8)
Kickoff: +6.1 (13/2)
FG/PAT: –1.6 (86/11)
Total: +3 (55/7)
Michigan State hasn’t displayed particular strength or weakness across their special teams. If the Spartans are able to open up a big play in the punt return game, it will be in area that MSU hasn’t found success to date.
4. The Fourth Quarter
Michigan State’s in-game win odds by game
One opportunity for Michigan could be Michigan State’s lack of competitive fourth quarter situations on the season. In their six wins, the Spartans have had less than 90% win odds for about 30 seconds late against Nebraska before picking off Tommy Armstrong Jr.
The same went for their loss against Oregon, when they quickly dropped into the low teens early in the fourth before seeing their odds slip away midway through the quarter. Whether something as abstract as “4th quarter experience” is a real thing that matters or not is a up for debate, but
5. Dumb Punt of the Week
Dumb punting a Michigan football may be the same thing. Michigan takes a bye and so does dumb punting. The best entry I could find for the week was Middle Tennessee punting on 4th and 3 at the UAB 36 in the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders were up by 5 at the time, but a punt into the end zone isn’t valuable enough to forgo a virtual red zone trip with a successful conversion.
In this week’s roundtable, we all agreed Hoke hadn’t shown anything to indicate he could save his job. The “Win the Time of Possession” game plan will lose this game barring a massive turnover disparity. An aggressive game plan maximizing Michigan’s two best weapons (Funchess deep and Gardner’s legs) might have a chance. This Michigan State team is better at more things than they have been the last several seasons, but there is also a potential crack in the armor if Michigan isn’t too stubborn to exploit it.
Michigan State 28 Michigan 17
|WHAT||Michigan vs Michigan State|
East Lansing MI
October 25th, 2014
|THE LINE||MSU -17|
|WEATHER||60, sunny, 15 mph winds|
I have to change this now. Since the Big Ten season started this section has been a slightly modified assertion that Team X is probably not real good with issues up the wazoo, a resume that does not intimidate, and a reasonably tractable Vegas line.
None of these things are true in re: Michigan State. They are probably real good, they have no wazoo-rated issues, the worst thing on their resume is beating Purdue by two touchdowns, and Vegas is like lol head for the hills.
PROBABLY IN: Shane Morris is likely available.
MAYBE: Erik Magnuson's rumored high ankle sprain should be healed by now, right? I mean, unless it's one of those high ankle sprains that never do.
Jabrill Peppers is prominently listed on the depth chart but chatter has him potentially out for the season; we'll see if the internet or the program is more truthy. Bet here is internet.
PROBABLY OUT: Delano Hill, Derrick Green, Desmond Morgan.
Run Offense vs Michigan State
Taiwan Jones is going to be making a lot of tackles.
This is not the all-destroying unit of a year ago but it's still plenty good enough to shut Michigan's arthritic run game down. MSU is currently 28th in YPC allowed; notably, they crushed Nebraska to the tune of 47 yards on 37 carries.
Things have gone less swimmingly at other times—mostly times when someone pops into the secondary and there is flailing around him. Shane Wynn broke a 75-yard reverse last weekend; Tevin Coleman added a 65-yard romp; Purdue had rushes of 52 and 36 yards. That has scuffed up last year's national-best rush D.
The problem for Michigan is what happens on carries that don't go 30 yards. Michigan State is in a tie for 116th with 4 rushes of more than 50 yards allowed; they're eighth with 21 rushes for more than ten yards. The secondary biffs at a high rate on a low number of plays that break long. When they don't go a long way they don't go anywhere unless you're Tevin Coleman. This is an obvious problem for a Michigan rush offense with three runs of 30 yards on the year, all of which came against early-season tomato cans.
You cannot run the ball consistently against Michigan State and Michigan has no explosive capability.
The best bet for something that looks respectable is misdirection and frippery, which Michigan has gone to on occasion this year with Norfleet and Funchess; otherwise it's going to look a lot like the Penn State game, in which Michigan was rarely caught behind the line but struggled to scratch out more than a couple yards at a time.
Key Matchup: Braden/Cole/Williams/Butt versus the MSU perimeter. The State DTs are not great and Michigan's interior line is likely to get push here and there; it may not matter if Michigan can win blocks against the LBs and DEs.
[Hit THE JUMP for a THEMATIC VIDEO of QWOP]